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Nigeria: 32-page report details atrocious anti-Christian persecution

NIGERIA UNREST

AFP

John Burger - published on 05/02/23

Center founded by Bishop Kukah of Sokoto, in final report on atrocities, finds violence motivated by religious hatred.

The federal government of Nigeria should establish an interreligious commission to handle issues concerning religious conflicts and persecution, says the Kukah Center, a policy research institute based in Abuja and Kaduna, founded by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto.

The recommendation comes at the end of a 32-page report detailing the latest incidents of kidnapping and violence aimed at the Christian community in Nigeria. The Nigerian Atrocities Documentation Project final report makes the case that most of the violence is religiously motivated. 

“Christians have been disproportionately targeted both in terms of marginalization, exclusion, and physical violence,” says the report. 

The Kukah Center also called on the Nigerian government to establish “more official” camps for Internally Displaced Persons in order to accommodate persons stranded in conflict-torn areas, and to adopt community-led policing.

Recommendations are also made to Nigerian churches to mount special programs to disseminate information about Christian persecution. 

The report documents violent atrocities against Christians and minority groups in Muslim-majority Northern Nigeria from January 2022 to February 2023. It analyzes the ideological and sociopolitical drivers of the violence and the impact on victims.

“Many Christian communities are becoming soft spots for violent attacks because of the … government’s failure to nib [sic] the crisis in the bud,” the report says. “Their susceptibility is worsened with an utter deprivation of basic amenities such as good access [to] roads, potable water, hospitals, schools, etc. Christians are subjected to the Sharia law, mob killings, forceful conversion to Islam, violent extremism, kidnappings, rape, child labor, human trafficking, and other human rights-related abuses. But the various arms and tiers of the government have shown complacency amid the increasing rate of these forms of violations against Christians.”

Aleteia sent a request for comment on the report to the Embassy of Nigeria to the United States. 

No separation of church and state

Behind Christian persecution is the belief on the part of the average Muslim in northern Nigeria that state structures must be instrumentalized to promote Islam, the report says.

“Due to the abundance of fertile land occupied by Christians in the North Central part of Nigeria, a spate of attacks has been ongoing to displace Christians and take over their lands,” it says. Christian farmers there “find it difficult to carry out agricultural activities because Fulani herdsmen attacks are driven by an ideological thrust of universal ownership of lands across the Sahel Region, as opposed to state ownership and legislations such as the anti-open grazing law in states like Benue. To this effect, many Christians (in states like Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa) have been displaced from their ancestral homes and are living in IDP camps and neighboring host communities.”

Nigeria has been experiencing a “food crisis,” the report says, in part because the North Central region, known for food production more than any region, “has been infested by killer Fulani herdsmen who kill farmers. … The motive has always been to dislodge the Christians in the region and occupy the land.”

In the Northwest, the report continues, banditry and kidnapping have become “organized crimes.”

“Ransom paid to perpetrators is used to generate funds for the acquisition of arms in furtherance of the actualization of Fulani dominance of the Nigerian state,” it says. 

Religious leaders are abducted because of a belief that the Church is wealthy and “to instill fear in religious leaders to hinder them from continuing their religious functions in the region.”

The report breaks what seems to be a generally accepted taboo against discussing the payment of ransom so as not to encourage more kidnapping. 

Thus, the report notes that two pastors (it does not specify which denomination) and a catechist kidnapped in Katsina state were released after a ransom of 45 million naira (about $97,300) was paid.

Others were not as fortunate. Fr. Joseph Aketeh of St. John Catholic Church in Kudenda, Kaduna South LGA, was kidnapped on March 8, 2022. He died in the custody of his abductors on May 11, 2022.

In spite of trying to keep ransom payments quiet, there seems to be no let-up in kidnapping. Just this week, according to Fides, information service of the Pontifical Mission Societies, two Catholic priests were kidnapped in the state of Delta, in southern Nigeria. 

But the report also blames persecution in part on “the poor responses of the government.”

“The government has deliberately refused to recognize that these attacks targeted at Christians are religiously motivated,” it says. “There is more attention to providing analysis of these attacks from the viewpoint of climate change, cultural clash, and economic contestation.”

The report came out just days before the annual report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which recommended that the U.S. State Department designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern. The CPC designation indicates that a government engages in or tolerates “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations” of the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The Kukah Center report also details activities by Boko Haram, saying the Islamic fundamentalist group’s intrusion into some Christian communities in northeast Nigeria “continues almost daily.”

And yet, security mechanisms adopted by the government “remain the same,” the report says. “There is a denial on the part of the government and the military that it is complacent and overwhelmed with terrorist activities in the country.”

Tags:
AfricaIslamist MilitantsNigeriaPersecution of Christians
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