As gunmen kidnap more than 140 Christian schoolchildren in Nigeria, Release International is again urging the international community to call Nigeria to account over its appalling failure to protect its Christian minority in the north.
The gunmen, suspected to be Fulani militants, overcame security guards and forced their way into Bethel Baptist boarding school in Kaduna at 2am on Monday morning. They kidnapped most of 180 students who attend the school. A few managed to escape, according to reports.
The exact numbers of high school students abducted is still unknown. Estimates vary from 140 to 164.
News agency AFP says this is the fourth mass school kidnapping in Kaduna state since December. It’s estimated that more Christians are kidnapped in Nigeria than any other country in the world.
‘Our hearts and prayers go out for these kidnapped children and their parents. God knows what they are going through,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world.
‘This appalling failure by Nigeria to protect its Christian citizens has to stop. The international community must compel Nigeria to effective action to protect its vulnerable Christian minority in the North against attacks from extremists.’
The Nigerian government has blamed bandits for the growing numbers of kidnappings and attacks against its Christian population. But international observers recognise a religious dimension behind many of the attacks.
The most likely perpetrators are Fulani herdsmen, whose grazing land is being eroded by desertification.
‘If so, by attacking Christians, they are following in the footsteps of Islamist militants, including Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State West African Province),’ says Paul Robinson of Release International.
The declared aim of Boko Haram is to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. It has ordered its supporters to kill Christians.
‘By attacking Christians in the north and middle belts of Nigeria, the Fulani militants are serving the same jihadist agenda as these Islamist terror groups,’ adds Paul Robinson. ‘And the Nigerian government is simply not doing enough to protect its Christian citizens who are under attack. Pressure must be brought to bear on Nigeria from the international community.’
Three recent reports confirm the growing spread of violence against Christians in Nigeria.
According to the Nigerian NGO Intersociety, in the four months from January to April 2021 Nigeria ‘lost no fewer than 1,470 Christians… the highest number recorded since 2014’.
And separate reports by the US State Department and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) singled out Nigeria as a ‘country of particular concern for tolerating severe violations of religious freedom’.
According to Intersociety, 2,200 Nigerian Christians were abducted between January and April this year. Of those 220 are believed to have been murdered.
Intersociety say Fulani militants killed more than 800 Christians, in a conflict often simplistically characterised as clashes over resources between herders and farmers.
According to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom or Belief there is a religious dimension behind the growing violence against Christians in the North and Middle Belts of Nigeria.
It says Fulani militants have adopted ’a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province], and demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity.’
That religious dimension is reiterated in the 2021 Annual Report of the USCIRF. It notes that Boko Haram fighters beheaded the local chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Adamawa State because he refused to renounce his faith, while ISWAP fighters executed five aid workers as a warning to “all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity”.
And in a separate report, the US State Department cites Nigerian Minister of Culture Lai Mohammed, who declared Boko Haram and ISIS fighters ‘have started targeting Christians and Christian villages… to trigger a religious war and throw the nation into chaos.’
The US State Department also quotes the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Reverend Samson Ayokunle, who warns Fulani militants and others share ‘a goal to Islamise Nigeria’.
Release International is concerned about attempts to simplify and reduce the causes of conflict to little more than a tussle over resources.
‘To characterise this as just a farmer/herder conflict is a gross over-simplification,’ says Release International CEO, Paul Robinson.
‘Boko Haram has publicly called for the killing of Christians and stated its aim to Islamise the whole of Nigeria. Fulani militants are now killing more Christians than Boko Haram fighters. In so doing, they appear to be serving the same Islamist agenda.
‘This has been going on for far too long. How many more innocent men, women and children need to suffer before something is done? The world must wake up to what is happening in the most populous nation in Africa.’
Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.
US State Dept Nigeria report: https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/nigeria/