The government of Nigeria is either unable or unwilling to halt attacks against Christians in the northern part of the nation, allowing a level of violence that has cost dozens of lives in just the past few weeks, according to human rights and military analysts.
International Christian Concern analyst Ryan Morgan says it appears there’s not even an attempt to prevent the deaths.
“It looks as if the Nigerian government is incapable of defending Christian villages from attack. All of the reports we’ve seen of the attacks that took place Tuesday and Wednesday indicate the Fulani herdsmen who attacked were completely unopposed as they shot civilians and burned down scores of homes.”
Experts explain that attack left 16 Christians murdered in a cluster of Christian villages in Plateau state. They were gunned down, and their houses were burned in a wave of violence that even hit at other villagers.
The latest attack follows only days after Islamic terror group Boko Haram attacked a village and killed 29. The attack was just a week after another on on a school in which more than 50 students were burned to death.
The three-week Christian casualty toll in Nigeria is nearing the 100 mark, and reports indicate as many as 300 have died since Feb 1.
Heritage Foundation Africa analyst Charlotte Florance says the issue is exacerbated by Nigeria’s structural weaknesses.
“A lot of the challenges that the military face are not just fighting an extremist insurgency, but they really lack the capability, capacity and cannot be defined as what people think of when we hear the phrase, ‘professional military.’ They are just not there,” Florance said.
“The military also lacks credibility amongst Nigerians. The human rights allegations against the military really lend to negative perceptions of the defense forces in the country. There is a lot of mistrust that plays into this conflict on both sides,” she said.
Added Morgan: “From what we’ve seen, most of the victims of these recent attacks were women and children. Christian communities in northeast Nigeria are facing a reign of terror and the Nigerian government simply must do more to protect them.”
Florance noted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s Christian faith plays a role in his ability to unify the country.
“While Jonathan’s religion is important politically for his support base in southern Nigeria, the fact that he does not come from northern Nigeria or share their faith, makes his ability to really unify Nigeria a bit challenging given some of the deep-seated grievances about oil-wealth in the southern portion of the country,” Florance said.
“I do think that he needs to make some meaningful progress against the extremists if he has any shot at re-election or ensuring the political viability of his party,” Florance said, adding, “As you know it’s a complicated situation, but the military alone in Nigeria cannot defeat extremism.”
Morgan said the president needs to give protection for Nigeria’s Christians a higher priority.
“It should be the No. 1 priority today of the Nigerian government. Every other effort and government program should be set aside until security for all Nigerians is established. Even the African Union urged President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday to stop the senseless killings,” Morgan said.
Fulani herdsman are the alleged shooters in the recent attacks, but the other attacks in which more than 80 people were killed are believed to be the work of jihadist group Boko Haram. Morgan says the al-Qaida affiliate operates with impunity.
“Boko Haram’s ability to strike violently and cause a tremendous death toll is truly alarming. It does appear that President Goodluck Jonathan and the Nigerian military are stretched far beyond their capacity to respond to all of the attacks taking place or to protect civilian populations, including predominantly Christian villages and churches, from assault,” Morgan said.
“In an attack on Mafa town in Borno state on Sunday, government troops were so overwhelmed they actually fled the town, leaving Boko Haram to slaughter at least 29 civilians. Early last week 58 secondary school students in the northeast of the country were burned to death, shot, or had their throats slit by Islamic militants suspected to be connected with Boko Haram,” he said.
Morgan said the “death toll is simply horrific.”
“It appears that outside forces are going to have to become involved if there is going to be any real hope of stopping Boko Haram’s onslaught. Christian churches are often the most vulnerable targets, being much easier to attack then military compounds or police stations,” Morgan said.
Analysts say a Boko Haram leader’s statement to the press inspired the latest wave of violence. Jihadist leader Abubakar Shekau said Boko Haram enjoys the killing because the victims are “infidels,” and he urged his followers to continue the attacks.
The statement said:
My brethren … you should hold on to your weapons and continue fighting. Let them understand that our work is not confined to Yobe, Borno and Adamawa (states). Make them understand that we are not restricted by emergency rule. They should understand we are under the canopy of Allah.
This is the beginning. Yes, this is the beginning. We … are fighting Christians wherever we meet them and those who believe in democracy, those who pursue Western education wherever we meet them. By Allah, we will kill whoever practices democracy,” Shekau said in his statement to the press.
Later in the same statement, Shekau said: “All these infidels, we are the ones killing them. We enjoy shedding their blood. The Quran must be supreme, we must establish Islam in this country; not only in Borno, we will henceforth destroy any schools wherever we see them.”
Statements from Shekau indicate that Boko Haram is gaining in power and influence in Nigeria. Florance believes it’s likely that Boko Haram will not be defeated.
“I don’t think the insurgents are going away anytime soon and as long as perceived political grievances remain, economic opportunities are limited, and lawless ungoverned space flourishes, groups like Boko Haram will continue to exist and gather recruits. Extremist groups are in these types of conflicts for the long haul, they think in decades and we think in years,” Florance said.
She also believes that Nigeria’s status as a developing nation is hindering progress in ridding the country of armed insurgent movements.
“Nigeria may now be the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, but it remains in a dire developmental state. You see some of the highest levels of corruption and a serious lack of any meaningful attempt to increase transparency in the government further compounded by one of the most complex informal/illicit economies on the continent,” Florance said.