Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, 83, was honored with the International Religious Freedom Award, 2019 along with four other religious leaders from other countries at an awards ceremony in Washington
The United States is honoring a Muslim cleric, Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, who risked his own life to protect nearly over 200 Christians from being killed by members of a marauding herdsmen tribe in Nigeria. The ongoing pastoral crises in the central states of the country between the Fulani herdsmen who are predominantly Muslims and farmers who are majorly Christians have taken a turn for the worst with nearly 1,300 deaths since January according to CNN. The crises are so grave that it has been termed "six times deadlier" than Boko Haram-related attacks according to the International Crisis Group (ICG). The conflict is also seen as a major threat to the country's stability.
The 83-year-old cleric had hidden 262 Christians in his home and mosque during an attack on farmers in 10 villages in Barkin Ladi area of Plateau State on June 23, 2018. Over 80 people were killed in the attacks with many homes in the villages being set on fire. The increasing proliferation of agriculture at the expense of pasturelands leading to a competition of diminishing natural resources such as land and water resources is seen as the main reason for the conflict according to Foreign Affairs. Going on since 1999, the conflict has killed nearly 10,000 people.
Imam Abubakar Abdullahi of #Nigeria selflessly risked his own life to save members of another religious community, who would have likely been killed without his intervention. #IRFAwards @USEmbassyAbuja pic.twitter.com/pObSlkvgFU— Department of State (@StateDept) July 17, 2019
Today, 83-year-old Nigerian Imam Abubakar Abdullahi will receive the first-ever International Religious Freedom Award of the US Govt. He hid 262 Berom Christians in his mosque and in his house in June 2018 when herdsmen launched a bloody attack on 10 villages in Plateau State. 1. pic.twitter.com/AZ8oRgX2hV— AuduMaikori (@Audu) July 18, 2019
Violence between the nomadic herdsmen and the farmers is also giving sleepless nights to the government that is forced to divert much of its army and resources to solving this conflict rather than fighting the Boko Haram rebels. Abdullahi stood between the attackers and the Christians and at one point of time even offered his own life in exchange for those of the Christians who he sheltered winning the admiration of people around the world
Yesterday, the US conferred its International Religious Freedom Award on Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, the 83 year old Imam that saved the lives of over 260 Berom Christians by hiding them in his house and Mosque. Has PMB celebrated this act of heroism? But we will stabilise Libya.— Mazi Chima Amadi Ph.D (@AMADICHIMA) July 18, 2019
Good people abound in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. One of such men of unquantifiable goodness, Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, has been deservedly honoured with the US International Religious Freedom Award. Congratulations Imam Abdullahi. -AA https://t.co/dI1ZIUfnA8— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) July 18, 2019
The cleric refused to give them up when their attackers asked about their whereabouts, said Sam Brownback, International Religious Freedom Ambassador at the awards ceremony in Washington on Wednesday according to the CNN report. The State Department organizes the award to advocates of religious freedom.
"The imam gave refuge to his Christian neighbors, sheltering 262 Christians in his mosque and his home.... then stood outside the doors confronting the Muslim attackers, pleading with them to spare the lives of the Christians inside, even offering to exchange his own life for theirs. His actions bear witness to true courage, true selflessness, and true brotherly love," said Brownback. What has made the matter worse is the mishandling of the conflict by the government itself according to the Foreign Affairs report. Some government officials have inflamed situation further by blaming groups on both sides before conducting investigations.
Religion without love is dead, being alone. Congratulations to Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar, the 83-year-old Imam who has been honoured for risking everything to protect Christians and Muslims in the Plateau religious killings. #GodIsLove pic.twitter.com/cFHr1PXdCb— simon kolawole (@simonkolawole) July 18, 2019
Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, awarded the 2019 the International Religious Freedom Award.— Sanobar (@SanobarFatma) July 19, 2019
The 83 year old, hid 262 Christians in his home and mosque during an attack in Nigeria then stood outside confronting the attackers, pleading & offering to exchange his own life for theirs. pic.twitter.com/lRfvMgdX4N
Instead of brokering peace between the two groups politicians are busy playing their usual political games and sowing social divisions for their own ends in the lead-up to the general election scheduled for February. One of the ways the conflict may be solved by reforming cattle management practices, improving policies on agriculture and land access. Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, along with four religious leaders from Sudan, Iraq, Brazil and Cyprus, were awarded the 2019 the International Religious Freedom Award, which is given to advocates of religious freedom.
Since the start of the conflict as many as 30,000 Nigerians have fled their homes in affected states. "The farmer-herder conflict has become Nigeria's gravest security challenge, now claiming far more lives than the Boko Haram insurgency," said the ICG.