In the first few months of 2020, Nigeria’s government has done very little to protect the religious minorities that live in the country. A tide of violence, killings, and abductions caused by militant groups in the Northeast and throughout the Middle Belt continues to ravage the country.
In the past three months alone we have seen at least 766 deaths related to terror or militant activity. Christian farmers make up most of the civilian deaths in this toll, with the perpetrators being Boko Haram militants and radical Fulani militants. Over 100 members of the Nigerian military and police forces died in a total of 130 incidents involving Boko Haram. 4 died in incidents involving Fulani militants across the 70 incidents.
Despite the large number and varied sources of these attacks, the government only deals with Boko Haram and continues to turn a blind eye to Fulani militant aggression. This is demonstrated by the number of clashes between military and militant groups. The Nigerian government claims that there is no religious motivation for these attacks, but the facts show the opposite. During the first quarter of 2020, Fulani militants are believed to have instigated at least 70 attacks on Christians and Christian villages throughout the Middle Belt of Nigeria. Their attacks have spread to nearly 20 states across Nigeria and have impacted millions of people.
Additionally, out of the 9 northern states that have enacted full Sharia law, only 4 attacks have taken place with Fulani militants. Of the 3 states which have partial Sharia, 2 of the states suffered multiple attacks, all of which took place in predominantly Christian villages. According to the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), at least 1,500 churches have been destroyed by Fulani militant attacks in the last 57 months.
In the 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF has officially designated Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC. This is under the International Religious Freedom Act for engaging in or tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.
The U.S government needs to act rapidly as the problem in Nigeria has the potential to escalate, impacting the larger West African region and across sub-Saharan Africa. ICC believes that the U.S response to handling Nigeria has great potential to reduce not only the current violence in Nigeria but also possible future violence in the greater region.
The U.S. should restructure its aid channels. Rather than give 100% of the aid to the Nigerian government, which directs most of the aid to northeast Nigeria, the U.S. should partner with organizations with a vested interest in the region as a whole. By conducting a comprehensive analysis of U.S. aid distribution, the U.S. can ensure maximum effectiveness of aid disbursement.
The U.S. needs to understand and broadcast the true nature of the violence in Nigeria. When investigating the situation in Nigeria, the U.S. government needs to ensure that all regions of the country are studied in order to dispel any misleading narratives. A comprehensive study of the violence committed by both Boko Haram and Fulani militants must be conducted. A bipartisan Congressional study on the issue would help to further this goal and inform the U.S. response to the situation in Nigeria, as would the establishment of a special commission to track the situation in an ongoing manner.
In order to really make an impact in the region, the U.S needs to strategically plan how its actions may impact the larger region around Nigeria, where their resources may be used effectively, and truly understand the violence going on in the country. By addressing all of these factors, the U.S. can be a great aid in tackling these injustices that the people of Nigeria face regularly.