NIGERIA: Government urged to “do all that it takes” to stop attacks on Christians

David T with Buhari AdamuOn 4 March Church in Chains had a meeting with diplomatic staff at the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin. David Turner (Director, Church in Chains) and Pamela Coulter (Advocacy Officer) met with Ms Folawe Fashawe (Head of Chancery, Embassy of Nigeria) and Mr Buhari Adamu (Counsellor, Political and Economy).

The meeting was arranged after Church in Chains wrote to the Embassy in January to seek a meeting following the wave of attacks over the Christmas period against thirty majority-Christian villages in Plateau state in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region in which over 200 Christians were killed.

Nigeria Briefing Document (Front Cover)David Turner presented Ms Folawe and Mr Adamu with a copy of a Briefing Document covering the Christmas attacks and recommendations from Church in Chains partner Stefanos Foundation for government action.

The Briefing also included Church in Chains’ Nigeria Country Profile, a focus on  the cases of Leah Sharibu and Rhoda Jatau and extracts from recent reports by Inter Society and Christian Solidarity Worldwide detailing attacks on Christians in Nigeria.

Government response to Bokkos Attacks

 Mr Adamu said that the Nigerian government is doing all it can to provide security for all Nigerian citizens regardless of religious background and has deployed significant numbers of police and army personnel to Plateau state to provide security. He also said that the government does not see the attacks as being religiously motivated but rather a conflict over scarce resources.

David Turner intervened to say that he could not understand how the Nigerian government could deny the religious motivation of these attacks when there were multiple eyewitness accounts from victims in Bokkos and in many other previous attacks of hearing attackers shout “Allahu Akbar” (the Muslim declaration of faith also used as a battle-cry) during attacks. He went on to say that the ongoing nature of attacks against Christians suggested strongly that either the Nigerian government was unwilling to act to stop the violence or was not able to do so because of lack of resources. He acknowledged Mr Adamu’s statement that the Nigerian government has increased deployments of Army and police but urged the government needed to “do all that it takes” to stop the violence.

Pamela Coulter questioned why the attackers are able to operate with complete impunity to which Ms Fashawe said that while often much publicity was given to attacks, much less attention paid to subsequent court proceedings. Mr Turner said that Church in Chains would be glad to highlight such proceedings being taken against perpetrators but were not aware of such.

Background to Attacks

Mr Adamu portrayed the attacks in Plateau state as being a conflict between cattle herders and farmers. He attributed the availability of heavy weaponry used in the attacks to arms brought illegally into Nigeria and said that the government had acted to tighten border controls and that the Army had been given more resources to tackle this threat.

Mrs Coulter said that farmers who are driven off their land by such attackers need government assistance and also need protection to enable them to return to their land. Mr Adamu replied that assistance is provided by local, state and federal government authorities to which Mr Turner replied that the Stefanos Foundation stated that internally-displaced people are often neglected by government agencies. He also pointed out that it was not normal for property to remain in the hands of perpetrators of crime.

Other Cases of Concern

Mrs Coulter later raised the case of Leah Sharibu (abducted by ISWAP six years ago) and appealed for the Nigerian government to negotiate for her release as requested by her family. In reply, Mr Adamu said that the Nigerian government has not forgotten Leah Sharibu but that negotiating leads to emboldening terrorists. Mr Turner said that there are frequent rumours about Leah’s situation circulated by people purporting to have knowledge about her situation and he found it hard to understand that Nigerian security services could not rescue her when so much is apparently known about her whereabouts.

He also highlighted the case of Rhoda Jatau (charged with blasphemy for allegedly sharing a WhatsApp message relating to the lynching of Deborah Yakubu in Sokoto state in 2022). He contrasted the fact that none of Deborah’s attackers had been brought to justice despite the existence of a wealth of evidence some of it in the form of publicly-available videos posted online by the attackers with the charges brought against Rhoda Jatau. He welcomed her recent release on bail (after over eighteen months in custody) and called for all charges against her to be dropped.

As the cordial forty-minute meeting drew to a close, Mr Adamu said that Church in Chains’ observations “might be right or might be wrong” but that the Embassy had received our message clearly and would forward it to the Nigerian government in Abuja.