Is Genocide Threatening Nigeria's Christians?
(COMMENTARY) This fall, dozens of Nigerian Christians were murdered by Islamist jihadis. Unfortunately, the violence has remained largely unreported.
In fact, I wouldn’t have paid close attention myself, if it hadn’t been for Israeli journalist and friend, Atara Beck. Last September, she contacted me about some confusing and disturbing private messages she’d received about extensive Christian bloodshed in Nigeria.
A year later, and there’s no question about the veracity of the messages.
By now we know that during 2018, more than 6,000 Christians have been killed or maimed by Islamist terrorists affiliated either with the notorious Boko Haram group – best known for kidnapping young girls – or with the Fulani tribesmen, whose anti-Christian brutality goes largely unanswered by Nigeria’s government.
Attacks against Nigeria’s Christian communities are escalating at an alarming rate.
On October 2, Morning Star News reported, “Armed Fulani herdsmen accompanied by militants in Nigerian army uniforms killed 17 Christians in their homes in the heart of Jos, north-central Nigeria, on Thursday (September 27), including four children, area sources said.”
Just days before, in mid-September, nearly 30 Christians drowned, trying to flee attacks by Fulani jihadis. World Watch Monitor reported:
“A pastor was one of at least 27 people who lost their lives following fresh attacks carried out by Fulani militants on five predominantly Christian communities in northeast Nigeria in recent days. Many of them drowned as they attempted to escape via the local river... [affecting] the villages of Gon, Bolki, Ndumusu, Yotti and Yanga, in Numan local government area (LGA), Adamawa state.”
Several Christians in Nigeria wrote to Beck, a journalist in Israel, about Islamist violence in their country. And why? Clearly, they thought Israelis – of all people – could understand their plight and might speak up on their behalf.
Indeed, colorfully-dressed throngs of Nigerian Christian pilgrims are a familiar sight in Jerusalem, singing and praying as they visit holy places. They are great supporters of Israel. They’re also aware that they share a common enemy with Israel’s Jews – radical Islamists threaten both nations’ safety and, whenever possible, attack local communities.
The widely publicized kidnapping of Nigerian girls in 2014, and the #bringbackourgirls hashtag, introduced many Westerners to the Boko Haram terrorist group.
Boko Haram kidnapped more girls in February this year, and now threatens to kill Leah Sharibu, a young Christian who has refused to convert to Islam. Leah’s desperate mother is pleading for her daughter’s release.
In 2015, the group pledged its allegiance to ISIS.
Of course, Boko Haram aren’t the only murderers. I recently wrote to a long-time Nigerian friend (who must remain anonymous) asking for his insights about the lesser-known militant Fulani Herdsmen.
“It is regrettable that the killings by the herdsmen have continued unabated. Worse still, the security agencies do not seem to be able to curb the killings. This has led to accusations that the government is either complicit or laissez-faire in its handling of the killings. It is definitely not showing enough concern about the issue, and can therefore be justifiably accused of failing in its primary duty of protecting the lives and property of its citizens.”
In April 2018, US President Donald Trump spoke directly to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (who happens to be a member of the Fulani tribe) during a joint press conference at the White House:
“We are deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria, including the burning of churches and the killing and persecution of Christians. It’s a horrible story... We encourage Nigeria and the federal state and local leaders to do everything in their power to immediately secure the affected communities and to protect innocent civilians of all faiths including Muslims and including Christians.”
As recent reports confirm, despite Trump’s direct appeal, nothing has been done to stop Nigeria’s jihadi attacks on Christians. In fact, there is widespread belief that some within Nigeria’s government collaborate with the Fulani group’s unabated incursions.
Meanwhile, untold thousands of terrified Nigerian refugees continue to flee vicious religious cleansing. Sickness, starvation and the sword pursue them. And the death toll rolls on.
Is the world turning a blind eye to another imminent genocide?
This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.
The writer is an internationally recognized expert on religious persecution, an award-winning writer, and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute who lived in Jerusalem for over a decade. Her book Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner received wide critical acclaim. She is also co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, and Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @lelagilbert.