Stop the killings of Christians in Nigeria?


By  Chukwudi Johnpaul Okolo, Catholic Institute for Development, Justice and Peace, Enugu


It is increasingly worrisome that Christian communities are being attacked and burnt down daily and many Christians murdered, yet these attacks are neither reported in the news here in Nigeria nor addressed by the international community. Since February 2019, the number of Christians murdered in cold blood has increased overwhelmingly. The victims of the massacre include children, expectant mothers, women and youth, and government bodies and agencies appear to be doing nothing. The Fulani Muslim president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, has not raised his voice to condemn these acts, especially when fingers point to Fulani herdsmen/militias – his Fulani brothers – as the perpetrators. President Buhari sympathises with the herdsmen as he is a patron of the Fulani Miyetti Allah (Cattle Breeders Association). His administration and the Fulani dominated security organs promote Fulani interests in Nigeria.


Another strong indicator of the complacence of the government and the presidency is the fact that there were no recorded Fulani attacks within the period of the election campaign and the election itself in March 2019. There was relative calm for a period of over four months. The killings only resumed soon after the presidential and Federal House of Assembly elections. What does this say about the president and his kinsmen who are the security chiefs of the country and who call all the security shots?


In the first quarter of 2019, southern Kaduna and Zamfara State topped the chart for the Fulani massacre of Christians. In the second quarter of 2018, it was Christians in Plateau State who suffered most. In January 2018, the killing was concentrated in Benue State where a number of massacres of Christians occurred, including an attack that resulted in the deaths of about 100 persons and a mass burial of 73 Christians. In a separate attack, two Catholic priests, Rev. Frs. Joseph Gor and Felix Tyolah, were murdered along with 16 Christian faithful while at prayer during Holy Mass. Between March and May 2016, killings of Christians were recorded in Nasarawa State as well as in Nimbo and Uzo-Uwani in Enugu State. The spate of killings is alarming, yet the government keeps quiet; How did we get to this point?

  • In the early 19th century, the jihad led by the Fulani Usman dan Fodio in the north led to the conquest of the indigenous Hausa, and saw the domination of the Fulani tribe over the Hausa under the Sokoto Caliphate. This jihad seems still to be ongoing, albeit in a new form.
  • British involvement in Nigeria between the late 18th and the mid 20th century is another key factor. The system of government operated by the Fulani Sokoto Caliphate made administration easy for the government of the United Kingdom through their Emirs. It was British rule that brought about the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914, which effectively enabled the Caliphate to encompass the whole of Nigeria. This development contradicted the multinational composition of Nigeria. Thus, the North was in a position to rule over the South, East and West, and British interests came first. 
  • The emergence of the military in the administration of the Nigerian polity with the first coup in 1966 further strengthened northern resolve. Shortly after the coup, Nigeria experienced the most devastating of civil wars (1967-70) which further divided Nigeria and resulted in the killing of over three million Igbos, mainly women and children. This was triggered by the Igbo quest for self-actualisation and independence which was a result of non-inclusion in government. The long years of militarisation led to the non-inclusive and unacceptable 1999 constitution which is operational in the current democratic state. This has further divided the country, leading to even greater marginalisation of the South and the East. There was no national consultation over the amended constitution. The drafting was done hastily by the military and the amendments do not represent “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria...” The constitution divided Nigeria more than united her because it represented the interests of the minority elites, including the politicians and military, in the Supreme Ruling Council of December 1998.
  • The Biafran war ended in 1970 with a promise of inclusion and rehabilitation of war-torn Igboland. This did not happen; rather further policies only served to suppress the Igbos. This gave birth to an uprising and the eventual emergence of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group which has grown very powerful with representation in all countries of the world. Its members comprise almost all Igbos in the diaspora, including engineers, doctors, lawyers, technologists, scientists and others. The current government seems to feel threatened by this group and has thus branded it a terrorist organisation. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions has recently reported, “members of IPOB have faced arbitrary arrests, torture and extrajudicial executions, predominantly in the context of demonstrations”.
Of the options that present themselves as solutions to the problems and factors identified above all seem difficult to realise except for the first. But all are worthy of consideration as a means of eventually bringing about peace and harmony.
  • The western powers and Christians in Europe, America and around the world must speak out against the wanton killings of Christians and people not belonging to the Fulani/Hausa ethnic group. Utter condemnation of these killings will deter the evil perpetrators and allow peace to be restored. The media is hereby challenged.
  • Nigeria is currently running a unitary system where all resources are controlled by the centre (Federal Government) including all the parastatals and agencies. This system has further strengthened the centre, which is the seat of government under northern control, while weakening other regions. A confederal system of government would make it possible for units to be federated and resources to be controlled by the federating units including parastatals and agencies. This option would lead to the collapse of power at the centre. It would have a lasting positive impact on the Nigerian problem and undermine the northern oligarchy and dominance.
  • An alternative to the restructuring of the existing unitary system into a confederal system is the complete annulment of the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria act. Great Britain’s Nigeria project has not worked and does not seem likely to work. The country cannot continue to exist in its current structure. Ethnic, religious, geographical and cultural factors argue for the emergence of new countries out of the current ‘Nigeria’.

Chukwudi Johnpaul Okolo is a project officer with the Catholic Institute for Development, Justice and Peace (CIDJAP) in Enugu and is currently a research student with the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt