Call to reinstate Nigeria as a ‘County of Concern to halt war against Christians

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Partners of Release International warn of a ‘slow-motion war’ unfolding in Nigeria where ‘more Christians are being killed than anywhere else on the face of the earth.

Release International is calling for Nigeria to be reinstated as a Country of Particular Concern, after its delisting by the US State Department.

Partners of UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted Christians worldwide, are calling on the US administration to relist Nigeria as a nation subject to international pressure to stop the persecution. 

17 killed daily

They warn: ‘17 Christians (are) murdered every day in Africa’s most populous country. Mass killings are now a national emergency.’

News emerged on December 12 that Christians in the north of Nigeria have been given death threats warning of murder and kidnap unless they close their churches. The Christian Association of Nigeria says the threats could paralyse Christian activity.

Release International partners calling on the international community to act include the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, the Anglican Church of Nigeria Director of Communications Hassan John, and ChinaAid.

Their appeal to the United States follows the decision last month (Nov 17) by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to remove Nigeria from the State Department list of countries of particular concern.

Along with 12 organisations under the umbrella of the Family Research Council, Archbishop Kwashi and others write: 

‘Massacres almost nightly’

‘How can it be… that Nigeria’s CPC (Country of Particular Concern) designation has been dropped without a public explanation?

‘The ongoing violence, killing, and displacement against Christians and others have only increased. In fact, during 2021, massacres happen almost nightly, while by day, young boys are killed in the fields. Pregnant women are brutally dismembered, their babies mutilated before their eyes. And an entire church congregation has been abducted and held captive.

‘In recent months, gangs of Fulani militants, Boko Haram terrorists, and other armed radicals have become even more brazen, torching entire villages and farms, ambushing and killing innocent people. The victims are often targeted because of their religious identity.

‘Mass killings – the kind that used to be sporadic – are now a national emergency.’ They call for ‘international pressure… to stop the slow-motion war unfolding in Nigeria… where more Christians are being killed than anywhere else on the face of the earth.’

The letter cites a report by the Catholic News Agency that almost three and a half thousand Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021. ‘This equates to 17 Christians being murdered every day in Africa’s most populous country.’

Death threats

On December 12, less than a month after the US delisted Nigeria, reports emerged that Christians in northwest had been sent death threats that they would be murdered or kidnapped unless they closed their churches. 

Police are investigating the threatening letters, according to Morning Star News. And the Police Commissioner of Zamfara confirmed extra forces would be deployed to protect both mosques and churches.

The General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Joseph Bade Daramola, warned the death threats could paralyse Christian activities in northwest Nigeria. 

‘We call on the police, the military authorities and other security agencies to rise to challenge the terrorists who have turned kidnapping into the biggest business venture in the northwest,’ he said. 

‘We have no problem with Islam or Muslims,’ he added, ‘but with fanatics among them and their financiers who have declared war against Christianity.’

Kidnapped pastor killed

In other recent attacks, Fulani herdsmen who kidnapped a pastor near Kaduna killed him even though they had been given ransom payments, according to Morning Star News. 

Armed Fulani kidnapped Rev Dauda Bature of the First Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and then abducted his wife as she handed over his ransom money. 

The Christian Association of Nigeria told Morning Star News that the pastor had earlier shared his faith with his captors and prayed for them.

In another attack on December the 11th near Kaduna 30 heavily armed militants dressed in army uniforms attacked Christian villages. They shot a pregnant woman in the leg and set houses on fire, before being chased away by security forces.

Militants also killed a pastor and kidnapped 50 Christians in similar attacks on other villages in the state.

Policy shift?

US observers say Christians fear the decision to delist Nigeria as a country of particular concern could signal a shift in policy in the Biden administration away from protecting persecuted Christians abroad.

‘The US State Department appears to be ignoring its own warnings,’ says Paul Robinson, the CEO of UK-based Release International, which supports persecuted churches Christians around the world.

The US State Department has previously cited Nigerian minister of culture Lai Mohammed, warning that Boko Haram and other militants, ‘have started targeting Christians and Christian villages… to trigger a religious war and throw the nation into chaos.’

The US State Department also quoted the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, reverend Samson Ayokunle, raising concerns that Fulani militants and others share ‘a goal to Islamise Nigeria’.

Adds Paul Robinson: ‘Release International has long regarded Nigeria as a country of particular concern. We continue to do so. Daily we receive reports of attacks against Christian communities in the north, and those attacks are becoming more widespread. 

‘The threat is not just from Islamist terror groups like Boko Haram and ISWAP, but also Fulani militants who are attacking far and wide. They appear to be serving the same Islamist agenda of driving the Christian minority out of the north.

‘Release urges the international community to insist that Nigeria take effective action to protect its Christians against extremist attacks. The Nigerian government is simply not doing enough. The international community must increase the pressure.’ 

‘Appalled’

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) first called in 2009 for the US State Department to designate Nigeria as a country of particular concern.

USCIRF said it was ‘appalled… and displeased’ at the latest decision to delist Nigeria, and urged the State Department to reconsider.

In its 2021 annual report, USCIRF noted that Boko Haram had beheaded the local chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria 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’.

Moderate Muslims are also at risk in Nigeria from Islamist extremists. This has been noted in Kaduna, where security forces are being drafted in to protect mosques as well as churches.

Growing attacks

However, it is those identified as Christians who bear the brunt of the attacks. The scale of those attacks against Christians has continued to grow.

The Nigerian NGO Intersociety noted that more than 1,400 Christians were killed in violence in the first four months of 2021 alone, ‘the highest number recorded since 2014’. They also flagged up the epidemic of kidnapping in the country. In those four months, Intersociety say 2,200 Nigerian Christians were abducted – and 220 of those victims were later murdered.

In the UK, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, noted in a recent report that Fulani militants were adopting ‘a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP, and demonstrated clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity.’

Underscoring the scale of the violence facing Christians, International Christian Concern has declared Nigeria ‘persecutor of the year’. ICC described the country as ‘one of the deadliest places on earth for Christians,’ claiming between 50,000 and 70,000 had been killed there since the turn of the millennium.

‘Now is not the time for the international community to take its eye off the ball with Nigeria,’ says Paul Robinson of Release International.

‘With the rise of Islamist militancy, whether from Boko Haram, Fulani extremists or ISWAP, Nigeria is becoming increasingly violent. It is a dangerous place to be a Christian.’

Release is active in more than 25 countries around the world, working through partners to prayerfully, pastorally and practically support the families of Christian martyrs, prisoners of faith and their families; Christians suffering oppression and violence, and Christians forced to flee.