Impunity Said to Abet Persecution of Christians in Nigeria

National Christian leader calls Islamic extremist assaults ‘genocide.’

Grave for 15 Christians killed in Mile Bakwai, Plateau state on March 27. (Morning Star News photo)

Grave for 15 Christians killed in Mile Bakwai, Plateau state on March 27. (Morning Star News photo)

ABUJA, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Impunity for terrorists and state-sponsored discrimination against Christians in northern Nigeria has led not to sectarian war but to “genocide,” the general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) told Morning Star News.

Echoing a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) asserting this week that lack of prosecution encourages violence in Nigeria, the Rev. Musa Asake said yesterday that a climate of impunity had led to continued attacks by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and ethnic Fulani herdsmen on Christians in the northern part of the country.

“There is no prosecution of those who kill, and this has encouraged these Boko Haram members to continue to bomb Christian areas, while Fulani herdsmen continue to attack and kill Christians in rural areas of northern part of this country with impunity,” Musa said. “From our records, day-in-day-out, Christians in the north are under an unprecedented siege by various groups of well-armed, roundly trained and heavily funded Muslim groups bent on expressing their hate against Christians and the Christian faith through mindless, mass murder of men, women and children.”

A pastor with the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), Asake said the systematic killing of Christians in northern Nigeria constitutes genocide.

“There is no war in the north – what we have is genocide against people of the Christian faith,” he said. “The situation demands urgent action, if we are not to descend into a state where every man is to [fend for] himself.”

In a report entitled “Boko Haram’s Religiously Motivated Attacks” issued on Monday (Aug. 19), USCIRF asserted that the Nigerian government’s “toleration of communal, sectarian violence has created a permissive environment conducive to further violence and a culture of impunity.”

“Nigeria has the capacity to address communal, sectarian and Boko Haram violence by enforcing the rule of law and making perpetrators accountable through the judicial system, and not relying solely on a counterterrorism strategy involving the security services,” the report states. “Such an approach would help Nigeria realize lasting progress, security, stability, and prosperity as a democracy.”

The United States can play an important role in encouraging and increasing the Nigerian judiciary to prosecute, the report states. At the same time, the U.S. government needs to recognize the religious elements in Boko Haram’s ideology and the sectarian aspects of the violence, USCIRF says.

“Acting on such an understanding would better position the United States to engage with both the Nigerian government at all levels and key religious leaders who view the violence partly through a sectarian lens,” the report states. “The United States also should do more to encourage and support the Nigerian government’s efforts to provide additional security personnel to protect northern Christian minorities and clerics and Muslim traditional rulers who denounce Boko Haram attacks, and consider creating a witness protection-like program.”

USCIRF documented at least 50 Boko Haram assaults on churches that took place between Jan. 1, 2012 and July 31, 2013, resulting in the deaths of 336 people. In addition, USCIRF reports 31 separate attacks on Christians or southerners perceived to be Christian, killing at least 166 persons; 23 targeted attacks on clerics or senior Islamic figures critical of Boko Haram, killing at least 60 persons; and 21 attacks on “un-Islamic” institutions or persons engaged in “un-Islamic” behavior, killing at least 74.

The commission noted that on Jan. 2, 2012, Boko Haram called on all Christians and southerners, presumed to be Christian, to leave northern Nigeria within three days or face death. In the following week, more than 30 Christians were shot to death.

“Boko Haram continues to target and kill individual Christians and southerners,” the USCIRF report states, noting among them the Nov. 25, 2012 shooting deaths of a Christian couple and their son in Kano, Kano state; the Dec. 1, 2012 slitting of the throats of Christians in attacks on four churches; and the May 14 slaying in Maiduguri, Borno state of the Rev. Faye Pama Musa, secretary of the Borno state CAN. On July 30, in Kano, four bombs exploded in the Christian area of Sabon Gari, killing at least 45 persons and damaging two churches, the report notes.

Citing “continued Muslim-Christian violence” as well as Boko Haram murders, the USCIRF report states that religion has become an increasingly key factor, “as much of the violence results from the misuse of ‘faith’ to foster political, economic, and/or ethnic discord, thereby elevating religious identifications and transforming violence in Nigeria’s north and Middle Belt into religious conflicts.”

Christian leaders in the country assert that the vast majority of “sectarian violence” is Muslim aggression that Nigeria’s Islamist media portray as Muslim-Christian clashes. They say that in the rare instances of impoverished rural Christians coming into possession of weapons – in contrast with outside Islamic terrorist groups heavily arming Nigerian Muslim extremists – Christians use them only in self-defense.

Asake said oppression of Christians includes discrimination and deprivation of rights.

“While the preaching by Christians is restricted to church premises in the core northern states, Muslim clerics are free to preach hateful and inciting sermons with no hindrance,” he said.

Asake lamented that Kano, Yobe, Borno, Sokoto, Zamfara, Jigawa and Katsina states have banned teaching of Christian Religious Knowledge, a subject Nigeria had approved to be taught in high schools alongside Islamic Religious Knowledge.

“In the past 13 years, some of the governments in these mentioned states have refused to grant new building permits to churches or give approval for the renovation or expansion of churches,” he added. Some pastors have been given six months to vacate their church sites, he said.

“Authorities in the affected villages gave a six-month ultimatum to pastors of the affected churches to quit the churches or face the consequence,” he said. “For instance, a Muslim leader, one Adamu Mohamed Dahiru, ordered that pastors should not rebuild their churches but to quit the areas within six months and find somewhere else to worship. This is contrary to the spirit of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which guarantees every Nigerian the rights to association and worship.”

Converts from Islam are especially targeted, he said.

“Any Muslim that converts to Christianity in these northern Nigerian states is declared an apostate and faces severe persecution in flagrant violation of his free choice of religion,” Asake said. “Indigenes of these states who are Christians are treated as inferior and suffer untold injustice, oppression, and cannot rise beyond certain levels in the states’ public services, no matter how educated they are.”


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