Archbishop: Mass burials are widespread as a result of Nigerians are subjected to violence daily
Denominations in Nigeria face daily violence and persecution, a US-based legal group said. It called for US intervention after a terrorist group executed five men who provided aid in northeastern Nigeria.
While Christians, especially preachers, are "clearly the target" of militants in the West African country, Muslims are also being killed, said Archbishop Matthew Ndagoso of Kaduna, chairman of the Bishops' Committee on Justice, Development and Peace.
Militants and bandits are acting unpunished, he said, noting that all Nigerian civilians feel vulnerable and "disappointed by the government."
In its latest report, the United States-based International Committee for Nigeria said that the United States must "send a special representative to Nigeria and the Lake Chad region to coordinate the United States response to the crisis."
Nigeria has suffered murder, kidnapping and other ill-treatment by armed Islamist groups for more than 10 years. In the most affected northeastern region of the country, tens of thousands of people were killed and around 2 million displaced.
The United Nations said it was "extremely shocked and horrified" after a video surfaced on July 22 showing five men kneeling and blindfolded. They were then shot. The men – three of whom were helpers – had traveled to Borno State when they were kidnapped.
Since kidnappings are commonplace on Nigeria's streets, people are afraid to use them for their daily business, Archbishop Ndagoso told the Catholic News Service on July 29.
Mass burials have become very common, he said.
In early June, the Bishop of Kafanchan had to attend the funeral of nine people who had been hacked to death while "the police were nowhere to be seen," he said. The killings were part of the Fulani militia's attacks on Christian communities in the southern state of Kaduna.
Nigeria has a decades-long conflict cycle between predominantly Christian farmers and ethnic Fulani shepherds who are Muslims, which is partly due to the competition for farmland.
President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and former military ruler, won his post in a democratic transfer of power in 2015 and is in his second term. In 2018, the Nigerian bishops criticized the President's lack of action against the Fulani militia and linked his inaction to his religion.
Perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Nigeria "seem to be more encouraged because the political will to professionally investigate the crimes and hold the perpetrators accountable is grossly lacking," the ICON report said.
"Victims are forced to convert to Islam or are at risk of being killed, raped, or subjected to cruel torture," said the 16-year-old Leah Sharibu has not yet been released. Leah was taken hostage by more than 100 girls in the city of Dapchi by Boko Haram insurgents two years ago. When the others were released a month later, she was the only one who was not released – reportedly because she refused to give up her Christian faith.
"Instead of taking action to stop the violence, the country's own government has stood idly by because the blood of the innocent Nigerian people has been spilled by the Islamist terrorists of the Boko Haram and Fulani militants," said ICON.
Boko Haram "targets Christians, other non-Muslims and even Muslims who are against their ideologies," while attacks by Fulani militants "have repeatedly shown a clear intention to target Christians," it said.
The report includes data that are alleged to be "evidence that genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been and are being committed".
From 2000 to 2019, "17,284 deaths in Nigeria and 13,079 deaths in predominantly Christian countries (Benue, Kaduna, Plateau and Taraba) were caused by Fulani militant attacks," the report said.
In June, the US State Department found that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in “violent attacks by terrorist groups or criminal gangs, inter-communal violence or because of their religious beliefs” and urged the Nigerian government to do more to “deal with them” this violence, hold those responsible to account and protect the civilian population. "
Archbishop Ndagoso said Nigerians "see injustices everywhere", with corruption widespread among the country's politicians and traditional leaders.
Twenty people can be killed and there will be no arrests, he said. "Bandits will have cell phones to negotiate a ransom, but there will be no arrests," he said.
Fulani fighters "build their homes on land they occupy after killing people and burning their homes," he said.
"People feel helpless and frustrated," said the archbishop. "The government says they are doing their best" to fight corruption, but "if it is, then your best is not good enough," he said.
Nigeria has almost 196 million people and around 40% live in poverty, according to the statistical office. Nigeria is Africa's most populous country with its largest economy.
"Nigeria has an abundance of human and material resources," said Archbishop Ndagoso. But their political leaders are “only interested in accumulating wealth for themselves and their families. There is no interest in the common good, ”he said.
"It is planting season now, but people cannot go to their fields for fear of being killed and therefore cannot eat," said the archbishop. "As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man."
Peter Ajayi Dada in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this story.