5 June brought with it familiar agony for four villages in southern Kaduna state, Nigeria. According to local reports, attackers of Fulani ethnicity are said to have descended on the villages of Dogon Noma, Maikori, Ungwan Gamu and Ungwan Sarki at around noon, with violence continuing for approximately six hours.
In consistency with previous reports of militia attacks in the region, the assailants were reportedly grouped three to a motorcycle, with one man to drive, and two others to shoot to the right and left respectively.
At least 32 people were killed across the four villages, while an unknown number remain missing following the latest attack to specifically target the Adara people, who have suffered violence at the hands of Fulani assailants for several years now.
Her name was Deborah Emmanuel – a second-year Christian student of Home Economics at the Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto state, Nigeria. She should have been safe from harassment and violence at an academic institution. But she wasn’t.
On 12 May Ms Emmanuel was brutally beaten and stoned to death by a predominantly male mob who proceeded to immolate her in a pile of tyres whilst chanting “Allahu Akbar”. She was buried just two days later.
Ms Emmanuel was killed after she was falsely accused of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed in a WhatsApp group chat in which she reportedly expressed exasperation at members posting religious articles and asked them to focus on issues relevant to course work, as it was a departmental group.
In December 2020, the United States’ (US) State Department designated Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), finding that the government was responsible for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
The rather belated decision marked the first time Nigeria had been placed on the State Department’s list, despite having been recommended for designation since 2009, and was also the first time a nominally secular democracy had been designated a CPC.
It reflected the severity of an ongoing crisis in the country, which includes longstanding systemic and systematic violations of the rights of religious minorities in the north and central regions, and violence in which thousands of vulnerable citizens – many of them Christians – have been killed, while hundreds of thousands more have been forcibly displaced by armed non-state actors, including assailants of Fulani origin, and members of the Boko Haram, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Ansaru terrorist organisations.
“The fact is that we simply can’t afford to be religiously illiterate in today’s world. To be religiously illiterate in today’s world is simply to fail to understand how and why others act as they do.” – These are the words of Bishop Philip Mounstephen, the Bishop of Truro, speaking at the deferred 175th anniversary celebration of The National Club earlier this month.
Bishop Mounstephen has been a friend of mine, and of CSW, for a number of years now, so it will come as little surprise that we fully support his assertion. As the bishop outlined so eloquently in his speech, freedom of religion or belief (FoRB), cannot be seen as a “side-bar” or “special interest” issue. In fact, it is a fundamental human right, the abuse of which so often leads to wider human rights violations as it intersects with issues such as poverty, race and gender.
Fortunately, the UK government appears to agree. Last year, upon the appointment of Fiona Bruce MP as the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for FoRB, Boris Johnson said: “The UK is absolutely committed to protecting the inalienable right to freedom of religion and belief, at home and around the world.”
On 20 October 2020 Nigerian security forces at the Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos opened fire on unarmed and peaceful demonstrators who had gathered to protest the notorious police unit, the Special Armed Robbery Squad (SARS) and call for good governance. The soldiers opened fire just as the protestors finished singing the national anthem. When they withdrew, the police arrived and also opened fire.
Estimates of those killed are variable, ranging from nine to over 70. The real number could be higher still, with video footage subsequently emerging which appeared to confirm allegations by survivors that the military had evacuated bodies from the scene in armoured vehicles, as had occurred in 2015 when soldiers attacked Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) facilities in Zaria, Kaduna state, and more recently, during an armed raid on the home of a Yoruba activist in Ibadan.
Prior to attacking, engineers had arrived at the toll gate earlier that afternoon and removed and disabled the CCTV. Just before the attack began, the lights in the area were switched off.
The Nigerian army, which was ostensibly enforcing a curfew announced by the Lagos state government just hours before the attack, initially attempted to deny responsibility, and even claimed soldiers were not in the area, despite footage from mobile phones proving otherwise. The Governor of Lagos also attempted to distance himself from responsibility for the incident, visiting some of the wounded in hospital. However, he later claimed in a television address that there had been no casualties, enraging survivors, families of victims, and all who had followed livestreaming of the massacre on social media. Regardless of the number of casualties, these deaths amount to cynically executed extrajudicial killings of young people merely for demanding good governance and rule of law.