Time to finish the silence in regards to the persecution of Christians in Nigeria
A family of four is shot and wounded by armed assailants while they pray in their home. Medical personnel save the life of a six-month-old baby who was shot in the head in an attack that left 17 people dead, including that of the baby's mother. A three-year-old dies 24 hours after a machete hit on the head, in which nine people died and seven were missing.
The scale and severity of the violent atrocities that occur almost daily in Central Nigeria are extremely heartbreaking.
It is difficult to find words to describe these horrific acts, but one thing is clear: it is time to end the silence about the persecution of Christians in the region.
Central Nigeria has been plagued by violence by an armed group of Fulani men for over a decade. This was first observed in the state of Plateau in March 2010 and has become increasingly exponential since 2015. It is believed that the militia is responsible for this. There have been more deaths than the notorious terrorist group Boko Haram since 2015, and yet international attention and action on this issue has been absolutely inadequate.
This deficit of attention is an issue that the All Party Group (APPG) wants to address international freedom of religion or belief with the publication of its new report. The report, "Nigeria: Genocide Unfold?" To improve understanding of the escalating crisis in the region and to examine a number of factors that both fuel and exacerbate the situation.
The report recognizes the very complicated nature of the conflict and highlights several factors, including competition for resources, the spread of extremist ideologies and crime, the flow of firearms into the region and widespread misinformation. In addition to these different drivers, the APPG specifically examines how violence has "manifested itself religiously, as the shepherds are predominantly ethnic Fulani Muslims and the farmers are predominantly Christians".
The central role of religion in the crisis is perhaps best emphasized in the question of the Nitriku village head, Dauda Rogo, whose village in the state of Kaduna was attacked in April this year: "Why did the Fulani leave the Muslims who are farmers and only attack Christians? " If this is not a religious problem? This is more than pasture or the struggle of farmers and shepherds for land. "
The situation is exacerbated by the inactivity of the Nigerian government – not one of the perpetrators of these attacks has been brought to justice, and in some cases it is suspected that the authorities have failed to heed early warnings of the upcoming attack. This has resulted in impunity, in which armed non-governmental actors are encouraged to attack while Christian communities feel increasingly victimized and persecuted. Instead of persecuting the perpetrators, the authorities often use judicial and other forms of harassment to target those who raise awareness of these attacks and accuse them of fueling the split.
The international community has also failed to respond adequately to this violence, as many governments, including Britain, have close economic ties with Nigeria and the emerging horrors of the Fulani militia have not been addressed. Attacks are often referred to as “clashes between farmers and shepherds”, which do not take into account the frequency, organization and asymmetry with which they are committed. Regrettably, the UK government often seems much more concerned with questioning the terminology used to describe this violence than with dealing with it itself.
Attacks by the Fulani militia are just one of several threats Christians face in central and northern Nigeria. In the northeast, Boko Haram and a terrorist group known as the West Africa province of the Islamic State continue to be responsible for widespread murders, including Muslims, and ransom kidnappings, with many women and girls currently being held captive by both factions.
As the title of the report suggests, there is real concern that the current situation in Nigeria could lead to ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide. Inaction has been a plague for the conscience of the international community. It is time for this inactivity to end.
Mervyn Thomas is the managing director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organization that specializes in freedom of religion and belief.