YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – A recent report from the Nigeria-based International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) claims 620 Nigerian Christians were killed in the first six months of 2020.
The society also said the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has not done enough to stop the attacks perpetrated by the by the terrorist group Boko Haram and jihadist Fulani herders.
“The atrocities against Christians have gone unchecked,” the report said, “with the country’s security forces and concerned political actors looking the other way or colluding with the Jihadists.”
Nathan Johnson is the Regional Manager for Africa of the Washington-based International Christian Concern told Crux she was not surprise by the report.
“In 2018, over 2,400 Christians were killed between the actions of Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria and Fulani militants in the Middle Belt region. It is sad that the Nigerian government has done little over the past decade to stop this violence and protect its citizens,” he said.
“Christians in Nigeria are dying in vast numbers at the hands of people who hate them and their faith,” Johnson added.
What follows are excerpts of his conversation with Crux.
Crux: What is your reaction to the report by International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) which says 620 Christians have been killed in Nigeria just this year; and 32,000 begin killed over the last decade?
Johnson: This report is not particularly surprising. In 2018, over 2,400 Christians were killed between the actions of Boko Haram in north-eastern Nigeria and Fulani militants in the Middle Belt region. It is sad that the Nigerian government has done little over the past decade to stop this violence and protect its citizens.
Would you describe what is going on as genocide?
I don’t know if I would designate the attacks on Christians in Nigeria as genocide, because many of the deaths are not caused by groups specifically targeting Christians with the purpose of wiping them out. I do, however, believe that Christians in Nigeria are dying in vast numbers at the hands of people who hate them and their faith.
The targeting of Christians isn’t specific to Nigeria. What are the other hotspots across Africa?
There are many other areas of Christian persecution in Africa. Sudan has been a historically terrible country for Christians who have suffered attacks and harassment for decades by the government. Kenyan Christians along the Somali border are attacked and killed often by al-Shabaab. Christians in Eritrea are often harassed, arrested, and killed by the government of Isaias Afwerki. New converts in Uganda who turn from Islam to Christianity often suffer at the hands of their communities and families. There are many others as well.
Why do you think Christians are being targeted?
Christ said in the Bible that the world would hate His followers. This was a true statement when He lived and will always be a true statement. Christians will continue to suffer at the hands of those who hate God and want to silence the Gospel.
Some have predicted that if the trend continues, there is the risk that the continued persecution of Christians in Africa could lead to major demographic shifts, and Africa may soon see more Muslims than Christians. What do you think could be the major impacts of such shifts?
I’m not sure I believe that these shifts will take place. Christians in Africa are actually increasing faster than anywhere else in the world. But if this shift does take place, then I believe that Christians will suffer in even greater numbers in Africa in the future. I also could see more countries like Iran and Syria growing throughout Africa. This would devastate countries where democracy is trying to gain a foothold.
The Nigerian government has been faulted for not taking a hard line against those attacking Christians. Do you agree with this criticism?
Yes, I do. I believe that President Buhari has been afraid to call out the Fulani militants who have been conducting many of these attacks because it would be political suicide. He would not survive as a president if he started telling his own tribe that they were the ones conducting evil attacks and causing mass chaos. Instead, he has decided to stay silent or call the attacks communal conflicts. They have however taken a hard line against Boko Haram and have been trying to stop them as an organization. This has just been done with some incompetence and has taken too long.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Johnson’s name and title. We apologize for the error.