FAITH leaders and campaigners have called for definitive action against Christian persecution in Nigeria, after 11 Christians were murdered by a group of Islamic State militants on Christmas Day.
Ten people were beheaded, and another one was shot dead in the north-east of the country. The killings were broadcast in a one-minute video from an unidentified location.
The Archbishop of Jos, the Rt Revd Benjamin Kwashi, who works with the campaign group Release International, said on Monday that violent attacks against Christians by Islamic militia were prolific.
“Across the north, the mainly Muslim Fulani have been taking land from predominantly Christian farmers by force and occupying their villages,” he said. “They attack, typically, in the middle of the night while people are sleeping. They shoot in the air and create panic to drive the villagers out.
“When the people flee from their houses into the darkness, the Fulani lie in wait with their machetes and cut them down. Again and again. And the government seems powerless to stop them.”
The RC Archbishop of Abuja, the Most Revd Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, told Vatican News on Saturday that the “fighting and killing and kidnapping” were a way for IS to force the Nigerian government to pay them ransom, or “free those of their people who have been arrested”.
IS have said that the hostage murders were in revenge for the death of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed himself during an attack by United States forces in October. Archbishop Kaigama said: “They [IS] are trying to create a situation of war: they want to see Muslims and Christians fighting.”
Campaigners against Christian persecution have urged Boris Johnson to respond, after he pledged in his Christmas Day message to “defend” the right of Christians to practise their faith without the fear of persecution.
The call came from the chief executive of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), Baroness Cox, and the executive director of the International Organisation for Peace Building and Social Justice (PSJ), Ayo Adedoyin.
A recent report from HART suggests that at least 1000 Christians in Nigeria have been “slaughtered” by Islamist militia since January 2019 — more than 6000 since 2015 (News, 6 December). Lady 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 said on Sunday: “In the past four to five years, growing numbers of Fulani have adopted a land-grabbing policy — motivated by this extremist belief system and equipped with sophisticated weaponry — leading to the massacre of thousands of people and [the] permanent displacement of vulnerable rural communities.
“It is high time we made foreign aid conditional for countries, such as Nigeria, stained with Christian blood. Until President Buhari and the Nigerian government can prove they have undertaken effective measures to halt the increasingly routine slaughter of Christians in their own land, we would do well to give our money to other, more deserving governments.”
Mr Adedoyin agreed that the UK government should make its annual £300 million foreign-aid donation to Nigeria conditional on the Nigerian government’s taking determined action to stop the killings.
“We have had many fine words from the government,” he said. “But with the Fulani militia and [Islamic State in the West Africa Province] on the rampage across the central belt and the north-east, we need more than words.”
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said: “Violent attacks on innocent human beings in the name of any religion cannot be accepted, and should not be accepted by any religion.
“We must promote respect for human dignity in all circumstances, as well as for respect and diversity, to counter the hate and intolerance that are behind such acts of extreme violence.”
Release International has flagged Nigeria as “a country of special concern” for 2020. Its chief executive, Paul Robinson, said: “Tens of thousands of Christians are being driven from their homes by the ongoing persecution in Nigeria. While the death toll is rising, the world simply watches. Nigeria’s government appears to lack the will or the power to prevent the killings.”
Mr Johnson’s pledge, if acted on, could make a significant difference, he said.