Last weekend, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) Malta played host to guests from Nigeria who were in Malta as witnesses for the ACN Night of Witness event. Each had a story to tell. A story not just of woes but of dogged faith in the midst of the storm.
Speaking at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Balzan, Rev. Fr. Polycarp Lamma, a Catholic Priest from the Diocese of Jalingo in North-Eastern Nigeria and Mr. Solomon Yuhwam, a Catholic farmer and prayer leader recounted their share of experience in the hands of militant Fulani herdsmen.
In June last year, on June 5, which happened to be his birthday, Fr Lamma had a close shave with death. “They surround you and the only way to avoid death is to try and escape or hide. Fortunately, when they use guns, we hear them coming and have a greater chance to flee.”
“I hid under a heap of rubbish and spent four hours concealed, until about 4.30am when the attack was over,”
Mr. Solomon on his part, bears the scar of such an attack on his right hand. He recounts that he only survived by a miracle, after throwing himself among the corpses of his fellow villagers who were not so lucky.
“Most of them are shot dead, but when the bullets run out they turn to machetes and even axes,” he recounted.
It all started in 2014, says Fr. Polycarp, though such clashes over grazing land in the region go back centuries, it was only in recent years that tensions escalated.
“We lived in peace till 2014, when Fulani herdsmen committed a serious attack in the village. They burned everything down, including 43 religious centres, including the parish hall,” Fr. Polycarp recounted.
What started as a tribal clash has turned out to be an endless wave of violence against Christians and everything that represents the faith- Churches, religious structures, clergy.
“When they attack, they shout Allah u Akbar, and start shooting, but not before alerting Muslim farmers about their intention,” he added.
The most inspiring part of these testimonies is the fact that despite these attacks on the Church, killing of members and destruction of Churches, the faith is still vibrant in the region; people still meet under trees for Mass and other spiritual activities.
Fr Lamma accused the Nigerian authorities of turning a blind eye, including Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari whom, he says, has never condemned these attacks.
“People are sometimes arrested but they are released within days,” he says.
“We need your help; we need your prayers and support. We thank ACN for their efforts to see that those who are suffering are helped in every way.
I call on Maltese/Gozitans to continue to support ACN so they will continue the good work they are doing. Without your help, they cannot do what they are doing”, he said.