After a few presentations, and a few talks with those who have read my book, I realized that an update needed to be done on my book “Nigerian Genocide: Christian Persecution in 2014.” I knew that, for various reasons, I was unable to do another book the way that I had done the first. However, I could give an update that was more general in nature, without all the specific statistics. This is my attempt to do that for you.
When I wrote the first book, I went through all the media I could find on any attack in Nigeria. I also went through all the NGO, religious, government, and other official documents and press releases. I amalgamated all those statistics in my own database. This was hard back then because the media often did not report victims as Christian or the perpetrators as Muslim. They also wouldn’t necessarily report the reason for the crime. This has not changed and has actually become even worse (if that were even possible). What has complicated the data collection even more is that the violence has become more indiscriminate. This means that Christians are targeted still, but so are those that disagree with the perpetrators but may not be Christian. So that complicates it. Not to mention that the perpetrators now have multiple names and have joined other groups. So let’s look at how Nigeria has progressed in a more general sense.
Boko Haram now goes by several names. About a month after I wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post about how I believed Boko Haram was going to join with Islamic State, the group in fact did so. It still goes by Boko Haram, especially in the media because this is how most people know the group. However, once it joined with the Islamic State, it became known as Islamic State’s West African Province (ISWAP). It is also known as ISIS-WA, Islamic State Nigeria, and many other combinations of Islamic State’s names and variations of West Africa.
Abubakr Shekau is still the leader, however there is a LOT to talk about in regards to this. He gave allegiance to Islamic State in March 2015, which led to the rebranding of Boko Haram to ISWAP. However, in 2016, Shekau disobeyed an order by Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi. Shekau had been told to stop killing Muslims. Shekau believed that Muslims who did not follow his type of Islam were not actually Muslims and should be killed. Al-Baghdadi wanted Shekau to stop this practice. When Shekau refused, Islamic State replaced him as leader with Abu Musab al-Barnawi. Shekau refused to recognize the new leader and broke off of ISWAP. The breakaway group went back to their original name, Boko Haram.
So, the world now has ISWAP and Boko Haram to contend with in this region. It is often hard to ascertain from media reports if the killings are done by Boko Haram or ISWAP because some journalists do not know the nuances of the politics within terrorist organizations and use the terms interchangeably. In this update, I will do my best to differentiate between the two groups.
Since the publication of my book, ISWAP has controlled less area than before. However, like Islamic State, less control of territory doesn’t mean less violence perpetrated. ISWAP has spread out of Nigeria. We saw this a little bit in my book, but now the group is active in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. The group continues to target Christians and the militaries that are fighting them. However, the Boko Haram faction will also target Muslims that are against their belief system (just as there are different factions of Christianity, there are different factions of Islam). Boko Haram still use bombs, shootings, and kidnappings. ISWAP focuses more on military attacks, abductions and executions.
The Christian community still suffers greatly from ISWAP. One high visibility attack was in February 2018 when ISWAP kidnapped 110 girls from a school in Yobe State. Five of the girls died in the battle. The rest were all returned to their parents except Leah Sharibou. All the girls that were returned were found to be Muslim or they renounced their faith in Jesus. Leah refused to do so. Because of this, she is still in captivity.
Another very recent incident was in December 2019. ISWAP released a video where it executed 11 people. Ten of them were beheaded and another shot. The murders declared that all those executed were Christians. They were executed in retaliation for the killing of Islamic State’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in Syria in October.
The same day those Christians were executed, a bride and her entire bridal party were executed on their way to the wedding. It is unclear if this was done by Boko Haram or ISWAP as the media uses both terms to identify the perpetrators.
As you can see, despite the terror politics, Christians are still suffering greatly. There may be two groups with two names, but it’s the same people and the same tactics. Point of fact, Christians are not safe. They aren’t safe because they are Christian.
The Fulani are still an issue. However, their attacks have been increasing in number and they have expanded into neighboring countries. The Fulani continue to use shooting, hacking, and arson as their main ways to attack Christian communities. Churches are usually the targets of arson attacks. Much of the conflict still centers around land and herding rights. The Fulani (herders) and the Christians (farmers) have religious tensions and economic tensions. It is still hard to ascertain what is due to religion and what isn’t when reading media reports. However, NGOs and religious organizations have been sounding the alarm that the attacks are religiously based, not ethnically or economically based. The violence continues.
An NGO report that came out in 2019 stated that from January-April (2019) 550+ Christians were murdered by the Fulani. Hundreds of homes and dozens of churches were burnt to the ground. In four months.
The Fulani attacks have started spreading as well. Until 2019, the attacks were in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. However, attacks have started migrating into some of the southern states. Many organizations are appealing to President Buhari to do something. However, nothing has been done and that is likely due to President Buhari being Fulani himself. Since he became President in 2015, Fulani attacks have steadily increased.
Overall, the violence against Christians in Nigeria has only grown worse. People displaced by the violence are growing in number as well. As they move into other countries, the terror groups and the Fulani follow. There have been reports of some pastors staying and trying to reach out to the Fulani and terrorists. Their hope is that they can reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many Christians are trying to ascertain how they should defend themselves. Girls are targets for kidnapping, churches are targets for attack, people in the ministry are assassinated, and there is overall, chaos.