Posted by News Express | 7 August 2019 | 803 times
On Monday, July 15, 2019 as part of the side events of the US State Department 2019 Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom, Africa United for Peace sponsored a programme to draw the attention of the international community to the killings and persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
The topic was “Nigeria – Is it Ethno-Religious Cleansing or Herders/Farmers Conflict? A Deep Dive into the Conflict Drivers in the World Deadliest Place to be a Christian”.
Panelists: Mr. Solomon Asemota SAN, Chair, Nigerian Christian Elders’ Forum; Mr. Bill Murray, Chair, Religious Freedom Coalition; and Ikenna Nzeribe, sole survivor of the January 5, 2012 Boko Haram massacre of Christians. The moderator was international human rights lawyer, Barrister Emmanuel Ogebe.
Below is the transcript of the event.
BARR EMMA OGEBE:
Great. Thank you everyone for coming. I am particularly proud that we are not starting on African time. We are actually starting earlier than African time. And because you all came early we thought it would be nice to go round and get your names so that this is a more intimate conversation. Because what we are going to have today is a conversation. We are not going to lecture at you. But we want to understand the issues. Because there’s been lots of confusion about the situation in Nigeria. And let me start by sharing 3 statistics. One is that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. The second one is that more Christians have been killed in this century than in previous centuries. And then thirdly, more Christians were killed in northern Nigeria in 2012 than the rest of the world combined. Many people have heard the first 2 stats, but the third one is the one that people are shocked to hear. In northern Nigeria, there are multiple factors or drivers of persecution and I will quickly describe them as three. I call them the three S’s. The first is sect persecution. So we are talking about sects and terror groups, like Boko Haram, Ansaru, now ISIS West Africa province and so on and so forth. So you have those non state actors or sect. You also have a second S which is the state. State governments in northern Nigeria actively suppress and oppress Christian minorities in terms of employment, in terms of promotions, in terms of access to state patronage and service delivery; there is systematic persecution of Christians, even access to land to build a church. Many of the churches in northern Nigeria today are on lands that were given to them by the British colonial government over a hundred years ago. And so you find a situation where they usually give you a hundred year lease or a ninety-nine year lease, and once the leases began to expire for the last few years, there’s been moves to go in and revoke those lands or demolish them. So that is happening from the state level. And then there is the street level persecution. Now this is a situation where, you know, there is an altercation in the market, someone says that a Christian has insulted the prophet or has desecrated the Quran, and there is a spontaneous riot and Christians are killed in the process. So these are 3 of the discernible roots or drivers of persecution that are identifiable. Now, we’re going to focus today on a more nuanced phenomenon, which is the herdsmen, it’s referred to as the herdsmen/ farmer conflict. It is not a conflict. It is largely a massacre that is going on. And it is not strictly about farmers and herdsmen and competition for land. Today we are very honored to have a very distinguished panel that will be speaking to us. Mr. Murray of the religious freedom commission has done extensive work serving the persecuted, especially in the Middle East, and the organization is now working in Nigeria as well, assisting victims of persecution. Next to him is a second octogenarian in the panel; and the reason why I emphasize that is that as Africans we honor age and wisdom. So we feel that between the two of them we have over a hundred and sixty years, if you knock off the childhood years, it’s at least a hundred and fifty. So, we honor them and we want to drink from their fountain of wisdom. Next to him is Chairman Solomon Asemota. He is a very distinguished lawyer, has spoken out and advocated for persecuted Christians for over twenty years, has done litigation and many things related to advancing religious liberty in Nigeria. We are honored to have him. And then we do have Ike who is probably the person who wants to be here the least in the sense that he never asked to be a victim of terrorism. It’s one thing for us who are lawyers, we chose to become lawyers, we chose to become advocates. But he didn’t choose to get shot in the head by terrorists. And today he is here to share with us the real pain and horror of having your life taken away from you in a way that you never anticipated. So what we are going to do this morning is to let each of the panelist share with us briefly and then we will go into questions and answers. We want this to be interactive so that you have your questions addressed. And the reason this is important is that last year the New York Times wrote a story that said, and you won’t believe this, that “Nigeria’s herdsmen are threatened by Nigeria’s farmers.” I didn’t even see the story, Bill saw it and was so mad, he forwarded it to me. But when you’ve been to Nigeria, when you see the reality of what is happening it really is shocking that the New York Times could twist it on its head: victimize the victims and exculpate the aggressors. And so we are going to start with Bill, who will share a few remarks about his insights, what he saw in Nigeria. And then we’ll go to Ike who has a very compelling testimony about his experience. And then we will hear from Asemota (SAN) on his own perspectives on the situation in Nigeria. So let’s appreciate Bill with a round of applause.
