“This to me is do unto others what you want them do to you,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan after interviewing Johan Viljoen, the Director of DHPI, on the work done by the Denis Hurley Peace Institute regarding the unrest and persecutions in Nigeria.
The interview took place on Tuesday the 10th May evening on the Catholic Faith Channel programme called Conversation with Cardinal Dolan. In beginning the interview the Cardinal, who said he knows who Denis Hurley is and respects him, asked Viljoen to explain to the listeners who the Denis Hurley is. “Dennis Hurley was the Archbishop of Durban in the time of apartheid, and what many of the listeners may not be aware of is that the Catholic Church in the fight for human right in South Africa was in the forefront resisting the unjust laws. And Archbishop Hurley was a key figure,” explained Viljoen.
The Director of the DHPI continued his explanation saying what basically happened was after the end of apartheid and transition to democracy the South African Bishops founded the Denis Hurley Peace Institute as an agency of the Bishops’ Conference to support the Catholic Church in countries outside South Africa with programmes that promote peace, democracy and human rights. He stated that at the moment DHPI works in DRC, Mozambique, Uganda, Cameroon, Eswatini and Nigeria.
The Cardinal asked for more information on the harassment and the danger to the Catholic Population in Nigeria after mentioning that the day before the interview he was with Bishop Jude Arogundade, the Catholic Bishop of Ondo Diocese, Nigeria. “Very few people outside Nigeria are actually aware that, I would say, for the past two or three years there has been a systematic invasion of the south east and to a lesser extent the south west by people who are claiming to be Fulani herdsmen,” said Viljoen, adding that most people will be familiar with the situation in the North East where Boko Haram mainly is.
Viljoen went on to explain that the Fulani herdsman are also nothing new, they came from the North, they went in search of pasture for their cattle to the south and south east of Nigeria. He said they were mostly men who are armed with knives. Johan Viljoen clarified that what is happening in Nigeria at the moment is that these are not cattle herders, these are militias, they are dressed in camouflage uniforms, they carry AK47s, and they move into places, the destroy the farm lands, they burn crops, they destroy entire villages.
He continued to explain that what they are even doing in the many parts of South East is that they are setting up control posts, like command posts outside villages, to prevent people from accessing their land. “When women go to the fields raped and killed,” said Viljoen. He said what is being witnessed is a systematic dispossession, with a huge amount of internally displaced people. “The one case I can particularly highlight is in Benue State, which is sort of in the north of the south east, sort of on the border. It has been particularly severe. Just to give you a scale of what we are dealing with, there are now more than two million internally displaced people just in Benue State,” noted Viljoen.
Talking about Catholic persecutions in particular Johan Viljoen said people on the ground say that since 2019 more than 36000 people have been killed and It seems to be systematically aimed at the Catholic Population. “In Benue State alone more than 400 Catholic Churches have been burnt down by the invaders,” he said.
The Archbishop of New York then said to Johan that what Bishop Jude Arogundade had told him was that what kind of exacerbate the situation is government is doing nothing about the persecutions. In agreement with that Viljoen said what the government has been doing is blame a certain recruitment in the south east who are fighting for independence. He said the government also blames the so-called unknown gunmen, but what is very interesting is that these Fulani herdsmen have their own organization called Miyati Allah. Noting that everything they do gets done under the umbrella of Miyeti Allah, and President Buhari himself is a lifelong patron of Miyeti Allah. Viljoen said people in the south are also saying that the army, the police and those in command are all Fulani people from the north.
Cardinal Dolan said what gives hope will be the dedication and the work of people like those at the Denis Hurley Institute. The Cardinal asked to be kept updated by the DHPI since it is important to highlight the religious suppression around the world to organization like the United Nations whose headquarters are in New York. “What is inspirational here is the Church in South Africa, was on the vanguard of the promotion of civil rights at difficult times, it suffered for it, and now they are saying we need to help other places that are going through what we did. This to me is do unto others what you want them do to you,” concluded Cardinal Timothy Dolan.