Anti-Christian Attacks in Nigeria Threaten Precarious Balance of Faiths

People are treated at Maiduguri General Hospital, July 29, 2019, in Maiduguri, Nigeria, after Saturday’s deadly attack by suspected Boko Haram extremists. More than 60 people were killed and many more injured in an attack on villagers leaving a funeral in northeastern Nigeria, in the deadliest extremist attack against civilians in the region this year. (AP Photo)

Article by Anthea Butler is an associate professor of religion and African studies at the University of Pennsylvania. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.

Over the weekend, Chidinma Ibeleji, a deaconess in the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria, was kidnapped along with four others on her way to her Pentecostal denomination’s annual convention in Lagos.

All five were rescued within days, but not all stories in this West African country end so well. The week before, the Rev. Paul Offu, a Catholic priest, was shot dead in the south of the country. Catholic priests called for government action in response to his slaying and that of another priest, the Rev. Clement Ugwu, who was kidnapped in March and found dead days later. Both deaths have been blamed on Muslim Fulani herdsmen.  

Nigerian President Muhammadu
Buhari. Photo by Bayo Omoboriowo/
Creative Commons

The attacks have put Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, in a tight spot as he tries to manage a country nearly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Many considered his re-election in February to bode well for all Nigerians, but the uptick in anti-Christian violence has opened Buhari, a Fulani Muslim himself, to increasing criticism. In a public letter, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said he now fears “spontaneous or planned reprisal attacks against Fulani which may inadvertently or advertently mushroom into pogrom or Rwanda-type genocide that we did not believe could happen and yet it happened.”

He’s not entirely exaggerating. In Nigeria, religion stands at the intersection of a divisive colonial history and the current crisis caused by drought and land scarcity. It is impossible to discuss nearly any topic in Nigeria without also discussing faith.

The most immediate cause of strife is a government proposal to move Fulani herdsmen from their historic areas in the north of the country into the south, which is occupied by Igbo Christians and Yorubas, who are both Christians and traditional religious practitioners. The program, the Rural Grazing Area settlement program, or RUGA, was designed to help herdsmen escape depleted herding areas and drought.

But few are happy with RUGA, and though it has been postponed for now, the political battle over it has continued. With the recent killings and kidnappings, the rhetoric against Fulani herdsmen has increased, with clerics and other leaders blaming them for every act of robbery, kidnapping or murder that occurs.

Added to all of this is the ongoing threat of Boko Haram, whose 2014 kidnapping of 276 female students from Chibok is still unresolved, and which continues to attack Christian churches in the north.

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Source: Religion News Service