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Witnesses share details of Nigerian Christian “genocide”

Burned house in Mangu, Nigeria

KOLA SULAIMON | AFP

John Burger - published on 02/17/24

Experts urge US to designate Nigeria a "Country of Particular Concern" under International Religious Freedom Act.

If the crimes themselves weren’t so horrific, what would bother a Nigerian bishop the most is the utter lack of response to them

Bishop Wilfred Anagbe is head of the Diocese of Makurdi, Nigeria, one of the areas that has been plagued for years by violence against Christians. In recent appearances in Washington, DC, including testimony before a congressional subcommittee this week, Bishop Anagbe said that Nigeria’s president has yet to speak out about a Christmas massacre that took the lives of more than 200 Christians not far from his diocese. The bloodshed in the north-central Nigerian state of Plateau began on Christmas Eve and lasted several days.

During a February 14 hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Chris Smith, R-NJ, said that to date, no one has been held to account for that massacre, which has been blamed on marauding Fulani militants. According to Smith, Bishop Anagbe, and other observers, that’s pretty much par for the course.

Though one witness at the hearing, which considered “The Future of Freedom in Nigeria,” cautioned that there are multiple reasons for such violence, Bishop Anagbe and others focused on the violations of religious freedom that have been carried out or tolerated in Nigeria in recent years.

Bishop Anagbe painted a grim picture of ongoing attacks against Christian villages and desperate IDPs – internally displaced persons – who must endure subhuman conditions in refugee camps. 

“The violent persecution and massacres in my diocese have increased exponentially since I was appointed as bishop in 2014 and continue to increase since the last presidential election,” he said.

He and others lamented that the new presidential administration of Bola Tinubu has shown little improvement since Muhammadu Buhari left office last May. Since Tinubu became president, “he has not made any statements about the insecurity in the country,” the bishop said. The president never addressed the nation after the 2023 massacre, “which is very painful and disheartening.”

Kidnappings

In his testimony, Anagbe explained that most of the 6 million inhabitants of Benue State, where his diocese is, are subsistence farmers living on ancestral farms. Almost all are Christian, and 80% are Catholic. A total of 2.225 million have been “brutally driven from their land by militant Fulani” and now live as IDPs. 

“What is occurring in Benue State and elsewhere in Nigeria is an organized, systematic and brutal cleansing of Christians,” the bishop charged.

“Between November 2023 and January 2024, Nigeria has lost over 1,000 lives to these bandits, to these Fulani terrorists, and no arrests” have been made, he complained.

Aside from attacks on villages and brutal killings, another problem Nigerians are dealing with is kidnapping. The abductions have included several priests and nuns, Anagbe said. 

Responding to a question from Congressman Smith, Bishop Anagbe said that the government considers kidnap victims to be the responsibility of their families. Many of them cannot afford to pay ransoms. “The government has been completely inactive in this area, and completely not interested,” he said.

Champion of religious freedom

Also speaking at the hearing was former Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, widely recognized as a champion of international religious freedom. Having retired from Congress in 2015, Wolf serves as a commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a body that owes its existence in large part to Wolf himself. He was author of the International Freedom Act of 1998, which created USCIRF and the Office of International Religious Freedom at the US Department of State.

Wolf and Smith both said it’s imperative that the US designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act. The designation, which indicates egregious violations of religious freedom, carries with it 18 sanctions. The Trump Administration had designated Nigeria as a CPC, but the Biden Administration lifted the designation, “without citing any improvement,” Wolf complained. 

Congressman Smith recently introduced House Resolution 82, which expresses the sense of Congress regarding the need to designate Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern.

“Our research and analysis continue to support the conclusion that Nigeria clearly meets the legal standard for designation as a CPC,” Wolf testified.

That conclusion is based in part on information the State Department has in its own report on Nigeria, he said. In addition, a USCIRF delegation visited Nigeria in July 2022 and concluded that the government is “perpetrating and tolerating systematic ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.”

In 15 years, Wolf said, more than 85,000 innocent people have been murdered in Nigeria, including Muslims.

A Catholic-inspired NGO called International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) released a report February 14 saying that since 2009, Nigeria has seen “150,000 religiously motivated defenseless civilian deaths.” The group said that includes about 100,000 Christians, 46,000 moderate Muslims, and 4,000 members of other religions.

Climate change?

While visiting Washington, Bishop Anagbe addressed the January 29-31 International Religious Freedom Summit and the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on February 8 at the John Paul II National Shrine.

In a February 1 interview he spoke with Aleteia about misperceptions that some observers have about the troubles in Nigeria. Some commentators suggest that climate change is at the root of the issue, as it forces nomadic Fulani herders into areas occupied by the more stable population of Christian farmers. 

Climate change is not a Nigerian problem alone. It is a global issue,” he pointed out. “How many countries are killing their citizens over climate matters?”

Rather, he insisted, what is going on is a genocide, the “gradual elimination of indigenous tribes who are predominantly Christians and to go on with the agenda which I will tell you clearly is an Islamic agenda, to make Nigeria become an Islamic State of West Africa.”

Traveling with Bishop Anagbe was Fr. Remigius Ihiyula, who heads the diocesan Foundation for Justice, Development, and Peace. The foundation recently published a report documenting Fulani herdsmen attacks in Benue State since 2015.

Fr. Ihiyula told Aleteia that the Church in Nigeria has seen a pattern of displacement of Christian populations and occupation by Islamic ones replicated in several places in Nigeria.

Nigeria state map

“They have done it successfully in Kaduna state, they have displaced a lot of the Christian populations in southern Kaduna state. They have done so in Plateau State. They have done so in Taraba state. And the cause of the problem that Plateau State has become a killing field is as a result of this problem, because they are the one to replace indigenous populations with the Islamic militants who have occupied these places is simply the one to apply in Benue State. Benue will be the last bastion for them to conquer the rest of Nigeria.”

Nigeria is growing in importance as a cultural and economic powerhouse in Africa. Its population is expected to reach some 400 million by the year 2050, putting it ahead of the US.

Americans should care about the issue for humanitarian reasons, but if for nothing else, Bishop Anagbe said, “it would not be good to be doing business with a country that promotes genocide.”

Tags:
AfricaNigeriaPersecution of Christians
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