Across America, the Christmas holidays this year were not as festive as usual. Still, beloved songs and carols, colorful lights and small family gatherings provided a welcome diversion from pandemic gloom and presidential election quarrels. And the reminder that “Christ is the reason for the season” was happily recalled by Christians, despite some other less-than-celebratory circumstances.
Christmas is not, however, “the most wonderful time of the year” in war-torn Nigeria. Although the country’s millions of Christians continue to rejoice in the birth of Jesus, and gratefully recall His first appearance so long ago in Bethlehem, the joys of the season are inevitably overshadowed by danger and dread.
As long as I have written about Nigeria—since, I think, 2006—Christmas joys have been eclipsed by danger. And, like clockwork, in 2020 Nigeria’s Advent season was once again marred by violent attacks, kidnappings and murders.
I wrote to Hassan John, Communications Director for the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, and asked him to tell me more about this increasingly tragic situation. In a January 6 email he responded:
Over the past decade, Christmas celebrations have waned in fervor and the pageantry that has always been associated with the festive season. Instead it has been marked with attacks and destruction of villages and communities. In the last two weeks, at least five villages have been attacked near Chibok, where 276 schoolgirls were abducted in April 2014. These attacks were hardly even reported in the local news. Reports have primarily focused on a pastor who was killed and two others who have been abducted by Boko Haram.
But that wasn’t all. Hassan pointed out that, according to the Council on Foreign Relations Nigeria Security Tracker, Boko Haram killed seven and kidnapped five in Nganzai, Borno on December 22. On December 24, Boko Haram killed six and kidnapped three in Chibok, Borno. And on December 25, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) executed 11 captives.
He went on to say, “Warnings about travels and security advice sent by security forces added to the anxieties this year during the Christmas season. Then, last night, 5th January, another village, Wamdeo, also near Chibok, was attacked and a church destroyed. We are still getting information about the extent of destruction and if there are human casualties….”
Other reports describe the added endangerment the global pandemic has brought upon on Nigeria’s already beleaguered Christian communities.
According to a Christian Post article, Christians are facing a double threat: Islamist terrorism and COVID-19. “Nigeria’s government has advised Christians to stay in their homes to avoid COVID-19,” explained human rights expert Dalyop Solomon. “But if they remain locked down at home, they cannot escape when groups of terrorists attack them.”
Solomon went on to say that Fulani militants destroy or plunder crops when they attack, and farmers’ livelihoods are destroyed. But to make matters worse, “COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from leaving their homes to plant new crops.”
On December 17, the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held an important hearing hosted by Rep. Chris Smith, focusing on “Conflict and Killings in Nigeria’s Middle Belt.” Nearly four hours of testimony from more than a dozen international experts offered complex and often parallel perspectives on what many described in similar terms as “mass atrocities,” “mass killings,” “massacres,” and “genocidal acts.” Notably, one of the witnesses, Morse Tan, Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice, pointed out that “Christmas is a time of great risk of mass killing.” Within a week’s time, his words proved to be all too true once again in 2020.
There was but one notable exception. On Sunday evening, December 27, Catholic Bishop Moses Chikwe—the auxiliary bishop of his archdiocese—and his driver, Ndubuisi Robert, were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Owerri, the capital of Imo State in southeastern Nigeria.
As always, the Christian communities began to pray. But interestingly, in this case Nigerians were not alone in their prayers. Catholics in Southern California also appealed to heaven for the bishop’s safe return. Chikwe had served for several years as a priest in the Diocese of San Diego, and he was beloved there.
On New Year’s Day, a bulletin about Bishop Chikwe announced that he and his driver had been released, “unhurt and without ransom.”
Unfortunately, the Nigerian news is rarely so bright and hopeful as that lone report. The U.S. State Department announced earlier in December that Nigeria has been declared a “Country of Particular Concern (CPC),” a designation which provides the U.S. with increased options for pressuring the Nigerian government to curb abuses, including through financial sanctions, application of the Magnitsky Act, and other measures.
Nigeria’s Muhammadi Buhari regime is, at the very best, inept. More likely, he and his henchmen are—as is widely believed—complicit in the relentless attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram, ISWAP, and Fulani jihadis.
Meanwhile, as the United States prepares to inaugurate a new president and his administration, two related questions remain unanswered: What will it take to stop the ever-increasing massacres and emergent genocide of Christians in Nigeria? And what will the newly-minted Biden administration do about it?d Biden administration do about it?