Bishop Wilfred Anagbe of Nigeria shared details of the worsening persecution of Christians in Nigeria, accusing members of the government there of being complicit in what he called a Christian “genocide” and an erasure of the Christian presence from the country.
Bishop Anagbe, who leads the Makurdi Diocese, warned that if greater action is not taken he believes the Christian population, which currently numbers over 86 million, roughly half of the total Nigerian populace, could disappear entirely in the next few decades.
Though the Nigerian Christian population is massive and is known as having some of the most devoted faithful in the world, Bishop Anagbe said the Christian presence in Nigeria is “gradually and systematically” being reduced by radical Islamists through “killings, kidnappings, torture, and burning of churches.”
In the last decade alone, since taking up the leadership of his diocese in Nigeria’s central Benue state, the bishop said that he has lost 160 churches because of attacks that he said are being perpetrated by radical members of a Muslim tribe known as the Fulani.
Bishop Anagbe is in Washington, D.C., this week to bring attention to the crisis in Nigeria and to participate in the International Religious Freedom Summit, taking place Jan. 30–31.
He gave his remarks Tuesday morning at a breakfast in the House Rayburn Office Building. The event was organized by the papal relief group Aid to the Church in Need.
In Washington, I met two first-hand witnesses of the Christian persecution taking place in Nigeria, H.E. Bishop Wilfred Anagbe and Fr. Remigius Ihyulu of Makurdi Diocese in Benue State. They warned that Islamist extremists are committing genocide against Christians in Nigeria. pic.twitter.com/mxdWTiwbYo
— Marijana Petir (@marijana_petir) January 30, 2024
Bishop Anagbe said that during his time as shepherd of Makurdi, he has had to console his flock after an attack time and time again. Massacres such as the Good Friday attack in April 2023, which killed 43 Catholics in an elementary school, have become commonplace in his diocese, he said, a constant reality that continuously rocks the faithful.
Makurdi Diocese is not the only one suffering these attacks. As recently as December, more than 200 Nigerian Christians were killed in a series of Christmas attacks in the nearby state of Plateau from Dec. 23–25.
As part of his presentation, Bishop Anagbe showed several pictures of brutally murdered men, women, children, and babies, many with their bodies torn apart or heads and limbs bearing the marks of machete blows, all martyred for their faith by the Fulani.
For those who survive the attacks, the situation is not much better. An estimated 3 million refugees, called internally displaced persons (IDPs), currently live in massive shanty camps throughout Nigeria. Without money or resources, unable to return to their destroyed homes for fear of being killed, and with nowhere else to go, these millions of Christians live in the poorest conditions as refugees in their own country, Bishop Anagbe said.
“When you go where they are in the camps, you don’t know what to preach. It’s difficult to console them, to support them, to share with them, to fear with them, and it’s every day other people are coming in,” he said, adding that the poor conditions make the children especially vulnerable to human trafficking, child labor, and organ harvesting.
Though initially believing the government was merely participating “in a conspiracy of silence,” Bishop Anagbe said he now believes that Nigerian government officials are “concretely supporting, aiding, and abetting the kidnappers and the killers.” This, he said, is evidenced by the fact that the government has not made a single arrest of any of the terrorists responsible for the many massacres.
The result, Bishop Anagbe said, is that “the demography of the diocese of the state is gradually shrinking.”
Is the Persecution in Nigeria a Genocide?
Some Western politicians and media outlets posit that the crisis in Nigeria has been brought on by climate change, which they say is forcing nomadic Fulani herdsmen to fight with Christian farmers over scarce land. Bishop Anagbe, however, condemned this narrative as “lies and propaganda.” He said that the Fulani terrorists are motivated by hatred of Christianity first and foremost.
Bishop Anagbe told CNA that the attacks, which often kill hundreds at a time, are “targeted at Christian Indigenous groups in Nigeria” as “a way of eliminating this group of people who have the same faith from different places.” This, he said, is the very definition of a religious genocide.
“I keep asking how many mosques have been attacked versus Catholic churches? How many pastors and reverend fathers have been kidnapped versus imams?”
“They’re doing this systematically,” he said. “When you eliminate people who are not confrontational to you, who didn’t provoke you, and there’s no war, it’s an agenda they have to do.”
The agenda, Bishop Anagbe said, is the “extermination” of Christianity from Nigeria.
U.S. Bishops Looking into Crisis in Nigeria
Bishop Abdallah Elias Zaidan, head of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, was also present at the breakfast with Anagbe. He said the U.S. bishops are concerned about the persecution in Nigeria.
As chairman of the U.S. bishops’ International Justice and Peace Committee, Bishop Zaidan told CNA that the bishops have been keeping track of the persecution but that “it was good to hear firsthand from people living on the ground about the situation.”
“They say a picture is like a thousand words and the picture[s] we saw reveals a lot of things, the atrocities, the difficulties, and challenges our brothers and sisters live [through].”
Bishop Zaidan said the Church in Nigeria “definitely” needs all kinds of support, “not just financial but political support and also solidarity as a Church.”
Though he mentioned that Catholic Relief Services is already working to help alleviate the suffering in Nigeria, Bishop Zaidan also said that based on the testimony of Anagbe and other witnesses, the U.S. bishops “will assess” how to best respond to the crisis.
“We will go back and look at it and study it and see what’s the best avenue on how to handle situations like this,” he said.
“We’re blessed to live in this country where religious freedom is somewhat highly respected compared to other countries in the world. However, this is where we become lax. It’s good to open our eyes and our hearts and minds to all our brothers and sisters around the world and each one of us, in his and her own capacity, see what we can do for others, to think about them, support them, pray for them,” Bishop Zaidan said.