A Nigerian priest who oversees trauma care for people victimized by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria visited the United States this week to share his concerns about how Christians are facing lesser-known forms of societal discrimination because of their faith in Christ.
Father Joseph Bature Fidelis, the director of psychosocial support and trauma care in the Diocese of Maiduguri, Nigeria, attended a weekly meeting of the International Religious Freedom Roundtable presided by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback.
For the meeting, Fidelis prepared an “ask note” on behalf of his diocese calling for the U.S.’s intervention in the plight of Christians in Nigeria.
“A lot of it is going on and sometimes it’s not so much known to the wider world,” Fidelis told The Christian Post in an interview Tuesday morning. “The response is very slow. So people continue to suffer for their faith.”
In Nigeria, thousands of Christians have been killed in recent years by extremist violence carried out by Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province in Northern Nigeria. Thousands more have been killed amid increased attacks carried out by radical Fulani herders against Christian farming communities in the Middle Belt of the country.
In addition to the extremism and communal violence, Fidelis stressed that Christians living in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria are facing other forms of persecution that are lesser reported in the media but are impacting Christians’ finances, jobs, education, retirement and ability to worship.
According to Fidelis, one particular phenomenon being seen in northern Nigeria is Christians being “deliberately deprived” of certain high-level positions in government.
“They are denied promotion or cannot access certain offices simply for being Christians,” Fidelis said.
Instances of political deprivation, he said, can be seen widely in Borno state and Yobe state.
In Yobe, Fidelis said Christians can’t be head of a government school.
“Muslims have been so much in power, so a lot of Christians will not be able to have access to certain positions,” he explained. “You don’t see it openly done. Let’s say you go for an interview and five or six of you are supposed to qualify for a director position in a department. The Muslim is given preference over a Christian. That pattern has been there steadily. So you watch it and you see that certain positions are just not given to Christians.”
The priest said that in a place like Yobe, Christians might get lower-level local government positions but aren’t likely to be directors or commissioners.
“Maybe they appoint commissioners and out of 25 you have two Christians,” Fidelis detailed.
Fidelis believes that if a person is qualified and competent for a certain position, they should be given those positions no matter what their religious beliefs are.
Due to the recent increase in violence carried out by Boko Haram and Fulani radicals, Fidelis said many Christian traders have relocated from the north to safer regions of the country in the last several years.
But in areas such as Mubi, Potiskum and in some parts of Maiduguri where some Christians remain, market shops and buildings that have been reconstructed by the government after being destroyed by militants have been “allocated mainly to Muslims.”
“This again is peculiar because of the kind of attacks. Previously, Christians had shops in those states and people lived very well,” Fidelis recalled. “With the conflict, a lot of Christians moved out of the area, especially when they were being targeted. When they allocate those [rebuilt shops] now, they just allocate to very few Muslims.”
Fidelis believes that the government should make provisions for all who qualify to get shops no matter what their religion is.
“But that is not happening,” Fidelis stressed. “And if it’s not happening, something is wrong. Even the few Christians who are still maintaining around should be given equal opportunity to have access to this and be able to promote their businesses. There’s a lot of fear and those who are in charge of doing business do it based on religion.”
According to Fidelis, there seems to be a “deliberate plan to acquire land all over the country to give to herders who are predominantly Fulani Muslims.”
Fidelis criticized government policies that would create reserved communities for nomadic herders to live, grow and shepherd their cattle.
A Ruga (rural grazing area) policy promoted by the Buhari administration would prohibit open grazing but establish grazing reserves throughout the country.
“Ever since 2015-2016, it became very serious,” Fidelis said. “There has been this dream of providing grazer reserves. That didn’t go well. Then they wanted to provide a cattle ranch. That didn’t go very well. Late last year, there was the idea of Ruga to create cattle colonies.”
“They were asking for very vast land in every state to give to these herders,” he continued. “That was proposed as a solution to end the herder-farmer clash. You ask for a large chunk of land in every state? How many ethnic groups do we have? How many forms of businesses do we have? There are farmers also, other traders. There are other ethnic groups also. How sensitive is that to the diversity of the country?”
Objections to such policies came from many wondering whose land would be taken to create these grazing reserves, Fidelis said.
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Source: Christian Post