Home Security Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? (1) Foreword By Jim Shannon MP

Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? (1) Foreword By Jim Shannon MP

Jim Shannon MP with Rebecca Sharibu and her companion, Gloria, as well as Fiona Bruce MP, Baroness Cox and Lord Alton of Liverpool, to discuss the failure of the Nigerian authorities to free Rebecca’s daughter Leah.

Today we begin the serialisation of Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide? An Inquiry by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief

Over my ten years as a Member of the UK Parliament, the COVID-19 crisis has surely been one of the most difficult and surreal challenges I have experienced. Constituents have told me of their physical suffering, of job losses, and the pain of not being able to visit their loved ones. This widespread and tremendous difficulty is a somewhat novel experience for many of us in the UK but for countless Christians living in Nigeria, extreme challenges are nothing new.  

Shockingly for a Commonwealth country, Nigeria ranks twelfth on Open Doors World Watch List 2020 of the countries in which Christians are most persecuted. By comparison, Syria ranks eleventh and Saudi Arabia ranks thirteenth, with Iraq fifteenth and Egypt sixteenth. Nigeria is currently just one rank below ‘extreme’. Similarly, Sri Lanka ranks thirtieth, despite bombings of worshipping Christians on Easter Sunday 2019 which killed 259 and injured over 500. 

One of the main drivers of this persecution in Nigeria is the militant group Boko Haram who frequently abduct and kill those who refuse to conform to their extremist brand of Islam. On 22 December 2019, in Borno state, Boko Haram jihadists attacked two passenger buses and released the Muslim passengers. They then held back the Christians, separating the men and women. A pastor from Deeper Life Bible Church and two other men were killed on the spot, while the pastor’s relative and two humanitarian workers were abducted. On 26 December 2019, members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (a Daesh affiliate) released a horrific video, which showed the execution of ten Christian prisoners and one Muslim – presumably to coincide with Christmas celebrations. Then on Christmas Eve, another horrific report came from a Christian village near the town of Chibok in Borno. Numerous Boko Haram jihadists driving trucks and motorcycles stormed into Kwarangulum, firing at residents, looting all they could and burning their homes.

The saddest account of all emerged on Boxing Day 2019, when a Christian bride-to-be and her entire bridal party were massacred while traveling in Adamawa state to prepare for her New Years’ Eve wedding. Father Francis Arinse, a diocesan communications director of Nigeria’s Catholic Church, reported that Martha Bulus, her sister Zainab and five others were ritually slaughtered. He told Catholic News Service that “they were beheaded by suspected Boko Haram insurgents at Gwoza on their way to her country home”. As Nigerian Government Ministers have publicly and rightly admitted, Christians are being ruthlessly targeted, specifically because of their Faith. Undoubtedly though, peaceable Muslims, through collateral violence, can also become victims of this cruel Islamist religious ideology. It is a destructive and divisive ideology which readily mutates into crimes against humanity and can pave the way for genocide. We must not hesitate in saying so.

Unfortunately, Boko Haram are not the only threat that Nigerian Christians face. Attacks by armed groups of Fulani herdsmen have resulted in the killing, maiming, dispossession and eviction of thousands of Christians.  It is difficult for us in the West to sometimes even imagine this kind of suffering, so it is important that we recognise the stories of survivors. For example, describing an attack in Ngar village, a survivor called Margaret said: “[My sister] was raped and her wrists cut off before she was shot through the heart. They took my brother, his wife and all their six children, tied and slaughtered them like animals.” Similarly, Veronica, from Dogon Noma, said: “Another man attacked me with a machete twice, once to the neck and once to my hand. I was so confused. I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I saw my daughter on ground – she was dead – with my chopped finger in her mouth.” Antonia Aje, from Karamai, said: “I saw my brother-in-law’s body on the ground, hacked to pieces by a machete… Our home is destroyed. The hospital was burnt. They tried to burn the roof of the church by piling up the chairs, like a bonfire.”

As Parliamentarians, I believe it is our responsibility to speak out on behalf of all the survivors and victims of violence, and all those who are suffering but who cannot speak out for themselves.  One such survivor is Leah Sharibu, whose mother I was honoured to meet on a recent London visit.

Two years ago, 14-year-old Leah Sharibu was abducted by Islamist extremists from her school in Dapchi, north-east Nigeria. There are reports that she was enslaved, raped and impregnated, giving birth to a child, and that she has been denied her freedom for refusing to convert to Islam as a precondition for her release. Leah represents the worldwide struggle both for freedom of religion and belief and the unacceptable violence directed at women and girls. There are thousands of Leahs held all over Nigeria, and across the world. This report is dedicated to her and the millions of others who suffer so unspeakably. Its purpose is to explore the drivers of conflict and to highlight the seriousness of the situation and the level of injustice that Nigerian Christians face. Among all the injustices for the UK to help correct in the near future, the widespread and growing persecution of Christians should be top of the list. These Christians, and other persecuted minorities, must be our priority in the aftermath of a pandemic that may devastate communities already threatened with extinction. Thus, as the UK faces the challenge of lockdown and mass quarantine for the first time in living memory, I ask you to please spare a thought for those Christians who face not only a pandemic but also threats of violence and persecution that we can’t imagine. I urge the UK and Nigerian Governments to do all that they can to bring an end to this violence and bring its perpetrators to justice.

Jim Shannon MP
Chair, All Party-Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief

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