Africa The Way

The Affliction of Northern Nigerian Christians

The Affliction of Northern Nigerian Christians

Nigerian Christians are experiencing devastating violence from herders who are predominantly Fulani Muslims and the farmers are predominantly Christians.

The attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herders have ended in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands. The exact death toll is unknown but Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust quotes reliable reports that more than 1,000 Christians were killed between January and November 2019, in addition to the estimated more than 6,000 deaths since 2015.

International Crisis Group estimate that more than 300,000 people have been displaced and that the violence has claimed the lives of six times more people than the conflict with the Boko Haram terrorists. Violence by herders, and periodic retaliatory violence, is said to be costing the Nigerian economy £10.5 billion per year.

As the influence of Islamist extremism grows across the Fulani herders have militantly targeted Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, including more than 500 in Benue State alone.

In all this, the Nigerian  Government has failed to respond adequately to the violence, to protect communities or to bring perpetrators of violence to justice.

Till today, Leah Sharibu, a 14-year old who  was abducted by Islamist extremists from her school in Dapchi in 2014, north-east Nigeria has still not been returned. There has been reports that she was enslaved, raped and impregnated, giving birth to a child, and that she has been denied her freedom for refusing to convert to Islam as a precondition for her

Leah Sharibu

The continuing persecution of Northern Nigerian Christians has increased and become more violent, and is very. The horrendous kidnapping of 276 Chibok schoolgirls in April, 2014 by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram brought it to global focus. The government has been unsuccessful in freeing them all and bringing the perpetrators to justice. Most of the girls were Christians.

The Nigerian Constitution includes provisions protecting religious freedom and prohibiting religious discrimination, while also allowing for adoption of both criminal and civil Sharia law in twelve northern states with Muslim majorities.

Open Doors, an international organization ranks Nigeria 12th on its World Watch List of countries persecuting Christians although it is also rated as the second most violent country for Christians, immediately following Pakistan in that list. “Nigeria leads the world in Christian martyrdoms, with 1,350 confirmed, and in Christian abductions, with 224 confirmed, during the list’s reporting period from November 2018 to October 2019.

Unlike most countries where persecution is prevalent, Christians in Nigeria are not a minority but constitute about half of the country’s population.  The Christians population is now estimated to be over 80 million. The church in Nigeria “has one of the most dynamic evangelical and missionary movements in Africa and indeed the world, with about 7,200 missionaries and a missional presence in about 196 countries.” However, “the future of the church in Nigeria is at stake because of persecution.

The form of persecution is systemic, mostly regionalized, and takes many forms. Among them is denying Christians permits and acceptance to school, burning property and murdering those of faith, many Northern and Middle Belt Nigerian Christians live under constant pressure because of their faith. They are the frequently targeted by militant groups like Boko Haram and radical Fulani herdsmen.  Some sleep in the bush at night in fear that their homes will be attacked.

“Especially in rural areas, Christians are being killed and dispossessed of their ancestral farmlands. Their homes are being burnt and many have been internally displaced or taken refuge in neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. Others are in captivity and slavery.”   By 2018, Boko Haram had killed more than 37,000 people and displaced nearly 2.6 million. [8] In January of 2020 alone, such attacks resulted in 100 deaths; among the victims was a seminarian, one of four who had been abducted on January 8th. In mid-January Pastor Lawan Andimi, regional chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), was beheaded.

In response to the killings, an estimated five million Nigerian Christians participated in a CAN-sponsored fast for three days at the end of January. They protested as well, participating in prayer walks and calling on President Buhari to resign but he defended his government’s efforts, though he admitted that the battle was still not yet won, but discounted accusations that he misled the public and the international community on the true nature of the violence.

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