Religious Freedom Group Decries ‘Sustained Campaign’ of Anti-Christian Violence in Nigeria

Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images
Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images

A spokesman for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) warned Friday of a “sustained campaign” of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria, which has increased in severity in recent years.

Recent attacks on Christians “are the latest in a sustained campaign of violence which has been ongoing in multiple states in central Nigeria for over a decade now,” Ellis Heasley, Public Affairs officer at CSW, said in an interview with Crux, an online Catholic news outlet.

“Christians in particular are extremely vulnerable to attacks by an armed group comprising members of the Fulani ethnic group, often referred to as the Fulani militia, to distinguish them from peaceable Fulani communities,” Heasley said.

“Last year saw a significant and sustained uptick in violence of this kind across Nigeria,” Heasley said. “CSW received reports of such attacks, particularly in Kaduna state, on an almost daily basis.”

“Hundreds of civilians have been killed and abducted for ransom, and thousands have been displaced, with some members of the international community raising concerns that the current violence bears the hallmarks of atrocity crimes,” he added. “This year attacks are also being reported increasingly from southern Nigeria.”

In December 2019, the Wall Street Journal published a report stating that Islamist Fulani militants are waging a brutal war on Nigeria’s Christians in a campaign to rid the country’s Middle Belt of non-Muslims.

Fulani radicals now pose a greater threat than the Islamic terror group Boko Haram, French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy wrote, and they carry out systematic attacks against Christians, which include burning, raping, maiming, pillaging, and killing.

This “slow-motion war” against Nigeria’s Christians is “massive in scale and horrific in brutality,” Lévy said, and yet “the world has hardly noticed.”

Lévy also accused mainstream media of disingenuously describing the attacks on Christians as ethnically or economically motivated, a false narrative promulgated by “professional disinformers.”

“They are Islamic extremists of a new stripe,” a Nigerian NGO director whom Lévy interviewed stated, “more or less linked with Boko Haram.”

International Christian Concern (ICC) has estimated that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christians have been killed by radical Islamists in Nigeria — primarily Fulani militants and members of the Boko Haram terror group — over the past decade.

When Fulani militants “attack these farming villages, they often burn down churches, kill pastors, and destroy Christians’ homes and shops,” noted Nathan Johnson, ICC’s regional manager for Africa. “I have never heard of a mosque being destroyed or imam being killed during these attacks, so there is a clear sign that they at least hate Christianity, if they are not blatantly targeting Christians.”

In his interview this week, Heasley said this violence “is showing no sign of slowing in 2021,” adding that there is a need for “urgent international intervention” to help the government address the threats posed by the Fulani militants and both factions of the Boko Haram terrorist group.

“These attacks paint a worrying picture for freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Nigeria, in which members of religious minority communities in the center of the country continue to be targeted within a climate of impunity,” Heasley said.

Nigeria’s population of approximately 206 million is nearly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians. Islam is the dominant faith in the North and Christianity in the South – but most killings take place in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, where the two halves of the country meet.

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