ATTACKS on Christian communities in parts of Nigeria are now relentless, as men, women, and children are killed and churches are burned, the Director of Mission Operations in the Anglican diocese of Jos, the Ven. Mark Mukan, has reported.
He spoke at Holy Trinity, Eastbourne, on a “Day of the Christian Martyr” event last month. It was part of “Out of the Ashes”: a three-month campaign of events in the UK organised by the charity Release International to highlight the suffering of Christians in Nigeria (News, 9 June).
Archdeacon Mukan described a campaign of murder and arson, with houses, churches, hospitals, and farmland “burned to ashes”, in the north-east of Nigeria.
Many of the Christians in the north — most of whom belong to the Church of the Brethren — had been killed or displaced, including at least eight of their pastors, he said, and the denomination had been almost wiped out.
“Many are traumatised, frightened, and living in shock. Those who survived have run for safe haven in cities or in Cameroon. If they have torched one church, they have torched us all. And, in the north-east especially, denominations have been wiped out.”
The cycle of violence in parts of Nigeria has been worsening in recent years, and Fulani herdsmen have been blamed for the many of the attacks. The conflict between the Muslim Fulani and Christian farmers dates back decades and is rooted in disputes over land as well as ethnic and religious differences.
The Nigerian NGO Intersociety says that 1080 Christians have been killed in attacks in the first quarter of 2023 alone. In the previous year, 5100 were killed in attacks by Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa, and Fulani militants.
The latest attacks in Mangu are part of an escalation in violence which has been continuing for 20 years, a Release International partner, Archbishop Ben Kwashi, says. “We have come to another season of constant attacks on Christian villages and Christian people in central Nigeria. In April, in Benue, attacks left over 134 people dead, in systematic, calculated, well-planned killings, targeted at people who are either asleep or in their farms.
“The consistency with which these attacks have gone for nearly 20 years is a sad commentary on the leadership of Nigeria, who do not care about the poor and vulnerable, especially farmers in the villages.
“We, as Christians in the Middle Belt, in northern Nigeria, are asking for concerted prayer because the devastation is beyond human ability to bear.”
The UK-based Release International has launched a campaign, Out of These Ashes, to help victims of the violence in Nigeria. A chief executive of Release International, Paul Robinson, said that any attention given by international media to the attacks often ignored the religious dimension, which he described as “religious and ethnic cleansing”.
He continued: “This violence is often simplistically characterised in the media as clashes between herders and farmers. This ignores the religious dimension behind many of the Fulani attacks, which together have the characteristic of an Islamist jihad.”