YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon — A leading Catholic research entity in Africa has welcomed the call by a British Catholic politician in the UK for urgent action to resist the persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
Johan Viljoen, director of the Denis Hurley Peace Institute, an entity of the Southern Catholic Bishops’ Conference, called the recent push by Lord David Alton of Liverpool “commendable.”
“Other major powers should follow suit, by demanding action from the Nigerian government. Any foreign assistance or investment to Nigeria should be made conditional to the strict observance of human rights,” Viljoen said.
The reaction came after Alton used a Jan. 11 address in the British House of Lords to demand that the UK government address the slaughter of Christians in Nigeria as a matter of urgency, especially in the wake of Christmas massacres in the country’s Plateau State that claimed the lives of more than 200 Christians.
“Who is being brought to justice for the further 200 killings in Plateau State in Nigeria just two weeks ago, over Christmas?” asked Alton, a former Liberal Democrat MP.
Alton, who also serves as a member of Westminster’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, demanded that those responsible for the recent attacks, which started on Dec. 23 and continued through Christmas, be found and prosecuted immediately.
The British legislator said he’s seen the consequences of atrocities committed on Nigerian Christians firsthand, describing a recent encounter with Dominic and Margaret Attah, who managed to survive a 2022 attack on St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo, which left at least 40 people dead, and some estimates have the count as high as 80.
“Margaret’s legs were so badly damaged by the jihadist bomb that they had to be amputated,” Alton recalled.
“The couple wanted to know – and so do I – why no one has been brought to justice in this culture of impunity,” he said.
Alton also cited the case of a young Christian girl in Nigeria who’s been kidnapped by Islamic militants.
“Why is Leah Sharibu – whose case I have raised regularly in your Lordships’ House, and whose mother, Rebecca, I escorted to the Palace of Westminster so that she could meet Members of both Houses – still in captivity, having been abducted, raped and forcibly converted at the age of 14?” he asked.
Sharibu was one of 110 school girls abducted by the Islamic State – West Africa Province (ISWAP)in 2018. She is the only one who has not been released because she refused to renounce her Catholic faith.
Viljoen applauded Alton’s advocacy, and said the victims of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria should receive financial compensation for property destroyed and lives lost.
“The Nigerian government should pay. It was after all the Nigerian government that failed to ensure the safety and security of its citizens – one of the prime duties of any national government,” he said.
Viljoen blamed the government of President Bola Tinubu for doing little to change the situation, noting that attacks have continued in Nigeria’s Middle Belt.
The Nigerian government has frequently sought to downplay the idea that Christians are being targeted for elimination, highlighting climate change and farmer-grassier conflict as the actual causes of the violence. But it’s an explanation that has been brushed aside by various Catholic leaders and entities in Nigeria.
Almost four years ago, a human rights NGO called Christian Solidarity International (CSI), which tracks anti-Christian persecution, warned of an unfolding genocide in Nigeria.
“The conditions for genocide exist in Nigeria, with Christians, non-violent Muslims, and adherents of tribal religions being particularly vulnerable,” CSI’s John Eibner said.
“The increasingly violent attacks and the failure of the Nigerian government to prevent them and punish the perpetrators are alarming. CSI therefore calls on the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to take swift action to uphold this commitment to genocide prevention in Nigeria.”
The International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (“Intersociety”), Nigeria’s Catholic-inspired human rights and democracy watchdog, has also framed the attacks on Christians in terms of genocide.
Alton struck a similar note as he addressed the House of Commons in the presence of the UK Minister of State for Climate, Environment and Energy, Lord Richard Benyon.
Alton said he found it “absurd” that the attacks on Christians were being linked to climate change.
“I would like him [Lord Benyon]to look particularly at the situation in Nigeria and the absurd suggestion made … by a Head of State [Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland] that climate change was the cause of 40 people being murdered in a church in Ondo on Pentecost Sunday in 2022,” he said.
“Climate change and cuts to aid certainly impact development, but so does jihadist ideology, and we should not be frightened in saying so,” Alton said.
Nigeria has continued to rank high on the list of persecuted Christians, with Intersociety reporting that in the last 14 years, at least 52,250 Nigerian Christians have been brutally murdered at the hands of Islamist militants.
The same report published in April last year also asserts that 18,000 Christian churches and 2,200 Christian schools have been set ablaze, and around 34,000 moderate Muslims also have been killed in Islamist attacks.