Bandit attacks in northern Nigeria take their toll on besieged Christians

(Photo: REUTERS / Joe Penney)A church is seen guarded by soldiers behind sandbags, in Maiduguri, Nigeria May 23, 2014. Christian houses of worship are guarded by military soldiers at all times in Maiduguri.

Life is fraught for many Christians in northern Nigeria, and at least 3,462 of them, including 10 priests or pastors, were murdered this year in the West African country, many of them by militant jihadists.

A group that monitors violence there says that in some cases, security forces are ignoring or involved in attacks against the Christians who are a minority in northern Nigeria.

The Nigerian-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law released a report on Aug. 19 about attacks on civilians in Africa's most populous nation where the Christian-Muslim divide is about 50-50 among some 196 million people.

"It is recalled that Intersociety had on 18th July 2021 released a special investigative report and found that in 200 days or 1st January to 18th July 2021, 'no fewer than 3,462 Nigerian Christians were hacked to death by Jihadists and their collaborators" and by security forces.

Intersociety named the groups behind the death toll of those killed in the "esprit de jihad," such as Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen, Boko Haram, ISWAP, and Muslim Fulani Bandits.


"The total number of defenseless Christians hacked to death by Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen protected by the Nigerian Government and its security forces in the past month" from July 18 to Aug.18 rose by at least 400 and 2,259 if counted from Jan. 1 to Aug. 18, 231 days.

In 12 years, 43,000 Christians had been killed by jihadists, 18,500 permanently disappeared, and 17,500 churches were attacked, said Intersociety.

For the World Council of Churches, Fredrick Nzwili reported on Aug 18 that Christians face insecurity and violence in the northwest state of Kaduna, as bandits attack homes, villages, and churches, killing them and kidnapping others for ransom.

At the center of the communal violence is religious persecution, territorial ambition, and ethnic cleansing in the region where communities have settled along religious lines, says Rev. John Joseph Hayab, the country director for the Global Peace Foundation, Nigeria.

They are killing my people. They are burning down my churches," says Hayab, who is also the chairman of the Kaduna State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

"I cannot be satisfied in Kaduna state when most pastors are major victims of kidnapping. I cannot be satisfied when I have lost pastors, and I have witnessed students, pastors, or pastors' wives kidnapped, raped, and ransom collected in millions," he says.

The cleric explains that bandits have been demanding ransom from church leaders through the public mobile phone networks.

The leaders have been turning to the congregations to help raise the ransom money, although it is not guaranteed that when the ransom is paid, the victim will turn up alive, according to Hayab.

"Sometimes, the bandits have picked the ransom and told the families to go and collect the body of a victim at a place," he noted.


In the Kaduna State capital, Nzwili reports a demographic divide, with Christians residing in the south and Muslims in the north.

In rural southern areas of the state, people are agrarian and live mainly from farming and agricultural activities. But it is the Christian areas that are experiencing the highest level of bandit attacks.

"The security situation has frightened the people away from the farms, at a period when Nigeria is facing a lot of economic challenges," said the local church leader.

Insecurity in Kaduna has developed in phases, according to the cleric. From 1987-2015 Christians in schools, places of worship, and Christian communities were targeted in religious riots.

But that changed in 2015 when criminal activities such as banditry, cattle rustling, attacks, and kidnapping in Christian communities escalated.

"The situation is so pathetic that it threatens the existence of all, as it increases poverty, starvation, psychological effects and holds a high possibility of promoting more criminality if left unchecked," said Hayab.

He fears the Nigerian government may end the problem and has called on international church organizations to undertake fact-finding missions or research in Kaduna state to help change the situation and achieve justice for the people.

"There is the need for the Christian world to turn their eyes on the Kaduna State issue to help us as what is happening here is ...a genocide and persecution of the faith," said Hayab.

Following a recent string of attacks against Christians by Islamic Fulani Herdsmen, a call for local authorities to take action has also come from evangelical Christian leaders, Christian Headlines reported.

Between July 23 and August 2 in the Irigwe area in central Nigeria, about 70 people were killed, at least 15 villages were destroyed, and over 400 houses were burned down, including churches and an orphanage.

Additionally, nearly 20,000 people were displaced.


According to The Christian Post, Dr. Stephen Panya, president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (EWCA), shared a statement lamenting the attacks.

"For over 21 years, the Irigwe people of Miango, a predominantly Christian community, have been under attacks from Fulani militia that resulted in the loss of lives, properties, and farmland," Panya said.

"The last two weeks, especially from Sunday, July 23 to Monday, August 2, 2021, have been the worst nightmare of the entire Irigwe land."

Panaya also expressed disappointment to the Nigerian Army, who failed to intervene despite its headquarters being near the villages involved in the attacks.

"Many of the villages, where these killings and burnings are taking place, are located behind the 3rd Armoured Division Barrack of the Nigerian Army.

"Yet, these militias are allowed to continue their heinous murders and carnage without any intervention by the Nigerian Army and other security agencies ..., eroding the confidence of the populace in the military and security agencies, as unbiased protectors of all, devoid of tribe, ethnicity or religion," he said.

Panya also noted that "no single AK-47 wielding militia" has been arrested, and "the indigenous youth who tried to defend themselves with crude instruments are paraded as aggressors."

The U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide has reported that Ungwan Magaji, Kishicho, Kigam, and Kikoba Irigwe villages in Kaura LGA, southern Kaduna, were also attacked.

At least 48 people were killed, over 100 homes were demolished, and at least 68 farmlands were destroyed.

"It is time for the international community to put aside debates about the origins and nature of this violence and to focus instead on pressing and assisting Nigeria to address this network of organized armed non-state actors," CSW's Press and Public Affairs Team Leader Kiri Kankhwende said in a statement.

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