MORE than 1000 Christians in Nigeria have been “slaughtered” by Islamist militia since January.
This is the key finding of a new report, Your Land or Your Blood, from the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), which was presented at the International Organisation for Peace and Social Justice (PSJ) crisis conference in London, last month. The PSJ promotes peace-building and social justice in Nigeria.
Since January, there have been five serious attacks in Kaduna State, in the centre of the country, resulting in an estimated 500 deaths. There were at least another five attacks in the counties of Bassa and Riyom, and more in Taraba State. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram remains in power around the Chad border region, including parts of Borno State in the north (News, 19 March).
More than 6000 people have been killed since 2015.
Baroness Cox, who founded HART to promote and support peace and development groups in Nigeria, has recently returned from a research trip to the country. She explained that the Fulani, a nomadic ethnic group of about 20 million people across 20 West- and Central-African countries, were largely responsible for the new wave of violence. The terrorist group was listed as the fourth most deadly in the Global Terrorism Index in 2016 and 2017.
The HART report, which is named after a common threat to Christians in the country, notes a series of trends that suggest that religion and ideology are key motivations behind the attacks. This includes a “warning signal” sent by the Fulani (in line with the rules of engagement in jihad) to alert villagers of an imminent attack; specifically targeting Christian pastors; destroying hundreds of churches; and reported shouts of “Allahu akbar” and “Wipe out the infidels” by the Fulani during attacks.
Lady Cox urged the UK government to make its annual £300 million foreign-aid donation to Nigeria conditional on the Nigerian government’s taking determined action to stop the killings.
“While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon predominantly Christian communities is stark, and must be acknowledged,” she told the conference.
“It is too simplistic to label these atrocities as driven by desertification, climate change, or competition for resources. Unless the UK and Nigerian governments are willing to address the massacre’s ideological roots, they will never be able to help the innocent victims being slaughtered on the killing fields of Plateau, Benue, Taraba, southern Kaduna, and parts of Bauchi.”
The work of HART would be safer and more effective with Government support, she said. “To the extent that the Nigerian leadership abdicates its fundamental duty to look after its most vulnerable citizens, we suggest making UK foreign aid to Nigeria conditional on the successful protection of Christian communities.”
The report asks the international community to recognise the attacks as genocide and an abuse of religious freedom, and to hold the Nigerian authorities accountable.