Christmas attacks target Nigerian Christians

Surveying the aftermath of the Christmas attacks in Nigeria that included the deaths of an estimated 200 Christians. (Photo from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN Canada) website - )

By Anna Farrow, Montreal Correspondent, The Catholic Register

[Canadian Catholic News] – About 200 Nigerian Christians lost their lives in multi-day attacks that left hundreds more injured and displaced.

The Dec 23-26 strikes were a continuation of a deadly competition for land in the central region of Nigeria, perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen driving southward in search of pastureland.

According to a 2023 report by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law since 2009, the combination of the murderous violence of the Islamist insurgency group Boko Haram with the Fulani attacks has left over 50,000 Nigerian Christians dead and 18,000 churches destroyed.

Evangelical leader Rev. Johnnie Moore, former commissioner for the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and president of the Congress of Christian Leaders, said that the “single worst place in the world to be a Christian is in western Africa, particularly in parts of Nigeria.”

Many media reports failed to address the sectarian dimension of the latest outbreak of violence, choosing to focus instead on environmental causes. A Christmas Day article in Britain’s The Guardian spoke of “competition for natural resources between nomadic herders and farmers, intensified by rapid population growth and climate pressures” that have “exacerbated social tensions and sparked violence.”

Fr. Andrew Dewan, director of communications of Pankshin diocese where the attacks took place, was emphatic that the timing and pattern of the raids indicated that Christians were the target.

Dewan noted in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a pontifical aid agency, “The fact that it took place at Christmas, and the deliberate targeting of Christians in a mixed community, where Muslims are not attacked, clearly bears all the hallmarks of a religious conflict.”

Mario Bard, head of information for ACN Canada, told The Catholic Register that the violence against Christians in Nigeria is disheartening.

“It is a very complex situation, but we are very discouraged,” said Bard. “Every year there is an event that puts Nigerian Christians’ security in jeopardy. We would like to see a robust international response. It is time for the international community to step up and do something.”
The seeming indifference and inaction of Nigeria’s political leaders has exacerbated an already difficult situation, Dewan told ACN.

“We are dealing with absentee leaders. Our leaders don’t live in the community, so they don’t understand the problems that are bothering the people, and we are getting to the point where if something is not done drastically to deal with this gathering storm, the tendency for people to take the law into their hands is quite high.”

Dewan reports that government inertia has left church communities struggling to meet the needs of displaced and traumatized villagers.