JOS, Nigeria (BP) — Christian deaths are spiraling in Nigeria as militant Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram terrorists escalate their attacks, according to reports from religious liberty watchdog groups active there.
As many as 280 people were killed in Christian communities in several attacks spanning February through mid-March in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, according to varying reports from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Morning Star News and International Christian Concern (ICC). Militants destroyed hundreds of homes and displaced residents.
In the latest attack, Fulani militants killed 10 Christians overnight March 16 in Kaduna state, Morning Star News reported today (March 18). The deaths follow the killing of 40 Christians in at least two attacks in Kaduna Feb. 10-26.
Meanwhile, a regional Nigerian court ruled that the national government failed to protect victims when militant Fulani killed 500 people, most of them Christian civilians, in several Middle Belt attacks in Benue State in 2016. The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Feb. 26 sided with Christian plaintiffs and ordered the government to investigate the 2016 killings, saying the government shirked “its obligation to protect the human rights of the Agatu Community and prevent its violation.”
The ECOWAS ordered the government to begin protecting the predominantly Christian communities by deploying adequate security personnel. But the ECOWAS stopped short of awarding plaintiffs $13.87 million requested in monetary damages. Plaintiffs included 11 Christian leaders and the Movement Against Fulani Occupation.
The latest attacks surround the Feb. 26 re-election of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari over challenger Atiku Abubakar, who has challenged the election results in court.
Buhari lost the vote in Middle Belt states that have substantial Christian communities, but won re-election by mustering a larger voter turnout in northern communities that are mostly Muslim, according to results from the Independent National Election Commission.
Death tolls since February vary among reporting agencies, including attacks in Kaduna, Benue and Zamfara states.
— In the largest tally, CSW reported 280 people died in February and March attacks, including 130 deaths in Kaduna, 120 in Zamfara and 30 in Benue states.
“Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the violence in Kaduna, Benue and Zamfara states,” CSW founder and chief executive Mervyn Thomas said today in releasing the tally. “It is clear that the culture of impunity that surrounds these attacks has emboldened perpetrators. We reiterate our call on state and the federal governments to address every source of violence in a swift, decisive and unbiased manner, ensuring that vulnerable communities are provided the protection they so desperately need.”
— ICC documented 205 killings in at least 60 attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani militants in February. Of those, Boko Haram killed 126, including 83 civilians, and Fulani militants killed 79, ICC said, but it’s tally did not include March killings reported by other groups.
The Nigerian government has done little to protect Christians, ICC said.
“There have been no major attempts by the Nigerian government to hold the Fulani accountable or disarm them,” ICC said March 4. “The re-election of President Buhari ensures that the government will remain dormant as the perpetrators continue to inflict suffering in Nigeria.
“The Middle Belt should remain a cause of great concern for all those interested in Nigeria’s growth and stability,” ICC said.
— According to Morning Star’s tally released today, at least 140 Christians have died in militant Fulani attacks in Kaduna since Feb. 10.
Open Doors ranked Nigeria 12th in its 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most dangerous to live as a Christian. Of the 4,136 Christians killed in 2018, Nigeria accounted for 3,731, Open Doors said.
Nigeria ranked the third “most terrorized country” in the 2018 Global Terrorism Index for the fourth consecutive year.