Terror in the Fields, Indifference at the Helm

December 1, 2020

They should have been in the fields working. Instead, the village men, shoulders sagging, were plowing the ground for something else: graves. Stretchers, filled with the bodies of their Nigerian sons and brothers, lay spread out in quiet rows -- the gruesome proof of a war that won't go away.

It had started the day before. The harassment, locals would tell you, was routine -- not that anyone got used to it. A life of terror is what the people of Koshobe -- and so many others -- were forced to live with. The simple act of fetching water, families know, could be a life or death mission. In the Borno State, gunmen were known to ride into town, threatening the farmers. But on Friday, when an armed rebel showed up and demanded food, the men decided they'd had enough. They tied up the outsider and called security forces.

The farmers, Danielle Paquette insists, were trying to fight back. Sick of being tormented by Boko Haram and the Fulani, tired of watching their crops burned to the ground or stolen, they saw a rare opportunity to bring one of their tormentors to justice. But in the end, they paid a horrible price. "Boko Haram," a local politician told Pacquette somberly, "came back to retaliate."

On Saturday, storming in on motorcycles, a group of Islamic extremists rounded up the farmers at rifle point and tied their hands and feet. One by one, they slit their throats. Another 30 were brutally beheaded. No one is quite sure how many died, since so many of the villagers are missing. As of Sunday, no one had seen or heard from at least 10 Koshobe women and girls. "We have recovered 43 dead bodies, all of them slaughtered, along with six others with serious injuries," said a militia leader. But as many as 70 or more may have been murdered.

A thousand miles away in the capital of Logos -- with its modern skyscrapers and fancy hotels -- stories like this one feel a half a world away. The more primitive northeast, where Christians are butchered in the middle of the night and women are raped and burned in front of their children, is a far cry from the bustling government buildings where President Muhammadu Buhari issues statement after statement about the violence. "The entire country is hurt by these senseless killings," he insisted over the weekend. And yet hurt, after 30,000 deaths in 11 years, has still not translated into action.

Instead, Buhari has tried to claim that the terrorists are "technically defeated." Tell that to the mourners, who are standing over a fresh burial site, wondering how they will survive. The rich agricultural land -- their one hope for survival -- was destroyed. Burned to the ground before the executioners left town. Desperation, the governor of Borno warned, is rising. "If they stay at home, they may be killed by hunger," he told reporters. "If they go out to their farmlands, they risk getting killed by insurgents."

The West, who watches on with alarm, has tried to pressure Buhari to do more -- to contain the violence. Ambassador Sam Brownback has said repeatedly, "Nigeria's government needs to step up and start acting like a real government that provides basic protections for its people... and the U.S. government should encourage them to do that." President Trump has certainly tried, flexing America's economic and diplomatic muscle. In one meeting with the president, Buhari says Trump looked at him when they were alone and said, "Why are you killing Christians?" "I tried and explained to him, this has got nothing to do with ethnicity or religion. It is a cultural thing..." This is genocide, pure and simple and the Nigerian government is facilitating it by their indifference.

In just the first few months of 2020, the Fulani herdsman "hacked to death... no fewer than 620 defenseless Christians," and engaged in the "wanton burning or destruction of their centers of worship and learning." And too many of these atrocities, people on the ground say, "have gone unchecked... [T]he country's security forces and concerned political actors [are] looking the other way or colluding with the Jihadists."

FRC's Lela Gilbert, an expert on global persecution, said it's still not clear whether this attack was religiously motivated. "But, there is beyond a doubt an anti-Christian, pro-Islamist nature to much of the killing that goes on in Nigeria. That reality should not be pushed aside and replaced by explanations of tribal conflict, climate change or competition for resources. There is too much evidence otherwise."

That evidence should not only drive the West to act -- it should drive us, as fellow believers, to our knees. Join us in praying for our hurting brothers and sisters in Christ and calling on our government to increase its effort on behalf of those being targeted for their faith in Jesus.