New Wave Of Ethnic Violence Strikes In Nigeria

Dozens of Nigerians were killed over the course of several days this past week during targeted attacks against non-Muslim minorities. On July 19th and 20th, attacks were made by radical Muslims of Fulani ethnicity in southern Kaduna. A few days later, the attacks repeated, this time targeting the small village of Zikpak, which is mainly comprised of a minority Christian group. The attacks are part of a larger scheme ongoing since January of this year, which has involved the murder, rape, looting, abduction, and forced displacement of non-Muslims. Although Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has imposed a curfew in an attempt to protect the minority groups, this has actually made it easier for the Fulani militia to target them.

Daniel Bala, a 49-year old practicing Christian and new father, witnessed much of the Zikpak violence on his way home from church. Bala discusses the death of his uncle at the hands of the attackers, recounting that “they burnt his house and he was slaughtered like a goat.” Bala is just one of many Kadunans to experience such tragedy in the past few months.

The recent spike in violence against non-Muslims in Kaduna is part of a larger conflict that has lasted since at least the 1980’s and has claimed nearly 20,000 lives. Nigerian non-Muslims, most of whom identify as Christian, have experienced not only physical violence, but systemic violence. The large economic disparity between the two groups favors Fulani Muslims. In addition, non-Muslims have been excluded from positions of office, which has inhibited their ability to fight back against injustices. In 2000, the governor of Kaduna introduced sharia law (that is, religious law from the Islamic tradition) to the state. This restricted non-Muslim groups even further.

Even though many Nigerians have criticized their government for refusing to take action with regard to this issue, the government has thus far failed to create an effective plan. As Scot Bower, chief operating officer of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, explains, “The failure or unwillingness of those in authority to address these and other non-state actors and to secure ungoverned spaces has not only allowed the violence to mutate but has also created an environment in which Boko Haram can extend its operations.” Bower worries the political instability arising from the ethnic conflict will only invite further terrorist action.

The killing of innocent minority groups is a form of genocide, and one that cannot be allowed. The Nigerian government must step up and take further steps to protect Christian groups in Kaduna. One significant step the government could take is restricting armaments in Nigeria. As of now, the Fulani majority has unrestricted access to weapons which they can use freely against non-Muslims. Gun laws would make it more difficult for these weapons to be bought and will therefore create a safer environment.

However, this ethnic issue is deeply ingrained in Nigerian politics and economics. It may be best for the United Nations to interfere on behalf of the terrorized minority groups. Though the U.N. has been hesitant to intervene in third-world genocides in the past, this issue cannot be ignored. The U.N. must put aside its first-world bias and work to protect these Christian groups.

As a third world country, Nigeria is often ignored by first-world citizens. Especially with the coronavirus absorbing much of our headspace, it is easy to forget about issues that are not a personal threat. As dominant members of the U.N., first world countries need to reflect on those issues outside of themselves. Violence against non-Muslims in Nigeria is only increasing, and waiting to take action might result in the complete elimination of these groups. Christian Nigerians have already faced almost four decades of turbulence based solely on their ethnicity and religious affiliation. Allowing them to experience any more of violence, and allowing Nigeria to slip into political instability, is not an option.

Lily Gretz