With the mass murders of Christians and the persecution of other religious minorities, should Nigeria be re-designated a Country of Special Concern?
In the last six decades since gaining independence of Britain, Nigeria – Africa’s most populous country – faced one crisis after another that threatened to undermine its business existence. While the country has managed to survive the threats each time, the current security challenges plaguing the country, with ethnic and religious dimensions, could be the downfall of the nation, some fear.
The fear is not misplaced, given the daily or weekly media reports on the situation and the failure of security agents to stem attacks by bandits and terrorists in the country.
Dozens of deaths
On Sunday September 26, more than 30 people are said to have lost their lives when people described as “Fulani shepherds” invaded the Madamai and Abun communities, two predominantly Christian villages in the local government area of Kaura, in the state of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria.
Previously, 12 people were killed in an attack on the village of Peigyim, near Kibori, in the Atyap chiefdom of the Zangon-Kataf local government area of the same Kaduna state, by suspected Fulani militants.
The day before, in the same locality, Silas Yakubu Ali, a pastor, was allegedly attacked and killed by people yet to be apprehended.
These are just a few examples of security breaches in the country in recent weeks.
Group alleges 4,400 Christians were murdered
According to InterSociety, a non-governmental organization involved in human rights issues in Nigeria, “Nigerian Muslim jihadists, comprising state actors and radical Islamist non-state actors, have had during the last nine months of 2021, from January to September, a period of 270 days. , stabbed as many as 4,400 helpless and unprotected Christians (along with) 20 Christian clergy (also) killed or kidnapped.
“Nigerian Muslim jihadists… in the last nine months of 2021 or January to September, a period of 270 days, have killed as many as 4,400 defenseless and unprotected Christians.
He adds that in the “indomitable genocidal anti-Christian assassinations and violence against property, the number of sacred places of worship and learning … severely attacked by jihadists since January 2021 has increased to between 350 and 400”, and that “no less than 3,500 of the travelers and sedentary Christians were also abducted in the past nine months of 2021; several dozen of them fear being killed in captivity. In total, an average of 490 Christians have been killed in each of the past nine months and 16 in each of the past 270 days.
Other targeted religious minorities
However, it is not only Christians who have borne the brunt of the terrorist and bandit attacks in Nigeria. Muslims and mosques have also been the target of the terrorist group Boko Haram since 2009. While carrying out sustained attacks against Christian targets over the years, Boko Haram – which has an avowed hatred for Western education and seeks to create a caliphate in the country – also targets Muslims who do not share its violent ideology, or young students from the predominantly Muslim northern region seeking to brighten their future through education.
A 2016 article by Alex Thurston, commissioned by the Brookings Institution, states that “most of the victims of Boko Haram were Muslims. Shekau (the former leader of the group, now believed to be dead) claimed to imitate the Prophet by slaughtering “unbelievers” in communities in the Northeast. “
“Very worrying trends”
In assessing Nigeria’s precarious security situation, a major concern of some observers is that the country’s leadership led by Muhammadu Buhari, who seized power in 2015, has been unable to stop the attacks, suppress or to effectively prosecute the culprits. And that failure not only led Nigeria to be declared a Country of Special Concern by the US State Department in December of last year, but has also increasingly led Christians and religious groups to call on the government to not. not have brought the culprits to justice.
With the intensification of attacks since last year and the inability of the security forces to bring the situation under control, Frederick A. Davie, commissioner at the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said Nigeria deserved to be re-designated. country of particular concern to the US state. Department.
While congratulating Nigerians on their country’s independence anniversary on October 1, Davie told BNG that USCIRF has observed “very disturbing trends in Nigeria” on issues of freedom or interreligious belief.
“We are particularly concerned about the attacks against vulnerable religious communities, in particular minority religious communities. “
“For example, we are particularly concerned about attacks on vulnerable religious communities, especially minority religious communities, without any apparently robust response from the government to hold those who commit these violent attacks to account,” he said. . “So we are concerned at USCIRF about the attacks on religious communities that occur with impunity when the government does not treat them sufficiently. “
As examples of violence with impunity seen in the country, Davie mentioned the recent murder of a Christian minister, Yohanna Shuaibu, in Kano, northern Nigeria, by a violent mob for his alleged involvement in converting a local member of a Muslim family in Christianity; the attack on two Christian communities which led to the death and destruction of the land; the murder of eight Shia Muslims by Nigerian security forces; the targeting and kidnapping of Christian and Muslim students by terrorists and bandits; violent attacks on sacred religious celebrations and gatherings during Ramadan this spring (by suspected terrorists) as well as two Christian congregations on Christmas Eve.
Other areas of concern for the USCIRF, Davie said, are the arrest of Mubarak Bala, head of the Nigeria Humanist Association, who has been accused of causing public discontent by posting material considered to be blasphemous, and the detention of 22-year-old Yahaya Sharif Aminu. musician, accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a private message on social networks. Bala and Aminu were both adopted by Davie as religious prisoners of conscience as part of the USCIRF’s religious prisoners of conscience program.
Other areas of concern for the USCIRF in Nigeria, according to Commissioner Davie, are the treatment of Sheikh AbdulJabbar Nasiru Kabara, who has been accused of blasphemy and incitement by authorities in Kano State, the arrest of some people accused of engaging in LGBTQ activities deemed by Hisbah Council in Kano State to be against the law of nature, as well as another state policy requiring poets and the singers submit their documents to a censorship board for approval.
“These are some of the violations of religious freedom that are observed and documented to have taken place in the country, and the government has done little to address these violations of religious freedom and, in addition, many cases, has supported violations of religious freedoms by his own actions, ”Davie said.
A double standard?
He questioned why the Buhari administration was unable to subdue criminals and terrorists while successfully tracking down and apprehending the main leaders of a separatist group in the southeast of the country led by Nnamdi Kanu. , who was arrested outside Nigeria in late June.
“The perpetrators of these attacks operate with impunity and the authorities fail to investigate and hold them to account. “
“What our investigators, our research and our conversations with our colleagues in Nigeria tell us is that often the perpetrators of these attacks operate with impunity and that the authorities do not investigate them and do not compel them to report. accounts. Nigerian authorities say the country lacks the capacity to do more than it is currently doing to hold perpetrators accountable for religious violence. We believe in USCIRF, this argument is selective at best based on Nigeria’s vigorous response to Shia Muslims, to the growing violence of Biafran separatists in the southeast of the country.
“If the Nigerian government can launch a swift campaign against political dissidents in the southeast in a matter of months, why has it not mobilized the same resources to tackle sectarian violence and violations of religious freedom in the country ? He asked.
The clamor for Nigeria to be reclassified as a country of particular concern, he said, is justified because the country “has engaged in systemic, continuing and egregious violations of freedom of religious belief.”
And that could have an effect on US foreign policy and sanctions, he added.
Anthony Akaeze is a Nigerian-born freelance journalist currently living in Houston. It covers Africa for BNG.
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