I’m going to start just a little bit backwards and tell the end of the story and then go forward. And I want to start with an incredible experience that I had, actually that I and Emmanuel had, at the ambassador’s home . . . an ambassador’s home in Nigeria. And he was hosting a group from European that was an investigative committee on religious persecution. And the group had someone there, I think from Czech Republic, and someone from Belgium and then several others. Of course . . . I won’t go into it. But the food, the home, everything was beyond extravagant. I know where their tax money goes. Let me put it that way. I’ve never even been in a millionaire’s home in the United States that was so well appointed or served. But that’s neither here nor there. So I got into a conversation – they had been there one week investigating human rights violations or the chance of it in Nigeria. And I asked them where they had been, ‘well, we’ve been to see the president, we’ve been to see senators, we’ve been to see the head of’, what’s the equivalent of our state department here, and others. And we’ve learned a great deal. And they said, ‘but what are you doing here?’ And I said, “well we came here to look at the orphanage and I’ve been to several places. One of the places that I was at, actually the day before, was in Benue State, in southern Benue State. And we went into a church where on a Sunday morning one hundred and thirteen people were . . . The Fulani herdsmen invaded their church and they chopped a hundred and thirteen people to death with matchets, not even guns. They were chopped to death with matchetes.” And his jaw dropped. He almost dropped his coffee. And he said, ‘This happened in your church?’ He had been there for a week. For a week this commission had been there to investigate . . . And it sort of reminds me of the other meetings that I go to here in Washington, DC and I hear senators and they say, “Oh I just got back from Iraq and they were so happy to have us there.” Well yeah, you’re talking to government officials who you give millions of dollars to, of course, they’re glad that we’re there. I said the problem is that 95% of their people don’t want us there. That’s the problem. And it’s the same, these investigative committees, they go in, they talk to people that want to hide the worst of what’s going on. And then they go back home and report that everything is OK. Now, I’ll go back to the visit that I went with Emmanuel last year. We were worried that we were not going to get to an orphanage that we support because there was an attack on the town of Jos. What is the name of the small village was . . . (Side talk with Barr. Emma) that’s true, everybody was killed. But anyway we stopped, the road was blocked. But by the time we got there a week later the road was open. We went to the village and the irrigation pumps had been dug up, the pipe had been dug up. There were 26 people total that were slaughtered. This is their farm land, they had lived on for generations and it’s “a conflict.” It’s a conflict. This is the question that I asked one member of the commission: I said, “exactly how do you have an ethnic conflict inside of a church when a hundred and thirteen unarmed people are slaughtered? How is that conflict? How is it a conflict when people are massacred in their own homes on their own land and their pumps are torn up. How is that a conflict?” It isn’t a conflict, it’s a massacre. The biggest problem that we have currently in Nigeria is that the western media never reports anything unless there are more than a hundred people killed at one time. They just don’t report it. So, on a daily basis, not a day goes by that Nigerians aren’t murdered. Benue State, which was nearly 100% Christian . . . I went to an IDP camp in which there were 34,500 Christian IDPs that had been driven off their lands in Benue, not from Plateau state, that’s just there – on the northern borders with Plateau State. The conditions were miserable, it was one of three major IDP camps and . . . was it typhoid or Cholera that had broken out? I think there were Cholera cases that had broken out as well because of the close proximity of the people, and it’s literally bankrupting the state government who receives no federal aid because all the oil money goes to corrupt officials. So there’s no money for the people or people in misery or for anything else. And so the situation here is . . . it is the Fulani herdsmen practice raising their cow the way it was done hundreds of years ago, not with modern techniques. They basically go in, destroy the land down to the roots, and once the land is totally destroyed and they can’t feed the cattle anymore, they move on to the next land. And that next land, now they’ve moved so far south, is all Christian farmers. Now, is that an ethnic conflict, is it religious? Well here’s where the problem arises because Christians are one step down in the eyes of the Quran. Because they are one step down, their land is Muslim land, is Muslim’s market. That’s simply the way it is. And so the Christians are being moved off their land just as they were in areas in the north which at one time were predominantly Christian. We need to have some kind of awareness. Unfortunately in the United States today we have a situation where if a nation produces oil and they produce a lot of money, then it doesn’t matter what they do, it doesn’t matter how many people they kill, it doesn’t matter if they bomb school buses, or funerals or weddings in Yemen, there are biases. That’s what has to stop right there. That’s what has to stop. The slaughter has to be addressed whether or not huge gobs of money and oil come from these places, whether it’s Nigeria or whether it’s the murdering monster that run Saudi Arabia, they have to be called to task. That’s what i think we are all here for. We need to get the information out. The slaughter has to be stopped. Nigeria needs to be returned to its rightful constitution in which Christians actually have the same rights as Muslims, and that isn’t happening today except in the areas where there are majority of Christians.
