On the 3rd and 4th June, the Islamist group Boko Haram stormed Bosso, a town in the eastern part of the Republic of Niger. At least 30 soldiers from the army were killed and several military equipment set ablaze. Armaments and food meant for the Nigerien soldiers were stolen. According to the United Nations, at least 50,000 people have been displaced. The government declared no civilian casualty.
Bosso is found in the Diffa region where Boko Haram has already perpetrated attacks resulting in human lost. The tiny Christian community is visited by our confreres who live in Zinder situated at 468 km away. Bosso is also at 870 km from Birni N’Konni and almost 1,200 km from the capital Niamey where I am doing my apostolic experience (stage).
Sadly enough, while the government denies the existence of civilian victimisation, we lost one of our brothers called Rémi Lawson, a converted Christian from Islam. Since his conversion, Rémi was known for his boldness in bearing witness to his faith. After dispersing the army, Boko Haram stormed the area where Rémi was. They shot him on the left shoulder. Then, Rémi knelt down and made the sign of the cross in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Seeing it, an extremist militia man cried out “infidel” and killed him on the spot.
Already on the 16th and 17th January 2015, our churches and convents were set ablaze by ordinary Muslims. Why is it that our places of worship were maliciously burnt down? Our faith is being threatened. The example of Rémi is a proof that the public profession of our faith is not genuinely accepted. Niger is a secular state, yet this is only true on paper.
On the same day of his assassination, Rémi’s spouse gave peacefully birth to a child at the maternity ward. It was the wishes of Rémi to be so. But Rémi’s death is a drama to the family and a serious blow to our small Church in Niger. As my brother Lefterius Mwamba pointed out on the 2015 attacks, “we are persecuted but not forgotten”. A prayer vigil was organised so as to call the Lord’s strength upon us. We are still on a journey in making a Niger where all religious affiliations will be recognised. We call upon God’s name through his Son and our mother Mary so that we may all accept and move forward in mutual respect into our common humanity.
“In the world you will have hardships, but be courageous: I have conquered the world” said Jesus (Jn, 16: 33). The zeal and hope to continue our mission in Niger can only be found in the peace promised by our Lord Jesus Christ who is also calling us to “go and make disciples of all nations (…..) And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Mt 28:19a, 20b). We profess our faith through our commitment to building a peaceful Niger for all.
Dear confreres, families and friends of the Missionaries of Africa, let us keep Rémi’s family in our prayers. We continue praying for the mission in Niger so that the harder the mission may become the bolder and zealous we may be in proclaiming God’s Kingdom.