In a remote village in the South of Nigeria, a recent church service was shattered by violence. The Roman Catholic mass on April 24th was interrupted when men thought to be Fulani extremists opened fire, killing two priests and 17 parishioners.
21Wilberforce and other NGOs urged President Trump to raise this and other incidents that underscore growing conflict in Nigeria during a planned visit to the White House this week by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. The violence falling along ethno-religious fault lines is pulling Nigeria apart, displacing whole communities and threatening even more mass migration into Europe. In a press conference following that meeting, President Trump commented, “We’re deeply concerned by religious violence in Nigeria, including the burning of churches and the killing and persecution of Christians.”
Attacks have escalated from traditional, small-scale farmer-herder conflicts into eradication of entire villages, using sophisticated weapons and Boko Haram-like tactics. Unlike persecution motivated by ideology, the rising Middle-Belt violence does not appear to have a clear motivator. Rather, its likely root causes are many — political, economic, social, and environmental.
Regardless the cause, the violence has disproportionally impacted religious minority communities. Religious identity and its accompanying beliefs and practices are crucial to understanding how Nigerians see their own communities. An important extension of that understanding — particularly in Nigeria — is recognizing that persecution does not just happen to an individual because of his or her beliefs; it happens when a group of people who share a religious identity are targeted.
Security and rule of law are needed now more than ever in Nigeria to stop the violence and to forestall vigilantism
April’s church attack likely sprang from Fulani extremism. According to the Global Terrorism Index, extremist violence waged by some segments of this otherwise non-extreme ethnic group has resulted in 2,827 people killed in Nigeria in 2016 alone — more than were killed by Boko Haram during the same period. An important distinction is that not all Fulani people are behind these attacks, nor do they support them. Reports are increasing of threatened villagers retaliating against and killing innocent Fulani people, a horrific development that some argue is under-reported in the international media.
Security and rule of law are needed now more than ever in Nigeria to stop the violence and to forestall vigilantism. To that end, it is encouraging that President Buhari recently tweeted:
“This latest assault on innocent persons is particularly despicable. Violating a place of worship, killing priests and worshippers is not only vile, evil and satanic, it is clearly calculated to stoke up religious conflict and plunge our communities into endless bloodletting.”
A good first step that now must be followed with action. 21Wilberforce and other NGOs asked President Trump to ensure that the U.S. encourages Nigeria to:
- Ensure all citizens are protected equally regardless of ethno-religious affiliation, providing timely security assistance when given credible reports of impending attacks;
- Apply rule of law without regard to ethno-religious affiliation, including creating credible, transparent, and impartial investigations of attacks that result in bringing perpetrators of violence to justice; and
- Expand coordinated U.S.-Nigeria efforts for law enforcement and legal training, monitoring and prevention of violence, and the distribution of humanitarian assistance targeted to rebuilding the lives and livelihoods of the victims of Fulani extremists and forestalling mass migration.
Stephen Enada, founder of the International Committee of Nigeria (ICON) and a Nigerian from the region where the violence has spiked says, “Nigeria needs the rule of law. She needs to protect the constitutional rights of all her citizens.”
- Pray for the victims and families of the latest church attack in Nigeria
- Readhow violence — motivated by several factors — can become religious violence in Nigeria
- Contactthe White House to thank President Trump for meeting with President Buhari and to urge his support of Nigeria’s efforts to bring rule of law, human rights, and religious freedom to all her people