BARR. EMMA OGEBE:
Thank you very much for your insight. Later on, maybe during the interactive session, you will tell us about the experience we had driving out of Benue. But at this time I want us to turn over to Ike to share with us his experience. Thank you.
Hello, everyone. My name is Ike – Ikenna – anyway but you can call me Ike. I am a survivor of one of the Boko Haram attacks in North East Nigeria. Back in 2012 or 2011, there was a warning sent out by Boko Haram that Christians living in the North should vacate the north or they will be killed. And I couldn’t leave. Not out of choice, but because I had a job located in northern Nigeria that I had to keep and all of that. So, I stayed back. We got assurances from the Emir of – I used to live in a town called Mubi in Adamawa State. So we got assurances from the Emir of Mubi who assured us that we were safe, that nothing was going to happen to us, that we should just disregard that warning, it was just an empty threat. But shortly after then on the 5th of January 2012 there was an attack. My boss back then, I used to work in the bank, was just sitting out with his friends at a bar, a local bar. But he went to buy, we call it recharge card in Nigeria, a phone card. So while he left the setting, there was an attack by Boko Haram that he narrowly survived. Those that were there, when I heard them share their story on the 6th, which was the next day, one said that while the attack was going on he had to duck, he just bent down and hid himself. That was how he survived the attack. But the first attack on the 5th of January 2012, my landlord who I lived with then died and a friend of his as well. But my boss who was in their company survived because he went to buy the phone card. So the next day we went for his funeral, or there was a funeral gathering for many Christians. The previous attack on the 5th happened around 7PM. 7PM Nigerian time is kind of dark, you can barely see people from a distance. But the next day when we went for the funeral that was . . . it happened around 11AM. I went in company of our driver and my boss who survived – remember he survived the previous attack, barely survived. Shortly after we arrived at the venue, it was a lot of emotions and all of that going on – just around this time on that day. Unknown to us that we were being surrounded by Boko Haram – we didn’t know. So, I was making a phone call then. I just stepped out of that immediate, center of attention, kind of, about let’s say few yards away from that from that center. Just a matter of about few minutes we heard gunshots. The only thing i could remember was some men with their turban all wrapped up, you couldn’t see their faces, just their eyes and their AK47. They were just shooting sporadically, and at that point I knew I was not going to make it. I knew I was going to die. Because there was no place to run to, no place to hide, it was just an open, plain field. I had to pray, like my last prayer. Everything was just happening so fast. The only thing i could remember saying was “the blood of Jesus”. There was no time to make amends of anything whatsoever. I knew I was going to die, this is it for me. And it so happened that I died actually. When I got to the hospital, I now played back what had happened because there in the hospital I heard stories that my boss died, our driver died, and about 12 other people. And that everybody was shot in the head. But eventually I came back to life – I don’t know how that happened. But my death then – temporary death – was as a result of gunshot that I sustained from the attack because they were shooting us in the head. I don’t know what happened when i passed out. I don’t know what happened. It was a miracle that is beyond me. I believe that it was God’s design that I was not going to die in that event. But I lost about 95% of my lower lip, I lost about 80% of my teeth, 25% of my tongue. For about 3 months I wasn’t talking. Getting me from Mubi to Yola, which is about 3 hours drive that day. When I got to Yola, there was another attack by Boko Haram the same night in the church in Yola, Yola town. I can’t recall the name of the church. But there was an attack that day. So the next morning I was flown to Lagos. I stayed in Lagos for a few days and was airlifted to the United Kingdom where I had most of my surgery. So, I am here to tell you that there is a serious atrocity going on in Nigeria – not just in the northeast but it’s like there’s something going on in Nigeria that has to be stopped. It’s like a religious cleansing of Christians. Because that meeting was a Christian meeting and they knew it was a Christian meeting, they came and attacked us. And I remember there was an attack the previous day and the day I was attacked, and also another attack the next day when I was moved to the hospital. So there’s a lot going on. It’s been a long journey coming from that and up to this moment. It’s an honor because like i said earlier, I thought I was going to die. I didn’t know I was going to live after that day. Being in your midst is an honor and a privilege – to come this far. It’s been a long journey for me. I’ve gone through a lot of surgeries. At a point I had to stop counting so I can maintain my sanity. A lot of painful surgeries up to this point. And I am one of the fortunate ones who could get this far. Not everybody who survived the attack of this magnitude is able to come this far, which I am thankful for. When I had my interview with CNN, one of the first things I did, which helped me to heal, was forgiving whoever attacked me. I don’t know their whereabouts, whether they have been arrested, which I don’t think they have. But I have forgiven them which is what I have learned as a Christian, and I have moved on from that. And so far, I have been hanging in there. I hope my story inspires everyone of you to keep doing whatever good you can help make our society a better place than we met it. So that’s all I have to share.
