Nigerian Christians face persecution

Victims of a gunmen attack react at the internal displaced camp upon the arrival of Nigeria Vice President Kashim Shettima, in Bokkos, north central Nigeria, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. Nigerian officials and survivors say almost 200 people were killed by gunmen in weekend attacks on remote villages in north-central Nigeria’s Plateau state. — AP photo/ Sunday Alamba

Islamist Fulani militants in the central Nigerian state of Plateau are continuing an anti-Christian killing spree that began with a devastating Christmas-time attack that left almost 200 Christians dead and hundreds others injured.

On Feb. 18, six people were ambushed, with one killed and others injured, including a woman who was raped. A week earlier, the militants attacked a Christian village with guns and machetes, killing 10 and injuring dozens. The campaign is going on despite a multi-agency security operation in the region.

On the evening of Dec. 23, Fulani gunmen targeted some 20 Christian communities and dozens of churches in the predominantly Christian area of the country, which as a whole is more than half Muslim. The terrorists, who are aligned with the Islamist group Boko Haram, killed or maimed anyone in sight, slaughtered animals and burned down thousands of homes, displacing more than 20,000 people. The mayhem lasted through the morning of Dec. 26. 

Twenty-six-year-old Joseph Makut survived a gunshot wound to his right leg in the attack. “I didn’t celebrate Christmas. The militants attacked my village of Mabor at midnight when my family and I were in a deep sleep,” the father of two said from his hospital bed at Jos University Teaching Hospital. “The gunmen broke our door and opened fire at us. We pretended to be dead, but my wife tried to crawl, and she was shot several times and died.”

Makut said the gunmen told them that they aimed to eliminate Christian communities in the central part of the country.

“I don’t think I will go back to my village until my security is assured,” said Makut, bemoaning the insecurity that Christians face in the country, especially in Plateau. “The terrorists are determined to kill every Christian in the region, and this is making us live in fear because we have already lost our loved ones.”

Nigeria, a West African nation of more than 200 million people, has suffered terror attacks since 2009 when the violent extremist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State group in West Africa launched an insurgency aimed at overthrowing Nigeria’s secular government and establishing an Islamic state. In 2011, the Fulani militants joined Boko Haram to escalate Islamism insurgency in northern and central Nigeria, targeting Christians.

At least 52,250 Nigerian Christians have been murdered for their faith, and thousands of churches have been destroyed, according to the report from Intersociety, a democracy and human rights advocacy group founded in 2008.

Nigeria is now ranked number six on the World Watch List, Open Doors’ annual ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. The research reveals that the country is the most dangerous or difficult in which to be a Christian as violence against Christians is increasing.

Tonny Onyulo

Tonny Onyulo is an author with Religion News Service.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!