A Christmas Day Horror In Nigeria: Christians Are Slaughtered While The World Looks The Other Way

In what has become a dark annual tradition, Islamic militants in Nigeria carried out targeted attacks on Christians on Christmas Eve. Up to 200 are confirmed dead and about 300 injured in the attacks that were carried out in 20 villages across the north-central state of Plateau. Islamic militants have carried out similar Christmas attacks for at least the last four years...

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uring a Christmas Eve killing spree, nomadic herders reportedly used guns and machetes to slaughter as many as 200 people in the central Plateau state. The elongated assault reportedly left victims to fend for themselves, as it took hours for authorities to arrive on the scene and offer appropriate assistance.

Some of the victims were preparing to celebrate the holiday when the deadly assaults broke out. But rather than having the ability to pause to remember the birth of Christ, innocents comprised mostly of the elderly, women and children were massacred.

The population of Nigeria is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians; a religious split that largely follows along geographic lines. The northern part of the country is predominantly Muslim, and the eastern and southern parts heavily Christian. The middle of the country, sometimes called the “Middle Belt,” is ethnically and religiously diverse. 

Not surprisingly, the threat to Christians originated from the Islamic north, though it has now also spread to southern regions. Three groups are responsible for what Open Doors  has called a campaign of “religious cleansing” against Christians. Boko Haram, one of the most notorious Islamist terrorist groups in the world, is responsible for killing thousands of Christians and displacing countless more since violence began to escalate in 2015. In recent years, their ruthlessness has been matched by a rival group, the Islamic State in West Africa.  

As dangerous as these explicitly Islamist groups are, the Fulani herdsmen are worse. Because the Fulani territory in north Nigeria is suffering from a long-term drought, the Fulani are moving south to access water. To take land and drive out Christians, the herdsmen have raided and burned villages, slaughtered villagers, destroyed crops and engaged in a host of other atrocities. It was the Fulani who carried out this year’s Christmas attacks. 

For years, the Nigerian government has denied the obvious religious dimensions of the Fulani herdsmen, instead claiming it to be a conflict between farmers and herders. Former President Muhammadu Buhari is a Fulani. Though he attempted to address some of the economic issues that drive Fulani militancy, he consistently denied that religion played any role in the conflict, pointing out that Muslim villages were also raided. However, the vast majority of attacks were committed against Christians, including Christians in churches on Christmas and Easter.  

In fact, the Fulani’s history of Islamic militancy dates back to the late 17th century.  Denying the religious dimensions of these attacks is pure propaganda, according to the governor of the state of Plateau, Caleb Mutfwang. In a New Year’s broadcast, he called for a week of mourning to begin 2024, referring to the recent killings as a “Christmas genocide” and acknowledging the over 400 that were killed just between April and June of 2023: 

These unprovoked and simultaneous attacks in different villages were clearly premeditated and coordinated. These series of attacks on our people are a clear case of criminality, insurgency and terrorism and must be seen and handled in that manner if we must succeed in halting this wanton destruction of lives and property.  For the avoidance of doubt, it is a misrepresentation of facts to describe these needless and unprovoked attacks on our people as a Farmer-Herder clash, as has always been the traditional narrative. Let us call a spade a spade; this is simple genocide!” 

The diabolical situation further highlights the dangers Nigerian Christians face at the hands of Islamic extremists — menacing threats that rage as the world seemingly looks the other way.

“Church pastors were killed and hundreds of houses were destroyed in the massacres in villages of Barkin Ladi, Bokkos and Mangu counties, officials and residents said,” Morning Star News reported. “The assailants killed the Rev. Solomon Gushe of Baptist Church in Dares village along with nine of his family members, said Bokkos County resident Dawzino Mallau.”

The reports of looting, setting homes ablaze and killing expose a brutal reality: Nigeria is a nightmarish perdition for Christians simply seeking to live their lives. But the problem isn’t new. Jeff King, president of persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, recently told me how dire circumstances have raged over the past two decades.

