For the past 11 years, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been spreading terror in northeastern Nigeria, destroying communities and driving people from their homes. Father John Bakeni, CSI’s partner in the area, is at the forefront of efforts to help Christians and moderate Muslims whose lives have been turned upside down.
The ongoing violence has seen more than two million people driven out of Borno State, the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency. In the state capital Maiduguri alone, there are one million displaced people, living in one of 20 camps or in communities. “Most of these people are moderate Muslims who do not share the ideology of Boko Haram. They are as much the Islamists’ enemy as Christians,” says Father John.
The situation is better than it was in 2014, when thousands of Christians were killed in their villages and 276 Christian girls were abducted from a boarding school in the city of Chibok. But there are still frequent attacks, and even in the camps, people are not safe.
The priest knows only too well what a fight for survival many people face. They depend on the help of local people and international organizations like CSI. “They are our source of hope and survival,” he remarks.
Funding for start-ups
Father John Bakeni is the head of humanitarian work of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri, which has been partnering with CSI for six years. Thanks to the support CSI offers, the lives of many displaced people have changed for the better in that time. CSI has helped by distributing food and medicine and enabling children to attend school. In addition, it has provided the financial support needed to allow many internal refugees to start a small business and rebuild their lives.
Monica Iliya is one of the many Boko Haram victims to benefit from this aid. The widow and mother of three currently lives in a Catholic refugee camp in Maiduguri. In 2019, she received start-up funding from CSI with which she acquired a sewing machine. The clothes she makes sell so well that she is able to provide a decent life for her children. She was even able recently to purchase a second sewing machine.
“Today, Monica is not only an independent woman. She has gained so much self-confidence that she teaches other women in the camp how to sew,” says Father John, adding, “She tells me that for her, CSI is like a father, a mother and a husband.”
Driven by love
Asked what motivates him to fight for the suffering Christians and moderate Muslims in northeastern Nigeria, Father John replies simply, “I love people, regardless of race, sex, nationality or religion. I want justice and peace to rule the world. As a human being, but also as a Christian, I cannot simply turn away while my people are discriminated against, harassed and killed.
“I am called to work with all my heart for the persecuted Christians in Nigeria. Only when there is peace and justice is long-term development possible, so that people can use their full God-given potential.”