Dr Obadiah Mailafia, an outspoken critic of the Nigerian government who received death threats after publicly challenging official narratives about the sectarian violence in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, has died suddenly aged 64.
Mailafia, the former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria who hailed from Kaduna State, was forced to go into hiding after being repeatedly interrogated by national security officers and fearing for his life.
According to Luka Binniyat, spokesman for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), the former development economist, who took refuge in Nigeria’s northeastern Benue State following the death threats, fell sick on Saturday and was rushed to an Abuja hospital where he was pronounced dead on Sunday.
A human rights group, Concerned Nigerians for the Protection of Human Rights and Rule of Law Initiative, has called on the Nigerian government to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr Mailafia.
It said the call was necessitated by the history of intimidation of dissidents and activists who have exposed corruption and human rights violations perpetrated by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
Courageous in speaking truth to power
In a reaction to the news, Franklyne Emmanuel Ogbunwezeh, CSI’s Director for Genocide Prevention, described Mailafia as “one of the profoundest African minds I have ever met”. Ogbunwezeh had a secret meeting with Mailafia during a recent visit to Nigeria.
“Dr Mailafia’s death robbed me of a friend and a fellow warrior for a better Africa and a better Nigeria,” he wrote. “With his death Nigeria has lost a warrior for justice, and a voice for the voiceless minority of the Middle Belt of Nigeria, who are facing existential threats at the genocidal hands of Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists, bent on wiping them out.
"Dr Mailafia was a very courageous public intellectual who, in spite of risks to his life and harassments from the Nigerian authorities, was never afraid to speak truth to power. Nigeria has lost one of its great voices of conscience. Good night, my friend.”
Attacks on Christians “genocidal”
In a radio interview on 10 August last year, Mailafia reported that the devastating attacks by Islamist Fulani militias against the indigenous, predominantly Christian farming communities of the Middle Belt are part of a political project and have taken on genocidal proportions.
The ultimate goal, Mailafia claimed, is to drive the indigenous people off their ancestral land and transform the Middle Belt into grazing land for the Fulani herdsmen. Mailafia believed that Nigeria’s delicate political balance would be tipped decisively in favour of militant Islamism should this project succeed.
Mailafia crossed a political red line by stating that the perpetrators receive material and political support from elements within the Nigerian state. “The government has a hand in the killings,” he said. “No doubt about it.”
Following the radio interview he was detained for several hours by state security officers prompting him to go into hiding.
In a press release on 18 September 2020 Christian Solidarity International (CSI) condemned the harassment of Dr Mailafia and called on Nigerian officials to cease their persecution and intimidation of critical voices. At the time, CSI President John Eibner commented, “Dr Obadiah Mailafia has described the reality of the unfolding ethnic and religious cleansing in southern Kaduna State and the Middle Belt. He is now paying a heavy price for speaking the truth.”