ABUJA, Nigeria – Escalating violence that has killed thousands of Christians in Central Nigeria must be addressed by the international Christian community and a Nigerian government that has harassed victims, a global religious liberty coalition noted after its 2019 consultation in Abuja.
The frequent attacks can no longer be blamed on a centuries old land dispute between Christians and Fulani herdsmen, the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP) of 40 advocacy and aid groups said. Instead, the violence is initiated by a militant faction of Fulani herdsmen and others intent on killing Christians, the group said in affirming a sentiment various advocacy groups voiced as early as 2017.
"The RLP calls on the worldwide church to stand with our brothers and sisters in Nigeria in prayer, and to provide long-term practical humanitarian support, pastoral care and trauma counselling particularly [to] those who have lost family and loved ones, livestock and livelihoods," the statement reads. "We urge Christians worldwide to respond to this appeal for prayer and action in recognition of the Biblical injunction that we are One Body, and that 'if one part suffers, every part suffers with it' (1 Corinthians 12:26)."
Among the most recent attacks, as many as 280 Christians were killed over several weeks spanning February and March.
The RLP acknowledges apart from militant herdsmen several "peaceable Fulani herders and communities," and "the ongoing plight of Hausa and Fulani communities in northwest Nigeria which are also suffering kidnappings, murder and extortion by armed gangs."
RLP Chair Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), distributed the April statement in a press release today (May 16).
"The Abuja Statement highlights disturbing allegations that while members of the militia 'are neither traced nor prosecuted, members of victim communities who articulate their concerns experience an array of repercussions that include threats, arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment,'" Thomas said.
In addressing concerns in central Nigeria, the RLP laments terrorism in northeast Nigeria. There, the RLP urges the Nigerian government to facilitate the release of schoolgirl Leah Sharibu, kidnapped by Boko Haram in February 2018 and held only because of her Christianity; humanitarian worker Alice Ngaddah, held by the Islamic State West Africa Province since March 2018; and 112 Chibok schoolgirls still held by the Shekau faction of Boko Haram since being kidnapped in April 2014.
The statement references nine elders of the Adara tribe from Kajuru in southern Kaduna state, Thomas said, who have been detained since February and are facing "dubious charges" of incitement and culpable homicide.
The RLP "calls on the government to ensure an end to this 'judicial harassment and arbitrary detention,'" Thomas said, "while also regretting the emergence of 'periodic retributive violence, as communities conclude they cannot depend on government for protection or justice.'"
Among RLP members in addition to CSW are Alliance Defending Freedom, China Aid, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign, Middle East Concern, Open Doors, Voice of the Martyrs, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, and the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission.
"We are also concerned by the violence that continues to devastate farming communities in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, southern Kaduna, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states, and a concomitant proliferation of small arms that contributes to a general rise in insecurity," the statement declares. Well-armed Fulani militia have killed and displaced thousands, the RLP said.
Open Doors ranked Nigeria 12th in its 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to live as a Christian. Of the 4,136 Christians killed in 2018, Nigeria accounted for 3,731, Open Doors said.
The RLP drafted the statement after its March consultation in Abuja, where it discussed strategic issues and collaboration aimed at international religious liberty.
Among other requests, the statement calls on the worldwide church to pray for strength, protection and wisdom for religious leaders in Nigeria; raise awareness of violence in central Nigeria; and petition national governments to assist targeted communities in Nigeria.
The full statement is available at rlpartnership.org/rlp-statements/.
Written by Baptist Press, the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.