IN August 2016, nine people were killed in Talata Mafara, Zamfara State, in a violence that broke out over an alleged insult to Prophet Muhammad by a Christian student of Abud-Gusau Polytechnic, Talata Mafara. During the incident, Muslim students and other rioters razed a vehicle and some houses in the area where they suspected the accused person was being kept. Eight students of the college were set ablaze in one of the houses that were burnt by the rioters, after they entered the house to search for the accused person. Earlier in the year, in Abuja and Kano, two citizens were killed on religious grounds and the killings were not only avoidable, they were criminal and gruesome.
Open Doors, an international Christian charity, reported that in 2015, there were 4,028 killings and 198 church attacks in Northern Nigeria. The figures recorded for 2014 were 2,484 killings and 108 church attacks. It noted that “For decades, Christians in the region have suffered marginalisation and discrimination, as well as targeted violence.” The report reveals that decades of religious violence directed at the Christian community have had an even larger impact on the Church in Northern Nigeria than previously thought. The violence unleashed on Christians in the region resulted in the deaths of “between 9,000 to 11,500 Christians,” which the report even calls “a conservative estimation.”
A large number of Christian properties and businesses have been destroyed, including 13,000 churches that have either been destroyed or closed down. In addition, 1.3 million Christians in Northern Nigeria “have become internally displaced or have settled in other areas of Nigeria in search for safety and security” since 2000. Boko Haram, Muslim Fulani herdsmen and the Muslim religious fundamentalists seem to be the forces behind these killings.
As in previous cases of religious killings, the government has not treated the present violence with the seriousness it deserves. In the killings in Zamfara, Governor Abubakar Yari promised President Muhammadu Buhari that the killers would be apprehended. In the Abuja killing of a woman preacher, Eunice Olawale, President Buhari promised that justice would be done. Till today, the killers in Talata Mafara have not been apprehended. There is also no evidence that justice has been done in the Abuja case. The levity with which the killings have been treated has raised questions concerning the role of the political elite that dominates governments in northern Nigeria. It seems that the persecution and growing Muslim intolerance for Christians in the North do not worry the leadership of the various states in the region.
We call on the northern state governments to demonstrate their commitment to respecting the diversity of Nigeria by ensuring a thorough and conclusive investigation of these cases, including those suspected to have been perpetuated by herdsmen. State governors are sadly often reacting to the problem rather than taking proactive steps. They need to rise up to their responsibilities in their states by working with the police and other security agencies to stem the tide of religiously motivated killings.
The situation has become very challenging with the advice by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to its members to defend themselves. Nigeria cannot afford another religiously motivated war. The Boko Haram insurgency is enough challenge to Nigeria’s quest for integration and development. Religious leaders should reach out to one another and ensure that their members and followers keep the peace. It is through mutual recognition, tolerance and support that the tide can be curtailed.