There are many "voices" in Nigeria whose stories of religious persecution, terrorism, discrimination, and displacement are not heard. Voices4Nigeria wants you to hear their stories, their voices. Our first story comes from "Esther."
My name is Esther. I am from Borno State. I am a Christian. 80% of Borno State is Muslim. All my school years were in Borno State from my nursery, primary, secondary and tertiary institution.
While growing up, we lived peacefully with our Muslim neighbors. But, as time went on, religious discrimination increased in all forms. The government ended the teaching of all Christian Religious Knowledge. Today, only Islamic Religious Knowledge is taught in all public schools. Christians are denied key academic positions. Scholarships are denied if you are a Christian. In the government hospitals, before the doctors attend to you, patients are required to fill out a form indicating the religious affiliation. If you are a Christian, the patient receives lower priority and care quality. Job opportunities are given to Muslims, even if a Christian is more qualified. We are treated as second-class citizens!
While growing up, we were called all sorts of names by some radical Muslims – Names like, “infidels,” “uncircumcised,” “unbelievers” and “pagans”. They say it to our faces to make us feel inferior. Discrimination continued to increase. Many became hostile toward us. Growing up in Borno State was full of tension and fear. Most Fridays became their day of attack after Friday prayers (Juma’a prayers). Many of the radical Muslims come out in mass to attack Christians. They burned down churches and killed people. Christians ran to military barracks for safety and stayed there until things calmed down. These attacks against Christians happened regularly for 14 years before Boko Haram became official and their “first” attack in 2009 was verified. Quickly the Muslim attacks on Christians became even more violent.
On a Sunday in August 2009, around 9:00 p.m., I noticed that my phone did not have network coverage. Nobody could use their phones. A group of radical Muslims shot down all communication systems that night. Little did I know that the Islamic sect had set out an attack on the State, killing Christians and the police. They burnt down almost all the churches in Madugarie, (pop. 1,907,600), the capital of Borno State. Early the next morning, we saw people running to our street who were from a far distance from where the Islamic sect had attacked. We heard gunshots. There was confusion. Many were killed. We heard about a church where people were inside praying and Boko Haram burned it to the ground with the people locked inside. The crisis lasted for five days. People had no homes, no food, no family. They were displaced.
We were able to escape to another state. We returned a month later, but things never returned to normal. People were missing and kidnapped and others recruited by the Boko Haram. Silent killings were on the increase. Many pastors, doctors, and military men were killed – many in their homes. Crime continued to increase. Banks were robbed. And then there were the suicide bombers. Bomb explosions at central places were at an increase. We no longer felt safe anywhere. On Sundays, the Islamic sect opened fire on people during Sunday services. Going to church was a nightmare because you didn’t know if you were going back home alive or not. It became so intense that there was a mass exodus from Borno State.
One Sunday afternoon, some of the young men from the Islamic sect came to my dad’s house to demand money. My dad told them he was retired and only had 5000 nairas ($13). The men left. Our neighbors told us that these were the same young men who had been doing the silent killings in town. They advised us to leave immediately. My dad was a target. We left everything. We went to another state. After we left, we were told by our neighbors that the next day, the same men returned looking for my dad to kill him. No one knew where we were. Our home was vandalized and burned to the ground.
Also, Fulani herdsmen have been attacking Christian farming communities. The Nigerian military is infiltrated by radical Islamists. Citizens are not sure who the real military is or who to trust. Recently in Adamawa State, a Christian community was attacked by a group of Fulani herdsmen. The youth in the community began defending themselves and were having victory over the Fulani attackers. Then, all of a sudden, there was a Nigerian military jet that released fire on the villagers. All the Fulani escaped without injury. Many of the villagers were killed.
The kidnapping of the Dapchi girls shows an agenda. All kidnapped Muslim girls were released and given scholarship by the government with the exception of Leah Sharibu (15 years old) because she refuses to denounce Christ and be converted to Islam. She has yet to be released by her captors.
Many who live in the Internally Displaced Persons – IDP Camps are being marginalized. Relief materials sent by the federal government are not properly distributed. The conditions in the IDP camps are terrible. Many moderate Muslims have been displaced and live in the IDP camps with Christians. But, typically Muslims are given more preferential treatment. Loans given by the government to IDP’s are often given to Muslim-only camps. The criteria to access that loan is for you to be converted to Islam.
There are a lot of people I know at the Internally Displaced camps – some at community IDP camps; some at government IDP camps. All need to be empowered with skills to earn a livelihood. Most were farmers who had their families and farms destroyed by Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen. There are many orphans who need safe places to stay. Some children need education. Everyone needs trauma therapy. Many, many people have provided shelter and food in their homes for the displaced. Many orphans have been taken into private homes to be cared for. But, there are still people who have no place to go except the IDP camps. No one knows when the government will shut down the camps.
Voices4Nigeria (V4N) has done so much for the people of my country. They have put so many smiles on the faces of people and brought much hope. V4N donated medical equipment to the hospitals. Most of the equipment donated is not available in the community clinics and hospitals, but with the help of V4N, victims of the insurgency can get the care they need. They also donated food, emergency relief materials, shoes, clothing, vitamins, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, toys for children, books, Bibles and lots of other things. Our people feel hopeful knowing that some on the other side of the world are taking notice of our trouble. We are grateful to Voices4Nigeria and all those who partner with them.
God bless Voices4Nigeria and God bless America.