Washington, D.C. (ICC) -- "There is no war in the north," Rev. Musa Asake, the General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Morning Star News. "What we have is genocide against people of the Christian faith." Anti-Christian violence across Nigeria's northern and Middle Belt regions has continued to rise in both intensity and frequency in recent months, leading both Christians and foreign governments to condemn the constant violence and the Nigerian government's lack of decisive action to protect its citizens.
Another Year of Violence
Most of the largely anti-Christian violence has been perpetrated by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), "Boko Haram has become the primary perpetrator of religiously-related violence in northern Nigeria, targeting churches, individual Christians, Muslim clerics that disagree with the group's message and persons engaged in behavior deemed 'un-Islamic,' [as well as government institutions]."
In its recently released report titled "Boko Haram's Religiously Motivated Attacks," the Commission documented the group's religiously-motivated attacks from the past year. According to the report:
- A total of 50 churches were bombed, burned or attacked, killing at least 366 people.
- Christians or people perceived to be Christians were attacked in 31 separate incidents, killing at least 166 people.
- Clerics or senior Islamic figures critical of Boko Haram were attacked in 23 separate incidents, killing at least 60 people.
- "Un-Islamic" institutions or persons engaged in "un-Islamic" behaviors were attacked in 21 separate incidents, killing at least 74 people.
Boko Haram, a title that means "Western education is a sin," is an Islamic extremist group that originated out of northern Nigeria. For the past four years, the group has been engaged in an armed insurgency against the Nigerian government in an attempt to carve out a separate Islamic state where it can implement its own "pure" interpretation of Sharia law. Since 2009, thousands of Nigerians, including hundreds of Christians, have been killed in the resulting conflict.
Boko Haram's Leadership in Shambles
The Nigerian government has taken a military approach to responding to Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency and has deployed the military to several of Nigeria's most affected states.
In August, the Nigerian military claimed to have killed the purported leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau. According to a military spokesman, Shekau was injured in a firefight with the military on June 30 in the northeastern Sambisa forest.
"Shekau was mortally wounded in the encounter and was sneaked into Amitchide, a border community in Cameroon, for treatment," the spokesman said. "Shekau might have died between July 25 and August 3."
On August 14, Nigeria's defense minister announced that security forces have also killed Boko Haram's second-in-command, Momodu Bama. Bama's death has been confirmed by the testimony of other Boko Haram militants that the Nigerian military has arrested.
Christians Continue to Suffer Under Climate of Impunity
Although these high-profile killings may serve as a deterrent to Boko Haram, the situation for Christians in Northern Nigeria has not significantly improved. The Nigerian government has allowed such a climate of impunity to develop in its northern states, that USCIRF has recommended the U.S. government categorize Nigeria a "Country of Particular Concern," putting Nigeria's violations of Christians' religious freedom rights on par with countries like North Korea and Iran.
The massacre of five Christians on a roadside outside of the Nigerian city of Jos on August 29 is just the most recent gruesome example of the climate of impunity USCIRF is concerned about. In that attack, Islamic militants pulled over a minibus, forced all the passengers to offload and gunned down Pam Gyang, Felix John, Jimmy Tiger, Ishaku Gyang and Dachung Monday after they had declared their Christian faith.
According to USCIRF, Nigeria has the capacity to address Christian persecution in its northern states by enforcing the rule of law and making perpetrators of acts of violence against Christians accountable through the judicial system, but has failed to do so. Unfortunately, the U.S. and other Western governments have decided to ignore the suffering of Christians as well. This willful ignorance has led to a climate of impunity that has allowed ongoing, egregious and systematic violations of religious freedom that have resulted in the deaths of over 14,000 since 1999. Without decisive action by either Nigeria or the international community, Christians living in northern Nigeria may become a thing of the past.
International Christian Concern is a Washington, D.C.-based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides awareness, advocacy and assistance to the worldwide persecuted church.
Publication date: September 13, 2013