Rick Plasterer, a staff writer for The Institute on Religion and Democracy on religious liberty issues says that the crisis in Nigeria does not get the attention it deserves in the West because of the Nigerian government’s denial of the religious character of the killings — and the Western establishment’s acceptance of this false narrative. But he points to some recent developments which raise hope that the West may start to pay attention
Originally published in The Roys Report
The persecution of Christians in Nigeria seems to be intensifying, with continuing reports of people being killed in the north of Nigeria, and its so-called “Middle Belt” of farmland.
This is where the mostly Christian farmers are being killed, their crops destroyed, and villages and homes burnt by radical Islamic groups—Fulani herdsman, Boko Haram, and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
However, the worst attacks often come during Christian holidays. And one of the worst attacks yet, the slaughter of 200 Christians in Plateau State in the Middle Belt, occurred this past Christmas, from December 23-25.
Atrocities on Christian Holidays
This attack recalls the Pentecost Sunday attack on St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Ondo State, in southwest Nigeria in 2022. There 50 people were killed. A video clip of the church with pools of blood on the floor immediately after the attack in this article from LifeSiteNews.com is simply horrific.
The choice of a Christian holiday to attack Christians highlights a key controversy which is raised whenever there is attention to the killing in Nigeria. Is this simply a “farmer/herder” conflict, driven ultimately by economic factors, in particular, desertification of the Sahel (the semi-arid transitional zone south of the Sahara Desert)? Or, is it a basically a religious clash, with Muslims attacking Christians in an effort to seize the property of Christian farmers and Islamise Nigeria?
The governor of Plateau state, Caleb Mutfwang, clearly stated after the attacks that what is happening in Nigeria is genocide. The word may be overused in our day but does express that what is happening is not a “clash,” or a “conflict,” or “sectarian violence.” These terms would indicate that there are two sides fighting. But there is only one side participating in the bloodshed—radical Muslim groups, who attack Christians with the sole objective of killing them and seizing their property.
Configuration of the Crisis
As noted by Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, in a video clip interviewing a Nigerian pastor, when the British ruled Nigeria, they relied on northern Muslims, and particularly the Fulani tribe (with millions of members across the Sahel) to rule the country.
This left northern Muslims in charge of the military and security apparatus. And today, the Muslim dominance continues.
Former President Muhammadu Buhari was a Fulani. And the Nigerian army is often reluctant to act against Islamic terrorists and sometimes is complicit in attacks, arresting or attacking civilian guards fighting against the violence.
TruthNigeria, which attempts to report on ongoing slaughter and overt negligence of Nigerian authorities, reported on January 7: “Nigerian army soldiers are standing as watchmen for Fulani terrorists who have moved into some of the conquered villages. . . . The terrorist invaders will prevent the return of the 10 000 displaced residents, the majority of whom are Christians, according to victims and humanitarian aid givers.”
Additionally, the army has been arresting the civilian guards, who attempt to protect the northern communities from Islamic terrorists.
Meanwhile, the attacked villages of Mutfet, Ndun, Mbong, and Yelwa Nono still have no security presence. Faced with enormous criticism from the West regarding the Christmas massacre, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission has ordered broadcasters in Nigeria to stop reporting on the killing and violence.
Life after an attack
But for Christians in Nigeria, the sorrow at the loss of loved ones, property, and livelihood as they were preparing to celebrate Christmas is compounded by the immediate need for food and shelter. They also face the question of how they will rebuild their lives and communities with no assurance (despite promises) of security.
A Nigerian pastor who lost his home in the Christmas attack spoke movingly of having lost seven family members as well. Like many others, he lost everything in his home, “bought foodstuffs, clothing, and whatever. It was a furnished house, but it is burnt, and even the church that is by my side was burnt.”
The hapless residents of northern Nigeria are doing what they can to respond to their plight. The civilian guards, while themselves apparently the occasional targets of the army, are one response. In another response to the Christmas massacre, residents of the affected areas rallied in Jos, the capital of Plateau State.
The displacement of people from devastated and dangerous areas has resulted in multitudes of displaced persons. Last October it was reported that over two million persons were displaced by the “farmer/herder” conflict in Benue State (south of Plateau State).
Persistent government complicity
As I discussed in a previous article on the Nigerian crisis, the Nigerian government is often complicit in the violence.
Vatican News estimated that 52 250 people have been killed in the last 14 years, and 18 000 churches have been set on fire. Such statistics testify either to a government unable or unwilling to stop the violence.
The director of the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (InterSociety), Emeka Umeagbalasi, has accused the government of encouraging the bloodshed.
“The level of violence is expected to continue, and it has continued to rise because the authorities are fueling the crisis,” Umeagbalasi said. “The authorities are behind the killings. The authorities have injected the security forces with jihadist bad blood, to the extent that the security forces have left what they are supposed to do, and they started going after people who are not lawless citizens.”
Meanwhile, Umeagbalasi maintained, the government is quick to protect Fulani Muslims.
“In Plateau State or in northern Nigeria, in any of the troubled spots, if a Fulani man is killed, you will see security forces and government spending millions (in local currency) in sponsoring the high publicity of that Fulani man killed . . . When defenseless citizens are killed in their hundreds, the government does not raise any eyebrows. That is to say that in Nigeria there are those that are created to be killed, and there are those that are created to live.”
