At a time when many around the world celebrated Christmas, yet another tragic event unfolded in Nigeria. Over 140 Christians were murdered, a loss of life largely unnoticed by the global community. According to human rights organization Amnesty International, armed bandits attacked around 20 communities in central Nigeria, murdering dozens in each area. Due to the difficulty in obtaining accurate statistics in the country, some reports suggest the death toll may be closer to 200.
This horrific violence occurred along a notional divide between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south of Nigeria’s Plateau State. Christians, who make up about 46% of Nigeria’s population, were the primary victims of this attack and this is not the first time they have been targeted.
This tragedy comes after another set of attacks earlier in December when the Nigerian military launched an air strike on a religious gathering at Tudun Biri – a village near Kaduna northern Nigeria. A second air strike was launched around 30 minutes later, killing dozens, including those who rushed to the scene to rescue victims of the initial strike.
The Nigerian military has since put out two contradictory explanations. An initial statement by the Nigerian army in Kaduna said the air strike was a mistake. This was followed by a statement from Nigeria’s Defence Headquarters claiming that suspected bandits had embedded with civilians.
Amnesty International notes on its website that in 2022,
“Thousands of civilians were killed, injured or displaced by the armed conflict between the armed groups Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP) and the Nigerian military in north-eastern Nigeria. All parties to the conflict committed violations of international law, including war crimes, with impunity. Elsewhere, unlawful killings and violence were perpetrated by bandits and the authorities responded with enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. Media outlets and journalists had their freedom of expression curtailed by the authorities. Activists and protesters faced restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. More than 60,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes. Failure to protect people from the effects of climate change led to deaths and displacement.”
According to Amnesty, “The Nigerian military has consistently failed to thoroughly, independently, impartially, transparently and effectively investigate these incidents.”
Unfortunately, the international community has again failed to pay attention to the ongoing tragedy in Nigeria. Christians are being slaughtered, but no one seems to care.
Renowned evangelist Rev. Johnnie Moore expressed his dismay over the lack of global attention to this tragedy in a tweet: “There was yet another Christmas massacre of Christians in Nigeria yesterday. The world is — silent. Just unbelievable.”
According to Human Rights Watch, in December 2020, the ICC Prosecutor’s Office had concluded that a full investigation was warranted after finding reasonable basis to believe that Boko Haram and its breakaway factions, as well as the Nigerian security forces, committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But this has gone nowhere, and no progress has been made in bringing war criminals to justice. Families of victims are left helpless, with no answers as to why the perpetrators of violence are still roaming free.
Part of the problem, according to HRW, is that “Although the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, thought, and conscience, its criminal law categorizes insult to religion as an offense and Sharia (Islamic law), applicable in 12 northern states including Sokoto, criminalizes blasphemy.”
This means the law is open to interpretation and innocent civilians are killed without trial, regardless of whether they actually broke the law or not.
To help prevent more Christians from being oppressed and murdered, the international community must start paying closer attention to Boko Haram and ISWAP and hold the government and military accountable. Either through incentives or sanctions, the Western civilized world can force Nigeria to take these crimes against humanity seriously. Now is the time to save Nigeria’s Christians from persecution and murder before it is too late.
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