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Nigeria: violence against Christians is rising

05 May 2023


Women protest outside Palace of Olowo of Owo, last June, after terrorists shot dead 40 worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria

Women protest outside Palace of Olowo of Owo, last June, after terrorists shot dead 40 worshippers at St Francis Catholic Church in Owo, Nigeria

MORE than 50,000 Christians, and 34,000 Muslims have been killed by Islamist extremists in Nigeria since 2010, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), a Nigerian non-governmental organisation, reports.

Its report, Martyred Christians in Nigeria, was published on Easter Day, and was referred to in a Westminster Hall debate on 18 April.

The debate was moved by the DUP MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon, who said that, “While violence has historically been concentrated in the northern states in Nigeria and perpetrated by Boko Haram, recent years have seen the middle belt become the epicentre.”

In April last year, up to 135 were believed to have been killed in a series of attacks in Christian villages in Plateau State, central Nigeria (News, 22 April 2022).

Mr Shannon chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In 2020, the APPG published a report — Nigeria: Unfolding genocide? — which highlighted increasing violence against Christians, and examined how competition for resources, exacerbated by climate change, contributed to the situation (26 June, 2020).

According to Intersociety’s report, more than 1000 Christians have been killed in Nigeria in 2023. In the past two years, more than 9000 have been killed, the report says. Two-thirds of the murders are attributed to Fulani militias.

Because of climate change, the Sahel region in which nomadic Fulani herders historically grazed their livestock has become desert, creating competition for resources in more southerly parts of Nigeria.

Mr Shannon spoke of several recent attacks on Christian communities by Islamist Fulani herders, including one on Good Friday, in Benue State, which, he said, left 43 people dead and more than 40 injured.

“Where is our Government’s response to that targeted violence?” he asked. “I am respectful to the Minister, but I need answers — I think we all do — to see what exactly has happened.”

The Conservative MP for Torbay, Kevin Foster, said in the debate that, although Nigeria was, “in theory”, a “secular state where freedom of religion is guaranteed, the evidence is that that is not the reality felt or experienced by people living in Nigeria”. Blasphemy remained punishable by death in some parts of the country.

Mr Foster referred to research by the charity Open Doors which suggested that 79 per cent of Christians who were killed for their faith around the world were killed in Nigeria.

In February, Open Doors referred to the upsurge in violence in Sub-Saharan Africa in its annual World Watch List, which details violence against Christians around the world (News, 3 February). Nigeria was named by Open Doors as the sixth worst country in the world for the persecution of Christians.

The independent MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, Margaret Ferrier, said that “atheists in Nigeria also complain of persecution. They might otherwise be overlooked, because we often do not think about those with no specific faith when we talk about religious persecution.”

The Labour and Co-operative MP for Vauxhall, Florence Eshalomi, said that the reports that she received from family members in Nigeria were “quite disturbing”, and she emphasised the need to work with the President-elect of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu (News, 3 March).

The Minister of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said that the minister with responsibility for Africa met Mr Tinubu in December, and raised the issue of freedom of religion or belief.

“We will continue to raise those challenges after the government are inaugurated in May,” Ms Trevelyan said.

In 2021, the Primate of Nigeria, the Most Revd Henry Ndukuba, criticised the Nigerian government, as well as Western countries and organisations, for not acknowledging the religious motivation behind the attacks on Christians, and instead attributing the violence to competition over resources (News, 6 August 2021).

The global Church could pray for Nigeria, he said, and politicians in the West could “engage their governments to work to stop this evil. . . The silence of the World Council of Churches and other religious and socio-political organisations is deafening, and speaks volumes to the Christians in Nigeria.”

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