Indeed, what has happened to Nigerian Christians over the past decade and more meets the established international standards for the label genocide.  And yet, as Johnnie Moore noted on X, “the @StateDept is reticent to speculate on the motive of the perpetrators of a massacre of 200 Christians in Nigeria on Christmas, in an area rife with terrorists.”  

It is highly suspect whether Nigerian Christians should expect help from Nigeria’s current president, who was sworn into office last May. Not only is Bola Ahmed Tinubu a Muslim, but he also broke with the tradition of selecting a Christian as vice president. Given the nation’s top two officeholders are Muslim, many are understandably skeptical of the president’s condemnation of the Plateau state attacks, as well as his promise that “the envoys of death, pain, and sorrow responsible for these acts will not escape justice.”  

Fueling the skepticism could be that in mid-December President Tinubu referred to his predecessor as “an icon of truth, justice, and patriotism.” He then followed the habit of his predecessor in not acknowledging any religious motivation for the Christmas Day attacks.  

Even if everyone else does, Christians must not forget the spiritual root of this conflict. For over a century, God has been moving and the Church has been expanding across Africa. In 1900, there were only 9.64 million Christians on the continent. Today there are over 692 million, and they are among the most committed Christians in the world. It is not surprising that Satan would inspire their ongoing persecution.  

Most Americans have no idea what’s going on in Nigeria, but imagine this: for the last 20 years, probably up to about 100,000 Christians have been murdered,” Mr. King said. “Three-and-a-half million Christians, their lands have been taken from them, and the government’s pretty much done nothing.”

The trends are absolutely horrifying, but the individual and anecdotal examples of violence seem even more otherworldly. I’ve repeatedly covered the issue at CBN News, finding myself increasingly disturbed by every twist and turn. 

Perhaps the most infamous case in recent memory surrounds Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a 25-year-old Christian college student who was stoned to death on May 12, 2022. Her demise sent shockwaves throughout the world and catapulted the issue of Nigerian religious persecution into the headlines, albeit for a relatively brief time.

The attention at the time was understandable, as the deadly attack on Ms. Yakubu was filmed and uploaded to social media, offering a visual lens into the ongoing terror. If you’re wondering what she was accused of, the young woman merely credited Jesus for her success in school and defended her Christian faith. That was apparently worthy of death by stoning.

But Ms. Yakubu’s story is neither unique nor isolated, with pervasive violence and land-grabbing at the hands of groups such as the Fulani and Boko Haram raging in the nation’s northern region. In fact, Nigeria ranks as the sixth worst place in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List.

“Christians in Nigeria suffer persecution from an ingrained agenda of enforced Islamization, which is particularly prevalent in the north of the country and has gradually been spreading south,” the report noted. “Attacks by Islamic militant groups have increased consistently since 2015, but the government has failed to prevent the rise in violence, which affects all Nigerians, but particularly Christians.”

In November, Oluwakemi Moses, the wife of a Christian pastor, was killed while driving home with her 2-month-old baby. In a separate incident last summer, the Rev. Charles Onomhoale Igechi, a Catholic priest, was also murdered while driving.

He was killed by gunmen, as they riddled his body with bullets after they shot him on the back,” the Rev. Augustine Akubeze, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Benin, said at the time.

Yet another case made headlines in August 2022 when a woman named Lyop Dalyop was cleaning a church when she was slain by suspected Fulani herdsmen. 

These, of course, are only a few of the growing examples of what’s been unfolding. The pattern of murder and horror is clear, but what’s a bit murkier is why the U.S. and other nations aren’t intensely and publicly pressing Nigerian officials to halt the atrocities — assaults that appear to rage without any fear of reprisal. 

The State Department under former President Donald Trump had added Nigeria to the Countries of Particular Concern list in 2020, signaling an increased unease over the crises unfolding there. But the Biden administration removed Nigeria and has since kept the nation off its list of countries rife with religious freedom violations. 

It’s far past time for America to place Nigeria back on the Countries of Particular Concern list and to vocally voice horror — and place pressure — on the nation’s officials. As for the rest of us, we must turn to advocacy and prayer, as our Nigerian brothers and sisters desperately need it.✪

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