HE FOLLOWING are reflections by Bishop Matthew
Hassan Kukah of Sokoto, in northwestern Nigeria. One of his seminarians,
Michael Nnadi, was kidnapped and murdered earlier this year. Three of
his fellow seminarians were also kidnapped
but were released alive. A copy of this text was obtained by Aid to the
Church in Need:
News of the capture of the kidnappers of the four
seminarians has been received with ecstasy and a sense of divine
vindication both within and beyond the Catholic and Christian circles
here in Nigeria.
One of the kidnappers [is] Mustapha Mohammed, a 26
year old man and a member of the 45-man gang of kidnappers and bandits
that has recklessly robbed, kidnapped, tortured and killed many people
along the 110-mile stretch of road between
Kaduna and Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, for the last four or so
According to Muhammad, they had killed Michael
because he kept asking them to repent and turn their lives around from
their evil ways. He said that what most annoyed them was that although
that they were Muslims, he continued to insist that they repent and
abandon their way of life. Young Michael’s courage represents a page out
of the book of the martyrs of old.
Also murdered with Michael by the same criminals
was Mrs. Bolanle Ataga who had been kidnapped along with her two
daughters. According to Muhammad, Bolanle was killed by their leader of
the gang because
she refused to be raped by him.
The story of Michael and Bolanle is a metaphor for
understanding the deep scars that have been left behind by British
colonialism, scars that have disfigured the face of religion in Nigeria
to exacerbate tensions between Christians and Muslims.
British colonialism was established after the
British had conquered the extant one-hundred-year-old Caliphate
established by Usman dan Fodio (1804-1903). Although northern Muslim
historiography would continue
to project Lugard as a Christian missionary of sorts and hold his
colonial project responsible for the institutionalization of
Christianity in the region, the colonial project, led by Lord Lugard at
the beginning of the 20th century, saw Christian
missionaries as obstacles to their adventure.
What an irony! The truth is that missionaries
preceded the colonial state in Nigeria by many years. Their mission of
education and the conversion of local people to Christianity very often
set them against
the colonial state, and particularly so in Northern Nigeria, so much so
that they were not permitted by the British to enter there until the
1930s. Thus, Christians in northern Nigeria have been left with a
legacy by which they have suffered a double jeopardy.
Firstly, missionary work in Northern Nigeria was
seen by the colonialists as an intrusion into the sacred space of Islam
while the educated Christians were seen as irritants, challenging the
injustice embedded in colonialism, and slowing down their exploitation
and trade. In Southern Nigeria, educated Christians were seen as more
serious troublemakers because they constituted the trigger for the
The weak muscles of northern hegemony were
strengthened when the British introduced indirect rule and imposed
feudal Muslim leadership that oversaw taxation of the non-Muslim
populations across the Middle
Secondly, in post-colonial Nigeria, the northern
Muslim elite, using religion as a basis for social integration and power
sharing, have continued to see Christians as outsiders. Today, it is
in Northern Nigeria that whereas Muslims continue to marry young
Christian girls and accept them and their cousins as converts to Islam,
Muslim girls are warned that marrying a Christian or any Muslim
converting to Christianity amounts to embracing a death
Other forms of discrimination include the denial of
places of worship for the building of churches in most parts of
northern Nigeria, the constant harassment and targeting of Christian
places of worship
for destruction by mobs of Muslim youth or by overzealous public
servants of the state, the exclusion of Christians from public
employment in the state civil service and limited opportunities for
cultural self-expression. Christians remain outside the loop
of power in most states despite their high levels of educational
I have provided this backdrop to place the
martyrdom of Michael and Bolanle in proper context, to appreciate the
Sisyphean struggle that Christians are daily up against.
Against this backdrop, let me now turn to the
metaphor of the barking dog and why it is significant for our analysis. A
barking dog announces a possible disturbance of the environment by a
It could be a friend or a foe, depending on the reaction of the
intruder. In response to the barking dog, it is better to walk towards
it, facing it as a sign of possible friendship or willingness to
dialogue on your side. If you turn your back or attempt
to run, the dog will consider your strategy as a declaration of war and
it will hurt you.
The British left a legacy of a feudal architecture
of power that has been exploited by Nigeria’s corrupt and incompetent
ruling elite across the country. In the north, the Muslim elite has
exploit the deep religiosity of its members by presenting themselves as
defenders of the faith, a strategy that has been exploited for
political mobilization. In ignorance, their people have continued to see
education as a Western ploy to corrode their religion
This culture has bred ignorance, destitution,
poverty, leading to a generation today across the northern states of
over 13 million young people who have no meaningful survival skills. It
is from this cesspool
that Muhammad and his colleagues have emerged and are taking their
revenge on a state that has failed them.
To be sure, there are kidnappers roaming across
Nigeria, but none have been as brutal, murderous, cold-blooded,
monstrous and brutish as those in the northern pool. They have
slaughtered their fathers
and mothers, irrespective of religion, status or gender. The
challenging question before us in the north is, from where did they
drink this poison?
Years of negative stereotypes against Christianity
and its adherents have fed the anger of people like Muhammad who have
come to believe that to be asked to repent is a call to war. True, by
Muslims while still carrying out acts of theft, banditry, rape and
murder, these barking human dogs had lost the right to be called
Muslims. However, there is no doubt that Muslim leaders and teachers in
northern Nigeria must address the historical distortions
and interpretations of the faith that have brought us to this cul de sac.
Else, why did Michael’s appeal for a change of
heart become a death sentence? It was borne out of the belief that
Michael did not possess the moral credentials to call them to
repentance. Why should a
woman’s protection from sexual violence constitute a death sentence?
Inspired by their faith, Michael and Bolanle, the
brave martyrs, looked at the horde of barking dogs and were not afraid
to walk towards them. For us as Christians, while we greatly mourn their
their deaths are gains, not losses. It was after the blood of Jesus
dropped on the ground that the seeds of our redemption were sown.
Today, Michael’s grave stands as guard and witness
at the entrance of his seminary where he was a student. His colleagues
can walk through the gates knowing they have a guardian angel. When we
(Feb 11th, 2020), we prayed that his killers will not go
free. He has interceded for us. He now stands as a metaphor, a rallying
point for us to walk towards the barking dogs of our time.
Both he and Bolanle, as well as Leah Sharibu, who
refused to renounce her Christian faith and remains in captivity, are
metaphors for the suffering Church in Africa. Their testimony and
the spiritual oxygen that our lungs so badly needed today. Together
with the Ugandan martyrs, St. Bakhita, Blessed Isidore Bakanja and many
others marked with the scars of torture for their faith, they are the
bearers of promise and hope for the Church in
our continent. Their example should serve as a rallying point for our
young men and women in Africa.
Hopefully, they will inspire a new generation of
defenders of the Gospel in a sick and troubled continent. With them
ahead of us, let us rise and walk with courage towards the barking dogs
to uphold Christ’s
Gospel of Love.
With picture of Michael Nnadi
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