By Sam Eyoboka
A report of enquiry into the plight of Christians across the globe recently released by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has revealed grave evidence that Christians constitute by far the most widely persecuted religion and calls on UN observers to monitor necessary security measures.
The report, carried out by the Bishop of the Church of England Diocese of Truro, Rt. Rev. Edward White Benson, and published yesterday, recorded widespread evidence of the kind of persecution and discrimination that Christians face worldwide.
It also outlined the seriousness of the challenge, and made recommendations on how the Foreign Office could better address the issue.
With special reference to Nigeria, the report observed that the “intensification of conflict” in recent years comes at a time Christians in the country have suffered some of the worst atrocities inflicted on churchgoers anywhere in the world.
It stated: “Nigeria is one of a number of West African countries straddling the sub-Saharan transition zone between majority-Muslim regions in the north and majority Christian regions in the south.
“Since independence in 1960, there has been a conscious effort to ensure that both communities are fairly represented at all levels in the structures of power in civil and military life.
“But in more recent years, this balance appears to have been disturbed. In the northern and central regions of the country, attacks on and abductions of unarmed civilians by armed groups have become increasingly frequent.
“The case study above gives full details of one such attack in the so-called Middle Belt, and cross-references others that demonstrate a consistent pattern. Members of the Independent Review Team visited Nigeria in March.
‘’They met with church leaders, representatives of international civil society, FoRB NGO representatives, witnesses to persecution and attacks in the northern and central regions and staff at the British High Commission in Abuja.
“This included a round table discussion hosted by the British High Commission, specifically on the farmer/herder clashes in the Middle Belt. There was a consensus in condemnation of the activities of Boko Haram and associated groups in the northern regions as religiously motivated, the widely publicised abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls being but one example of these activities,” the report maintained.
“But when it came to the numerous attacks by Fulani herdsmen on farming communities in what is known as the Middle Belt, where Christian and Muslim communities are intermixed, there was a divergence of view.”
Analysing the Nigerian security situation, the report averred that since 2009, Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group in “allegiance” with Daesh (ISIS) extremists in Iraq and Syria, has “inflicted mass terror on civilians, killing 20,000 Nigerians, kidnapping thousands and displacing nearly two million”.
“The kidnapping of “mostly Christian girls” from a school in Chibok north-east Nigeria in April 2014 and the forced “conversions” to Islam of many of the students, demonstrated the anti-Christian agenda of the militants. Boko Haram’s continued detention of teenager Leah Sharibu, kidnapped in February 19, 2018, showed that the militants were continuing to target Christians.
“The Catholic Church in north-east Nigeria reported in spring 2017 that Boko Haram violence had resulted in damage to 200 churches and chapels, 35 presbyteries (priests’ houses) and parish centres. At least 1.8 million people in north-east Nigeria’s Borno state had been displaced by March 2017, according to Church sources.
“To this extent, Boko Haram delivered on its March 2012 promise of a “war” on Christians in Nigeria, in which a spokesman for the militants reportedly declared: “We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state that the Christians won’t be able to stay.” Hence, by 2017 it was being concluded that “Boko Haram has carried out a genocide against Christians in northern Nigeria” .
By that time, the report maintained that, a new and growing threat to mainly Christian farming communities had emerged from nomadic Fulani herdsmen. The Fulani carried out attacks against Christian communities especially in Nigeria’s ‘Middle Belt’, the border territory between the Hausa-speaking Muslim areas in northern Nigeria and land further south mainly populated by Christians.
“Reports also showed mostly retaliatory attacks against Fulani by “predominantly” Christian farmers, such as the November 2016 killing of about 50 mainly Fulani pastoralists by ethnic Bachama local residents in Numan district, Adamawa State. The causes of this inter-communal conflict are complex and “attributed to many factors.”
“That said whilst the conflict cannot simply be seen in terms of religion, it is equally simplistic not to see the religious dimension as a significantly exacerbating factor, and the Fulani attacks have repeatedly demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians, and potent symbols of Christian identity.
“This was evidenced, for example, by the April 2018 murder of two priests and 17 faithful during early morning Mass at St Ignatius Catholic Church, Mblaom, Benue state, in Nigeria’s Middle Belt. The threat from Boko Haram and militant Fulani Islamist herdsmen – with evidence of some counter-attacks from Christians – suggests that the situation for Christians in parts of the country has “deteriorated”, with Nigeria rising through the ranks of countries with the worst record of persecution against Christians.
“Faced with repeated accusations of inaction and even “connivance” in relation to Fulani violence, it remains to be seen if Muhammadu Buhari, re-elected in the February 2019 Presidential elections, will make good his promise, stated in Easter 2019, to “do all it takes to… confront these security challenges [and] not allow merchants of death and evil to overwhelm the nation.”
The killing of two priests and 17 others during a church service in Mbalom, in Nigeria’s ‘Middle Belt’ on April 24, 2018, is a case study according to the report.