REV DR. D. C. DATIRI
President, Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN)
What has been the impact of the Islamic insurgency on COCIN?
The impact is unquantifiable. The destruction is unbelievable. In Borno state for instance, COCIN has lost an entire RCC. An RCC is a Regional Church Council that has a number of zones and its Local Council has lots of congregations under it. So, if you are thinking of congregations, we used to have scores of congregations that have been completely displaced and many of the members have been killed.
In terms of infrastructure, Christian properties worth billions of Naira have been destroyed.
In Borno state, we had three Regional Church Councils. The RCC in Gwoza was completely destroyed. The other two are still operating minimally because of the number of congregations that they have in Maiduguri. Unfortunately, the other congregations outside Maiduguri metropolis have been destroyed by Boko Haram.
In Bauchi state, the Tafawa Balewa Area has been under constant attacks. Even after the elections, the congregations there were attacked also. It is only the grace of God that is sustaining the brethren there.
Coming to Plateau state, communities outside Jos are being attacked almost on a daily basis. I cannot tell you how many Regional Church Councils have been decimated in these attacks. All these are communities not far from Jos. The Muslims kill Christians and destroy their properties. The media report is usually that these communities have been attacked by unknown gunmen or by Fulani herdsmen. The underlying motive is to destroy the church.
Even in Nasarawa State, we have lost no less than five congregations. When you ask who is responsible for the destruction, security officers will claim they are unknown gunmen or Fulani herdsmen. Yet, is most instances, they come dressed in military uniform. Where did the Muslim insurgents obtain the military uniform that they wear when going to destroy churches?
In Yobe, we have lost scores of churches and many of the members of our congregations have been killed.
Last week, one of our pastors was killed in Barkin Kogi. Another pastor was killed in Wase, in Plateau state while we just heard this week that one of our pastors in Gwoza had been killed by the Muslims.
The target of all these Islamic attacks is the church. The goal is to destroy the church so that Islam can take over.
What are the implications of these attacks on the Nigerian Church in general?
You see, COCIN is the predominant denomination here on the Plateau as well as in some parts of Bauchi state. COCIN forms probably 70% to 80% of Christians on the Plateau. So, if they succeed in destroying COCIN, they would have succeeded in eradicating a sizeable portion of the church on the Plateau. Since their goal is to wipe out Christianity in Plateau state, in their bid to overrun Nigeria with Islam, eliminating COCIN on the Plateau is tantamount to overrunning Nigeria with Islam. Plateau state is a big hurdle for the Islamists in their quest and overcoming COCIN on the Plateau is a sure sign that they have conquered Christianity in Nigeria.
So, they concentrate their forces on eradicating Christianity on the Plateau. It is only by the grace of God that we are surviving. We keep asking God for strength, wisdom, and courage. But, I must tell you, it is heartbreaking. At times I receive phone calls in the middle of the night from our members asking for help and in the background, I hear the sound of gunshots. It is tragic.
What do you suggest should be the remedy? What should the Church do?
The remedy is for the church to be united. The Nigerian church must speak with one voice and let the world know that Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen are orchestrated attacks on the church. All the Christians in Nigeria must see these attacks as intentionally designed destruction against the body of Christ in Nigeria. The unity of the church will go a long way in solving the problem.
In the midst of these attacks, compromise is still noticed amongst ministers of the gospel, even in the affected areas. What is the cause of this?
This is a serious problem in the church. As the devil is working through Boko Haram and the other insurgents from outside to destroy the church, we also notice that unsanctified ministers of the gospel also weaken the church from within.
Our approach has been to emphasize consecration and holiness for our pastors.
We have identified the problem that you mentioned and we are working very hard to make sure that in COCIN, such compromise amongst the ministers of the gospel is eliminated. Of course, you will understand that in this matter, I can only speak for COCIN.
What message would you like to convey to other Christians, particularly in the South?
I have mentioned unity of the church. The Nigerian church must unite to confront this evil agenda to eradicate Christianity in the country. Added to this is the need for intensive prayers and intercession, particularly for the Christians in the North.
One important area in which we appeal for the support of Christians nationwide is meeting the needs of the victims of these attacks. In most instances, those who survive are often impoverished. Every means of livelihood is intentionally destroyed by these rampaging forces. Their homes are burnt to the ground, their properties are burnt, their food is destroyed and even their farmland is destroyed. The Fulani herdsmen intentionally go to the farms and destroy the food crops. The aim is to impoverish the people, destroy their economy so that they can dominate and control them.
There is a great need for material and financial support for the brethren undergoing these persecutions. They need clothes, foods, medical treatment and so on.
Is there a political reason for this?
This is one area where many Nigerian Christians are deceived, thinking that Islam separates politics from religion. For the Muslim, there is no separation between politics, religion, commerce, and whatever other area you might mention. So, when a Muslim attacks the church, he has no political or economic barrier.
The underlying factor is that the Muslims in northern Nigeria believe that they are born to rule and dominate every other person in Nigeria. To them, everything is the same — religion, politics, commerce, and so on. So, if you do not practise the religion that they believe in, then you imply that you are not under their control and they will fight that.
The only thing that will save the church is for us to be united. If the Nigerian church can unite, they will stop these Islamic attacks.
Finally, sir, do you have a word for the Nigerian Christians?
I think that the biggest problem Nigerian Christians have is that for many of us, we lack genuine Christian conviction. For many Nigerian Christians, their faith is superficial, it is only on the surface. We need to develop deep faith and the way we can easily do that is to pay attention to Biblical discipleship.
If we cultivate genuine Christian conviction, our problems will melt away.