BARR EMMA OGEBE:
We want to pay special tribute to Ike. I’ve known him for several years now. And you can imagine what it was for me as a human rights lawyer working on these issues. I remember seeing the deadline that Christians were given to leave town in 3 days or die. I saw the 72 hours expire. I saw reports on the massacre. I heard about the people who gathered for a funeral, memorial for the people who were killed and then shot. And I never knew that one day I would meet this gentleman that I had been reading about. And he is especially fortunate that the company he worked for medivaced him by air ambulance to London. How many Christians would be that fortunate to have that sort of intervention? And that’s why he is today the sole survivor of that first massacre that began after Boko Haram announced that they gave Christians 3 days to leave town. Now, his testimony is particularly fitting right now because earlier this month Boko Haram issued the same threat in the country of Niger. So they have literally moved on to the next country and are giving Christians 3 days to leave town. And this is why this meeting at this time is very, very important, very urgent. And you may have guessed that there’s a little Ike behind us. But to show you the sacrifice that Ike made to come here, he took time off from his job, and his wife has travelled and is not around. And he said, “Is it OK if i come with my kid?” I was like, “absolutely”. So, we got 2 Ike’s for the price of one. So, and that said, we are going to turn to the chairman of the Nigerian Christian Elders Forum to share with us a little of his perspective on what is going on in Nigeria. Let’s welcome him with a round of applause.
I am sure when I get tired, I could still be allowed to sit down.
BARR. EMMA OGEBE:
The good thing is that he has a barrister’s baritone.
Let me thank the organizers for making it possible for me to come and address you. I think I’m the only person among those who have spoken who was, one time on the side of the government. And so for you to appreciate when I say that the stories they have told you are all correct, then I need to tell you a little bit about my background. I started off as colonial police officer 60 years ago in 1959. I was Inspector in the Nigerian police. At independence in 1960, I was the most senior police officer at the airport. Today, it is being commanded by an Assistant Inspector General. I will close the airport at 11:20 and open it the next morning at 5. Besides being in the police force, I worked also in the Interpol. During the civil war, I was the 2I/C in the Interpol. Mr. Etim Nyang was the OC and I was the Second-in-Command. Besides that, I have been ADC to the Governor of Midwest, etcetera. I studied law at the University of Lagos, and called to the Nigerian Bar and I have been a Senior Advocate for 34 years. I’ve been invited to be the Attorney General of the Federation, which I declined. I was also invited to go to the Court of Appeal, which I further declined. The reason for all this is because I was an insider, and could see my country changing from stage to stage. So we gather ourselves, those of us in Elders Forum, as the golden boys and girls of Nigeria’s independence. We had the best of everything. But bit by bit we begin to understand why we came to the situation in which we are today. It is the vestiges of colonialism. There’s a colonial mentality. The British discovered that we are going to have oil and we did not know much about oil at that time. And the first license was granted to Shell in 1938. And bit by bit they started developing oil. And when we got independence, we were told that we got it on the platter of gold – that was what the first Nigerian President, Nnamdi Azikiwe said. Yes it is true that the British granted us independence on a platter of gold, but the truth of the matter is that the Americans made them wait. So what is happening in our country today, and I want to confirm all they have said already, is we are really now fighting for the real independence. They succeeded, the British succeeded in including human rights in our Constitution. We are the first country in the world that has human rights as a provision in its Constitution. But all that has been put aside. I do not share the view that we are a minority. We created it: after all the Hausa were the majority in the North, and the Fulani were the minority. But the Fulani were able to absorb them, and they became a minority with the Fulani moving into the majority. Now, Christians are not minorities now. But the truth of the matter is that, to discuss with Christians, they appoint most of our leaders. I tell you, in some cases, you cannot be a Bishop if the intelligence service does not approve of it. That is a fact. I know this because I am also a Christian. Now how to get rid of it, is for me the most important aspect. My colleagues and other will support. Fortunately for us, the British government last week, for once after we’ve had several meetings with them in the House of Commons, in the house of law, have now accepted that indeed, in Nigeria, there’s some form of genocide taking place. And I hope that the influence of the British government on the American government will compel Americans to see this and then react in that direction. Now, we are thinking about the future, the laws are there but I will plead that you will help the Nigerians who left in 1975 during the beginning of the cleansing and all the intellectuals, the professors everywhere, they all ran away, most of them came to America. We plead with them that they should do for us what the Jews are doing for Israel. I think I will answer questions when it is time. Thank you very much.
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