A member of the Nigerian House of Representatives, David Lalu, has suggested that communities should take up arms against the jihadists, but Umeagbalasi believes that will simply lead to more violence.
Other branches of government in Nigeria also have jihadist elements in them, Umeagbalasi maintained, noting: “They now sing jihadist Islamic songs.”
After a horrific killing, such as that of last Christmas or Pentecost 2022, there may be strong denunciations of violence, and promises of justice. But in reality, the government and military seem to have a “nonchalant attitude” toward the killing, not responding to calls for help and even providing security for terrorists, as noted by Truth Nigeria.
Advocates and activists concerned with the slaughter agree on the inadequacy of the government’s response. Franklyne Ogbunwezeh of Prevention at Christian Solidarity International in Switzerland, recently claimed that the killings in central Nigeria show the jihadists’ intention of wiping out the Christian population, and the government’s complicity in the bloodshed by ignoring pleas for help.
Similarly, Maria Lozano, a representative for the papal relief group Aid to the Church in Need, maintained that “lack of response from the government” to pleas for help during and after attacks has resulted in increasing violence over the years. While the government may express outrage at a particularly grievous attack, it does not offer “tangible support.” As a result, Christians churches have had to take “primary responsibility of providing assistance.”
Another well-placed source, Sean Nelson of the Alliance Defending Freedom International, has said of the Christmas massacre that “the scale of this attack is shocking . . . If no real actions are taken after these attacks this Christmas, it can only be deliberate indifference to the lives of these Christian communities.”
He added that while attacks on Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt have gone on for years, they have increased in the past year.
Killing in the New Year
Killings are reported on an almost weekly or daily basis in Nigeria. Since the Christmas massacre, terrorists slaughtered 41 Christians and kidnapped others in Kaduna State.
The attack occurred on January 3. It was reported that “the terrorists who were armed with deadly weapons invaded the communities, killing children, women, men and the elderly who were unable to escape from the attackers.”
The location of the terrorist camp responsible for the violence in that part of Nigeria is known, and has been raided by the army. But nearby communities never have peace.
Similarly, on January 5, 14 persons, including a pastor, were killed in Yobe State by members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). The pastor was killed at the church, while the others were killed in their homes.
Open Doors World Watch List 2024 reports: “More believers are killed for their faith in Nigeria each year than everywhere else in the world combined. The attacks are often brutal in nature and can involve destruction of properties, abductions for ransom, sexual violence, and death. Believers are stripped of their livelihoods and driven from their homes, leaving a trail of grief and trauma.”
The previous 2023 list raised Nigeria’s ranking among the 50 worst countries persecuting Christians from 7 to 6. It also declared:
“Militants from the Fulani, Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and others conduct raids on Christian communities, killing, maiming, raping, and kidnapping for ransom or sexual slavery . . . This year has also seen this violence spill over into the Christian-majority south of the nation . . . Nigeria’s government continues to deny this is religious persecution, so violations of Christians’ rights are carried out with impunity.”
What can be done?
Because of the denial of the basically religious character of the ongoing slaughter by the Nigerian government, which is shared by the Biden Administration State Department and much of the Western establishment, the crisis does not receive the attention it should in the public mind of the West.
A particularly egregious example is the Wikipedia article on the “History of Nigeria”. The article inaccurately states that Nigeria was placed on the “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC) list in 2018, during the tenure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
However, Nigeria was placed on the CPC list on December 7, 2020, shortly before Trump left office, due to Assistant Secretary of State Robert Destro’s on the ground investigation. The investigation found that the main problem was the Nigerian government’s failure to provide adequate security for its citizens.
However, the crisis in Nigeria may start to receive the attention it deserves in the Western mainstream.
Amnesty International (AI) recently stated its concern over the increasing violence, declaring that the country is “living on a knife edge.”
Almost daily kidnapping for ransom leaves people in a state of constant fear, AI noted. The group also decried the abuses committed against victims, specifically “torture, rape, and starvation.”
Also taking note of the crisis is Pope Francis, who in response to the killings in Plateau State prayed that God would “free Nigeria from these horrors”.
This writer remembers where he was on Pentecost Sunday, 2022 when the horrific killings occurred at St Francis Catholic Church in Ondo State. I was having a delightful Sunday dinner with relatives in the states.
Thinking of Nigeria from the vantage point of relative security in North America, it is frustrating that there is so little that can be done if the Nigerian government continues its policy of slowly eradicating the Christian populations of north and central Nigeria.
Persistent prayer is certainly part of the solution, and that can be offered regardless of government policies.
Continued publicity of the horrific nature of the crisis by organisations and individuals who can speak into the public square is crucial. Images and sounds, such as shown in the first link in this article should be particularly effective.
And of course, the restoration of Nigeria’s status as a Country of Particular Concern is another action which might move the Nigerian government to provide effective protection against violence. Yet another measure would be conditioning any aid from the United States to Nigeria on the Nigerian government implementing more effective policies to protect its citizens from killing and lawlessness.
We cannot determine the future in Nigeria. But we should do what we can to stop evil.
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