Nigeria's Middle Belt: the Silence of the Christians

Updated: Dec 10, 2020



Since doing this blog on-and-off over the past year (Murphy's Law is really real), I continue to find myself drawn to the constant drumbeat from thought leaders throughout the African continent whose drums beat loudly in unison around the message of moral leadership, government integrity, and moral transformation in Africa. With prolonged sectarian violence resulting in genocidal conditions, Nigeria seems to be one of the more outspoken countries when it comes to the issues of morality, leadership, and government.


In the July 12th article at dailypost.ng titled, UK report indicts Buhari Govt over alleged killing of Christians, makes shocking revelations, the pathology of Nigeria's turmoil is laid bare to the world. At its core are the pervasive problems of religious persecution, inaction, indifference, and complicity in what many are calling genocide in Nigeria. The article clearly chronicles these hellish conditions, which the author captures in the following:


The “intensification of conflict” in Nigeria in recent years comes at a time when Christians in the country have suffered some of the worst atrocities inflicted on Churchgoers anywhere in the world. Since 2009, Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group in “allegiance” with Daesh (ISIS) extremists in Iraq and Syria, has 424 “inflicted mass terror on civilians, killing 20,000 Nigerians, kidnapping thousands and displacing nearly two million”.425 The kidnapping of “mostly Christian girls”426 from a school in Chibok north-east Nigeria in April 2014 and the forced “conversions” to Islam of many of the students, demonstrated the anti-Christian 427 agenda of the militants.


The reader quickly comes to grips with the realities of Nigeria's Middle Belt, a region replete with torture, kidnappings, and killings, where over 20,000 Nigerians have been murdered since 2009! Amid the carnage and bloodshed, the silence from the world community is as disturbing as it is deafening. News coverage has been scant, and international leaders offer no floor speeches, resolutions, or in-country meetings on behalf of persecuted Nigerian Christians. One would think that at least religious leaders or ecumenical organizations would champion Nigeria's cause under the banner of human rights, but silence prevails here too.


Ethnic and religious conflict has been a part of Nigeria's history far too long, but as Eniola Anuoluwapo Soyemi writes in her 2016 article that appeared in The Conversation,

Failures of a weak state are to blame for Nigeria’s ethnicity problem, the problem begins and ends with the State and the government's inability to enact policies that facilitate cultural and ethnic trust among its many demographic groups. This is a compelling article that offers a excellent analysis as reflected in the passage below.


Although ethnicity is far from being a uniquely Nigerian phenomenon, it presents a serious challenge to Nigeria’s stability.


If we are to believe Robert Putnam’s thesis on national cohesion, trust is at the very centre of any successfully functioning society. But this trust is something that nation after nation, and country after country, has always had to build. And in Nigeria’s case, an inability to take nation-building seriously has enabled the persistence of the country’s ethnic divisions.


Ethnic divisions persist in countries like Nigeria not because the “cultures” of those countries are predisposed to ethnic strife, but as a result of a weak state. It is a weak state that has, up until now, been incapable of capitalising on policies that enhance and benefit a singular Nigerian national identity.


Countries like Nigeria, which has more than 250 ethnic groups and more than 500 spoken languages, are tautologically explained to simply be too “culturally” heterogeneous to ever be cohesive. It does not help that often “culture” takes on any and whatever meaning the user wishes to imply.


Sadly, where the Nigerian state does make an impact on the lives of individuals, these benefits are rarely in the provision of public goods available to all without consideration to wealth, gender, or ethnicity. Instead, it is in the provision of narrow economic benefits to individuals with personal links to specific actors in government.


As such, the socioeconomic importance of ethnic ties is maintained, and so is ethnic-based mistrust.


Soyemi convincincingly captures the essence of Nigeria's complex socioeconomic situation, and deeply rooted in this turmoil are the problems of religious intolerance and religious persecution. From world leaders to the global faith-community, the silence of the Christians worldwide must be broken to shed light on the atrocities in Nigeria's Middle Belt and to elevate everyone's moral expectations and moral outrage to effectuate change for the common good. Thankfully, Catholic bishops in Nigeria are challenging the government to reform and respond in meaningful ways. Ultimately, if conditions continue to deteriorate, church leaders globally must descend upon Nigeria as the collective Christian voice to defend religious freedom and to overwhelm inhumanity with boldness and the power of purpose in efforts to restore order and rebuild the walls of Nigeria, socially, politically, economically, and spiritually (1).

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  1. "Rebuild the Walls" is a direct reference to the biblical story of the prophet Nehemiah and his vision to move Jerusalem from desolation to restoration. See Nehemiah 1:1-7; 2: 4-5, 17-18.

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