Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Religion Unplugged on June 9, 2020.
For good reason, there has been a national outcry about the brutal death of George Floyd, a black man who died under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis. The video of Floyd’s struggle for life continues to shock and horrify viewers. Anyone with a sense of human decency is appalled by his story and by all racially motivated law enforcement injustices.
But in the meantime, while round-the-clock global media reports focus on the shattered streets of New York, Minneapolis and beyond, atrocious violence against black women, children and men is surging in Nigeria.
And we hardly hear a word about it.
The most recent story from Nigeria was reported by Christian Post, accompanied by a photo of an African couple.
A Nigerian Christian pastor who graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in Michigan was gunned down along with his wife Monday while working on their farm in the Taraba State of Nigeria. The couple leaves behind eight children ages 1 to 19. The Rev. Emmanuel Saba Bileya and his wife, Juliana, who is said to be pregnant, were killed by gunmen who have yet to be identified, according to a statement released by the Hausa Christians Foundation.
Unfortunately, that was only the most recent report.
Just days before, CNN reported, “Outcry after a Nigerian student dies from 'brutal attack' in church.”
Uwaila Vera Omozuwa was attacked as she studied in church, according to Nigerian police. The 22-year-old died on May 30, just days after the brutal assault inside the church of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, or RCCG, in Benin city…Omozuwa was a member of the choir who had studied privately at the church since lockdown measures due to the coronavirus pandemic were put in place in Nigeria in March.
In recent weeks, attacks on Nigerian Christians have taken place in such increasing numbers that it has been difficult to keep up with the reports. Also unfortunate is the rare reporting of such incidents in western media. The CNN account above is exceptional, while generally only Christian sites and human rights organizations follow these atrocities and circulate them.
Consider the numbers: According to Genocide Watch, “credible statistics show that from June 2015 to February 2020, between 11,500 and 12,000 Christians were murdered by Boko Haram, Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen, and ‘Bandits/Highway Kidnappers.’”
Many of us are familiar with Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization now affiliated with Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). These killers and kidnappers were initially spotlighted by Michelle Obama’s #bringbackourgirls campaign in 2016, inspired by Boko Haram’s mass kidnapping of 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria in April 2014.
For a time, Boko Haram/ISWAP committed the most killings of Christians in Nigeria. Yet according to Genocide Watch, since June 2015, “Jihadist Fulani militias have killed even more Christians in Nigeria than Boko Haram. The total Christian deaths at the hands of Fulani Jihadist militias since June 2015 is more than 7,400. Fulani Jihadists have replaced Boko Haram as the deadliest terrorists in the world.”
The massive casualties are horrifying. And those casualty numbers don’t include the traumatized survivors who endure agonizing injuries, intentionally mutilated bodies, and broken hearts and spirits.
Caroline Cox, a life peer in the U.K.’s House of Lords and a resolute human rights advocate, has traveled to Nigeria repeatedly. In 2007 as I was writing Baroness Cox’s biography, Eyewitness to a Broken World, she first introduced me to just how vast the numbers of massacred Christians were in Nigeria. This little-known violence has grown significantly more deadly in the 13 years since.
The Baroness’ humanitarian organization HART recently published a report on Fulani jihadi attacks on Nigerian Christians, in which she recounts not only deaths but the stories of survivors — many of whom are maimed, homeless and grieving the loss of their closest loved ones. Here are some quotes from her November 2019 report:
“I saw my brother-in-law’s body on the ground, hacked to pieces by a machete. Our home was destroyed. The hospital was burnt. They tried to burn the roof of the church by piling up the chairs, like a bonfire.”
“Every day we carry new corpses to the cemetery. They kill farmers. They destroy our homes and churches. They kidnap and rape women.”
—Pastor, Maiduguri in Borno
“We could see bullets whizzing. Everything was destroyed. In our whole village, only two of the homes were not burnt. Almost 50 people were killed.”
“They attacked me with a machete twice, once to the neck and once to my hand. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I saw my daughter on ground – she was dead – with my chopped finger in her mouth.”
—Veronica, Dogon Noma
“Only me and my husband remain. Our home is destroyed. Nothing survived. We have to beg for food.”
On January 30, 2020, Christian Solidarity International (CSI) issued a genocide warning for Nigeria. “The conditions for genocide exist in Nigeria, with Christians, non-violent Muslims, and adherents of tribal religions being particularly vulnerable,” CSI’s John Eibner announced. “The increasingly violent attacks and the failure of the Nigerian government to prevent them and punish the perpetrators are alarming. CSI therefore calls on the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to take swift action to uphold this commitment to genocide prevention in Nigeria.”