Activist group you may not know kills hundreds of Christians every year
The recent reports of Christian persecution from Nigeria are horrific. A day after Christmas, extremists who identified themselves as ISIS murdered 11 Christians in Nigeria. Weeks after the start of the new year on January 19, the Islamic State of West Africa released a video of a child – who appeared to be around 10 years old – executing a Christian in Borno, Nigeria.
A few days later, on January 22, a Nigerian pastor, Reverend Lawan Andimi, was beheaded by Boko Haram militants. Andimi made international news for turning a hostage video into a testimony to her faith in Jesus. “By the grace of God, I will be with my wife, my children and my colleagues,” said Andimi. His assassination sparked protests in 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states, drawing an estimated 5 million people to speak out against violence against Christians.
As the world is consumed with news about Iran, China and conflicts in other regions, militant and extremist groups in Nigeria have waged a campaign of death and devastation against Christians.
Persecution watch groups such as Open Doors and the UK-based Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust estimate that more than 7,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed for their faith in the past five years. The brazen and bloody attacks by Boko Haram and militants affiliated with ISIS have tragically made these groups household names. But there’s another extremist group operating in Nigeria that’s just as deadly – and you’ve probably never heard of it.
Every year, hundreds of Nigerian Christians are assaulted, tortured and killed by Fulani extremists in the country’s Middle Belt region. In 2019 alone, an estimated 1,350 Christians were killed by militant Islamic groups in Nigeria, according to Open Doors. Reports from the field indicate that the Fulani were responsible for at least 500 of these deaths. More recently, on January 26 and 27, the Fulani attacked two villages, setting a church on fire and killing at least 26 people.
Not so long ago, a team from our organization, World Help, traveled to Nigeria to meet with a prominent Christian leader to discuss the situation. “Our people are being killed,” he said. “They are slaughtered to death. Entire communities, hundreds, have been sacked, destroyed and taken over by Fulani shepherds. “
According to World Watch Monitor, the Fulani are the “largest nomadic group in the world”, and they believe they have the right to take land in Nigeria to graze their cattle. “It is a concept in Islam called ‘sacred space’,” said a Nigerian pastor. “According to this concept, all land has been given by Allah to Muslims, and Muslims have the right to claim any land. And most of the areas that the Fulani are attacking are Christian communities, so it is very easy to see that what is happening is ethnic cleansing to further the cause of jihad.
The Fulani are the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria, numbering over 200 million people. The Fulani are traditionally Muslim, and some radicalized shepherds have engaged in jihad against Christian farmers, especially in Plateau State.
The clashes between Fulani shepherds and Christian farmers are complex in nature. Nigeria’s median belt has been claimed by different ethnic groups over the years who have been caught in a cycle of violent attacks and retaliation. Therefore, the growing violence in the region has underlying tribal, territorial, religious and even environmental factors.
“Fulani extremists are not a single terrorist group,” says the 2019 Global Terrorism Index, which is published by the Institute for Economics & Peace and ranks Nigeria third out of 138 countries plagued by terrorism. “Some deaths in the context of the ongoing conflict between pastoralists and Fulani nomads have been categorized as terrorism and attributed to extremist elements within the Fulani. This categorization reflects terrorism used as a tactic in an ongoing conflict. “
Although Fulani extremists are not part of an organized terrorist group like Boko Haram or ISIS, their crimes are no less reprehensible. The fact remains: Christians are persecuted and killed. Men, women and children are slaughtered and their deaths are largely ignored.
A report from Open Doors indicates that 99% of Christian persecution occurring in Nigeria is violent in nature. While our team was in Nigeria, we saw the effects of this violence firsthand. The refugee camps were filled with widows and orphans. A little boy told us that the Fulani surrounded his family’s house and shot his father. They broke down the door, shot two of his brothers, then turned their machetes at him and his little sister. They still have long, raised scars on their faces and heads – permanent reminders of that horrible night.
Fulani attacks like this are all too common. Huts are set on fire with people trapped inside. Roadblocks and fake police checkpoints are set up to ambush minibuses and vehicles. In fact, the violence has become so intense that some human rights observers have started to question whether the Fulani persecution of Christian farmers constitutes genocide. Obviously, this is an issue the world needs to pay more attention to. Christians in Nigeria desperately need our help.
We must pray and speak for them. We can also meet their immediate needs by partnering with humanitarian organizations that send aid to persecuted Christians. Our organization provides Bibles to Nigerians who have been displaced from their homes and live in refugee camps.
Whatever we do, let us not forget the Christians of Nigeria and their suffering. We cannot allow this persecution to go unnoticed.
Vernon Brewer is the founder of World Help, a Christian humanitarian organization committed to meeting the physical and spiritual needs of people in poor communities around the world. Follow it @vernonbrewer.