The Catholic Bishop of Gboko told members of the U.S. Congress that Nigeria’s Middle Belt has become the theater for the “mass slaughter of Christians.”
“The mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention,” said Bishop William Avenya in a statement read by Father Clement Apeior in a virtual congressional commission on December 17.
What is occurring on a daily basis fits the U.N.’s definition as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” he said.
The address took place during a hearing of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on the deteriorating human rights situation in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, hosted by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. James P. McGovern (D-MA).
“It is depressing that our Middle Belt region has truly become a vale of tears, a region where mass burials are very common,” said the bishop’s text. “Since the consistent attacks began some five years ago, there has hardly been a single day without killing in one part of the region or the other.”
And although these atrocities are “made to look as though they were ethnic or communal clashes,” he said, in point of fact the killings “have a religious undertone” and the identity of the targeted victims gives a clear indication of the religious nature of the massacres.
“The absolute impunity and the unchallenged audacity with which these acts are committed creates a feeling that it is a premeditated and pre-planned onslaught against the targeted populations and regions,” he said.
In his text, Bishop Avenya faulted the government not only for its failure to bring an end to the carnage but also for a negligence that amounts to complicity.
“It appears as though what is happening here is part of a grand conspiracy,” the text stated. “Our national government has not shown convincing signs of recommitment to ending the menace. In fact, its complacency makes it additionally difficult for any critical mind to exonerate it from any possible involvement.”
“How can one explain a scenario where as many as 100 innocent and defenseless villagers are killed in one single attack and no one says anything about it?”
“No one has ever been arrested or questioned or convicted of any charge related to this spree of killings,” he added. “Yet, these killers are not invisible, neither are they unknown.”
The system has contributed to “the enthronement of supremacist views of one religious group against the others,” he declared.
In 2018, Bishop Avenya had already described the ongoing slaughter of Christians as “ethnic cleansing,” comparing the systematic elimination of Christians by Fulani Muslims in Nigeria’s Middle Belt to the Rwandan genocide.
Similarly, Bishop Peter Iornzuul Adoboh of Katsina Ala and Bishop Matthew Ishaya Audu of Lafia said that the attacks represent a “clear agenda for Islamizing the Nigerian Middle Belt.”
“They want to strike Christians,” Bishop Audu said, “And the government does nothing to stop them, because President Buhari is also of the Fulani ethnic group.”