In the latest of seemingly never-ending reports of deadly violence in Nigeria comes news that suspected Boko Haram terrorists killed at least 65 people at a funeral in a village in the north-east of the country last month.
In the past decade tens of thousands of people — mainly Christians — in the north and middle-belt regions of Nigeria have been killed by Islamist Boko Haram terrorists and armed Fulani herdsmen and millions of people have been displaced.
The facts about exactly what or who is driving the violent persecution are hard to nail down in an environment where different interest groups advance vastly different narratives, and in which rumours and allegations abound.
But some of the hard facts are that the death and destruction is continuing, the tragedy which some human rights groups are calling genocidal is not getting the global media attention it deserves, and there has been no significantly constructive international engagement with the security crisis in Africa’s most populous nation.
I spoke to a Nigerian pastor who contacted Gateway News in the hopes of reaching the international community with the concerns of “many Christians” who feel that their government is not only failing to protect them but is complicit in their suffering.
Pastor Emmanuel* in Nigeria’s middle-belt Plateau state, who has spent years reaching out to Nigerian Fulani people with the love of Christ, said that many Christians now believe that most of the Fulani herdsmen currently involved in terror were brought into the country from other African countries by President Muhammudu Buhari to help him destabilise the government in the event that he lost the presidential election earlier this year.
He said many Christians were also starting to believe allegations made in public in 2014 by a former national anti-corruption chief, Nuhu Ribadu, that Buhari brought in thousands of Fulani herdsmen for the same reason before the 2015 election but abandoned them when he won at the polls, resulting in them turning to “banditry”.
At the time Ribadu made his explosive allegations he was on the team of Buhari’s election opponent Goodluck Jonathan. Ironically, Ribadu was a key member of Buhari’s 2019 election campaign and described his win at the polls as a victory for Nigerians.
Pastor Emmanuel believes that if Ribadu’s 2014 allegations against Buhari were false, he would have been arrested but nothing happened to him and the president never denied his claims. He says perhaps Buhari dealt with the situation by finding a way of co-opting him. Both Buhari and Ribadu are Fulanis.
Admissions by the governor of the northern Kaduna state Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai in 2016 that the government had paid Fulanis to stop killings in the region also proved that the Fulani attackers were invited by the government, he said.
Pastor Emmanuel said the belief that both Boko Haram and the Fulani attackers were “created” by President Buhari was gaining ground in Christian circles. Likewise, many Christians were convinced that the president was pursuing an agenda to Islamise Nigeria whose population is roughly half Christian and half Muslim with a small percentage of traditional religion followers and people with no religious affiliation. The Muslim population is mainly in the north.
Controversial resettlement programme
He said Christians in Nigeria were also recently baffled by the president’s proposed Ruga programme to resettle Fulanis on land in every state of the country and to build houses and community infrastructure for them. He said the plan, purportedly to stop clashes between farmers and nomadic Fulani herders which Buhari maintains are about grazing land, was suspended after Nigerians — especially Christians — opposed it, asking why one would build houses for foreigners all over the country. According to media reports on the failed Ruga plan, critics also said it would send out a message that violence pays.
Pastor Emmanuel said the Ruga project was another indication of Buhari’s Islamisation agenda. While it was good that the plan was suspended, he said Christians needed to remain alert. For instance, the government was talking about doing a census of Fulanis and disarming people who legally owned firearms, which would leave them vulnerable to armed Fulanis.
He also highlighted a development recently in which a High Court branded the country’s main Shia Islamic group a terrorist organisation after it staged a protest in the capital, Abuja, in which a policeman and about six members of the group died. He said the group was protesting against the detention of its leader, who has been held by the government since 2015, despite court orders to release him.
“We Nigerians are asking why the Shiites were branded as terrorists when they have done nothing that compares with the killing, kidnapping and ransacking of villages by the Fulani herdsmen, who have never been branded as terrorists,” he said.
He said Christians felt helpless about the security situation that threatened to destroy the country and it was vital that the international community take note of the situation and the government’s Islamisation campaign and complicity in the security crisis. He said they were looking to Christians around the world for prayer support and to help mobilise appropriate action.
He said Nigerian Christians lacked a strong national voice, as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which used to be that voice had been politicised and some of its members had been bribed. CAN has, in fact, accused Buhari of pursuing an Islamisation agenda.
A Christian political observer in Nigeria told Gateway News that while there were Christians in the country who shared Pastor’s Emmanuelviews, there was no formal Christian position on the security situation or allegations that Buhari birthed terror groups.
She agreed that the Fulanis responsible for “kidnapping, raping and maiming” were mainly foreigners but said there were many complex underlying issues around the ongoing and escalating violence in the country.
“The challenge is, talk is cheap and so you have rumours and allegations flying in all directions but no one is coming forth with concrete evidence to support their claims.
“Having said that, in order to understand why some things defy logic in Nigeria, you need to understand that the president is Fulani. They are a minority with a super race mentality who believe they are born to rule. So the president is first and foremost Fulani and then he is a [Sunni] Muslim and finally he is Nigerian. His loyalty is in that order. He makes no apologies about that, neither does he hide it.”
Amid fresh concerns that Boko Haram terrorists may have killed kidnapped Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu, David Curry CEO of Open Doors USA accused the Nigerian government of lacking the resources to protect terror victims and the will to fight the terrorist agenda of Isis-affiliated groups in the country.
Indications that the United States and Britain are committing themselves to prioritise combating Christian persecution and religious freedom issues around the world, will hopefully translate into meaningful action as far as the suffering Christian community in affected parts of Nigeria is concerned.
*Name changed for security reasons.