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For Christians living in the North and Middle Belt of Nigeria, persecution is rife and relentless, and life itself is precarious. Since 2015, extremist violence has killed at least 8,400 Christians. The exact death toll is unknown and the numbers may be much higher than this, as many cases go unreported. One village head from the Middle Belt told Barnabas Fund in 2020, “We are tired and we do not want to bother others about our tragedies. We seem always to be reporting deaths and attacks, and people are weary of our reports.”
Thousands of people have been maimed, kidnapped or had their homes and livelihoods destroyed, and more than two million have been displaced.
Christian communities, and their churches, are targeted in deadly “religious cleansing” assaults by jihadi Boko Haram; in “your land or your blood” attacks by militant Fulani herdsmen armed with sophisticated weaponry; and by Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), who split from Boko Haram in 2015.
The Islamist militant group known as Boko Haram (which means “Western education forbidden”) was formed in 2002 in the north-eastern state of Borno. It has the stated aims of establishing an Islamic caliphate and the elimination of Christians in the region. In terms of numbers killed, it is one of the deadliest terrorist organisations in the world today. In eleven years of insurgency, Boko Haram have murdered more than 8,000 members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), one of the largest Christian denominations in the north-east, according to a press statement made by EYN’s president, Rev. Joel Billi, in July 2020.
Militants from the mainly-Muslim Fulani ethnic group operate mostly in the Middle Belt where they frequently mount murderous raids on settled Christian farming communities, killing men, women and children. According to survivors, the Fulani militants “slaughtered them like animals”¹ and shouted “destroy the infidels’ and ‘wipe out the infidels’”.² Dispossessing the inhabitants, the Fulani militants immediately take over the land, occupy and rename the communities, and eventually establish Islamic emirates.³ A village head in Kaduna State said, “Why did the Fulani leave the Muslims who are farmers and attack only Christians if this is not a religious issue? This is more than grazing land or farmers and herders’ fight over land.”⁴
In recent years, Fulani Islamist militant attacks have intensified, particularly in Kaduna and Plateau States. During a three-week period in July 2020, at least 171 deaths were recorded in southern Kaduna’s Christian villages. The authorities and security forces seemed unable or unwilling to intervene and protect the mainly-Christian communities. After the massacre of 21 Christians at a wedding in 2020, a church leader lamented, “It is as if the lives of Christians no longer matter.”
Since 2019, internally displaced people (IDPs) have been repatriated to towns in the north-east, but many are wary of returning. As recently as August 2020, a convoy of 22 trucks loaded with heavily armed ISWAP terrorists thundered into the mainly-Christian town of Kukawa, Borno State, taking hundreds hostage. The 1,200 residents had only recently returned to their homes after spending two years in IDP camps.
Parts of sharia law have been in force for many years in northern Nigeria, but its scope was limited to personal status and civil law. Between 2000 and 2001 twelve northern states introduced “full” sharia, that is, adding criminal law to the jurisdiction of sharia courts and empowering them to administer punishments like amputation, flogging and even stoning to death. Apostasy from Islam is, however, not treated as a crime in any of the twelve states.
Sharia law allows Christians to live in an Islamic state and to worship as Christians; they are granted a protected status (dhimma) so long as they submit to Islamic rule and acknowledge their inferior status in comparison with Muslims. There is therefore no justification in classical Islam for the murder or expulsion of Christians from territory ruled by Islamist organisations such as Boko Haram.1. Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? An Inquiry by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, p 1., APPG report
MR JOHNSON, THE UK MUST OPPOSE NIGERIAN ETHNO-RELIGIOUS CLEANSING
To The Right Honourable Boris Johnson,
Dear Prime Minister,
I am alarmed that Nigerian Christians have suffered a surge of extremist violence with at least 8,400 Christians murdered since 2015 and over two million Nigerians displaced from their homes.
I am shocked that the Nigerian authorities are not bringing perpetrators to justice, and that Christian communities are not being protected adequately, despite the authorities’ claims that they are safe.
This is not primarily so-called “tribal violence”, as Boko Haram declared in August 2016 that they would “blow up every church” and kill all “citizens of the cross”, and armed militant Fulani herdsman cry “Allahu Akbar” in their attacks, leaving thousands of victims maimed, burned, kidnapped or forced to flee.
I urge you today to bring this to the attention of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, and to consider diplomatic pressure and policy responses to the following:
All these issues need to be addressed if we are to save lives and improve the welfare of Nigerian Christians, and all civilians affected by this unrestrained violence.
1Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? An Inquiry by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, 2020, https://appgfreedomofreligionorbelief.org/nigeria-unfolding-genocide-new-appg-report-launched/ [accessed 9 November 2020].