- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2024

A version of this story appeared in the Higher Ground newsletter from The Washington Times. Click here to receive Higher Ground delivered directly to your inbox each Sunday.

As people around the world jovially celebrated the birth of Jesus, sang carols, exchanged gifts and relished in the sights and sounds of the season, Christians in Nigeria were embroiled in an unimaginably hellish scenario.

During a Christmas Eve killing spree, nomadic herders reportedly used guns and machetes to slaughter about 140 people in the central Plateau State.

The elongated assault reportedly left victims to fend for themselves, as it took hours for authorities to arrive on the scene and offer appropriate assistance.

Some of the victims were preparing to celebrate the holiday when the deadly assaults broke out. But rather than having the ability to pause to remember the birth of Christ, innocents comprised mostly of the elderly, women and children were being massacred.

Persecution watchdog Morning Star News reported the number of those killed could have been as high as 160, noting they mostly lived in “Christian areas.” The diabolical situation further highlights the dangers Nigerian Christians face at the hands of Islamic extremists — menacing threats that rage as the world seemingly looks the other way.

“Church pastors were killed and hundreds of houses were destroyed in the massacres in villages of Barkin Ladi, Bokkos and Mangu counties, officials and residents said,” Morning Star News reported. “The assailants killed the Rev. Solomon Gushe of Baptist Church in Dares village along with nine of his family members, said Bokkos County resident Dawzino Mallau.”

The reports of looting, setting homes ablaze and killing expose a brutal reality: Nigeria is a nightmarish perdition for Christians simply seeking to live their lives. But the problem isn’t new. Jeff King, president of persecution watchdog International Christian Concern, recently told me how dire circumstances have raged over the past two decades.

“Most Americans have no idea what’s going on in Nigeria, but imagine this: for the last 20 years, probably up to about 100,000 Christians have been murdered,” Mr. King said. “Three-and-a-half million Christians, their lands have been taken from them, and the government’s pretty much done nothing.”

The trends are absolutely horrifying, but the individual and anecdotal examples of violence seem even more otherworldly. I’ve repeatedly covered the issue at CBN News, finding myself increasingly disturbed by every twist and turn. 

Perhaps the most infamous case in recent memory surrounds Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu, a 25-year-old Christian college student who was stoned to death on May 12, 2022. Her demise sent shockwaves throughout the world and catapulted the issue of Nigerian religious persecution into the headlines, albeit for a relatively brief time.

The attention at the time was understandable, as the deadly attack on Ms. Yakubu was filmed and uploaded to social media, offering a visual lens into the ongoing terror. If you’re wondering what she was accused of, the young woman merely credited Jesus for her success in school and defended her Christian faith. That was apparently worthy of death by stoning.

But Ms. Yakubu’s story is neither unique nor isolated, with pervasive violence and land-grabbing at the hands of groups such as the Fulani and Boko Haram raging in the nation’s northern region. In fact, Nigeria ranks as the sixth worst place in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List.

“Christians in Nigeria suffer persecution from an ingrained agenda of enforced Islamization, which is particularly prevalent in the north of the country and has gradually been spreading south,” the report noted. “Attacks by Islamic militant groups have increased consistently since 2015, but the government has failed to prevent the rise in violence, which affects all Nigerians, but particularly Christians.”

In November, Oluwakemi Moses, the wife of a Christian pastor, was killed while driving home with her 2-month-old baby. In a separate incident last summer, the Rev. Charles Onomhoale Igechi, a Catholic priest, was also murdered while driving.

“He was killed by gunmen, as they riddled his body with bullets after they shot him on the back,” the Rev. Augustine Akubeze, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Benin, said at the time.

Yet another case made headlines in August 2022 when a woman named Lyop Dalyop was cleaning a church when suspected Fulani herdsmen slew her. 

These, of course, are only a few of the growing examples of what’s been unfolding. The pattern of murder and horror is clear, but what’s a bit murkier is why the U.S. and other nations aren’t intensely and publicly pressing Nigerian officials to halt the atrocities — assaults that appear to rage without any fear of reprisal. 

The State Department under former President Donald Trump had added Nigeria to the Countries of Particular Concern list in 2020, signaling an increased unease over the crises unfolding there. But the Biden administration removed Nigeria and has since kept the nation off its list of countries rife with religious freedom violations. 

It’s far past time for America to place Nigeria back on the Countries of Particular Concern list and to vocally voice horror — and place pressure — on the nation’s officials. As for the rest of us, we must turn to advocacy and prayer, as our Nigerian brothers and sisters desperately need it.

Billy Hallowell is a digital TV host and interviewer for Faithwire and CBN News and the co-host of CBN’s “Quick Start Podcast.” Mr. Hallowell is the author of four books.

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