The Persecution of Nigeria’s Christians Continues as President Buhari Marks His First Year in Office
By ICC’s Nigeria Correspondent
May 29 marked the first anniversary of President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration into the Nigerian presidential seat.
Muhammadu Buhari was the first opposing candidate to ever win against a seated president, in this case incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari snagged the March 2015 election with more than 2 million votes.
After one year in office, Nigeria has faced continued assaults by terrorist groups, some of which President Buhari has persistently fought against, and others which have received little more than a side eye from the Muslim president.
The Threat of Boko Haram
Boko Haram is somewhat of a household name since it declared its allegiance to the Islamic State in March 2015. Needless to say, the terrorist group has become the face of Islamic extremism on the African continent, having murdered upwards of 15,000 people in its six-year history of military offensives.
President Buhari, in accordance with his 2015 election campaign, has vowed to destroy the group’s influence in Nigeria. In fact, this past December, Buhari claimed that the group was already “technically defeated” in that they have shifted their tactics away from traditional structured assaults to guerilla tactics.
The president’s confidence, however, is lacking substantial military gains against the group. Buhari himself claims that the success against Boko Haram will be measured by the return of the 219 missing Chibok girls—a reunion that the world is still eagerly awaiting
Chibok Girl Returned
On May 17, 2016 one of the 219 lost Chibok girls was found wandering on the edge of the Sambisa Forest with a baby and a man who claimed to be her husband.
After two years in captivity, Amina Ali Nkeki was returned to Chibok and reunited with her family. According to a Chibok community spokesman, Amina says that all but six of the 219 girls are still with Boko Haram militants in the Sambisa Forest.
While the return of this one girl brings great relief and hope for the other 218, the distrust among Christians against Buhari’s administration is ever-growing.
Among this community in particular, there seems to be an unequivocal belief that the abduction of the girls was tactically done to drive political and Islamic interest.
According to a pastor and relative of one of the abducted girls, “It was a very big political power play which delivered.”
The same relative explained how these beliefs stem from the unanswered question surrounding the Chibok abduction. Where were the school guards? Where was the school’s staff? Why was it so easy to move so many girls so quickly?
President Buhari is working against Boko Haram, there is no question about that, but suspicions still exist amongst Christians. This is rooted in the under-delivery of the abducted 219 but also in President Buhari’s seemingly blatant dismissal of other Christian sufferings in the nation.
The Fulani herdsmen pose possibly the greatest threat to Christians and overall security in Nigeria. While headlines continue to highlight the vicious crimes of Boko Haram, the Fulani massacres receive little attention from mainstream media; all this despite the fact that the Global Terrorism Index of 2015 accredited 81 percent of deaths in the Middle Belt of Nigeria to Fulani militants.
In regards to this phenomenon, President Buhari has practically turned a blind eye. While he recognizes that the attacks take place, he underscores the scope and the intent of the herdsmen. While Christians have undoubtedly been the primary targets of these massacres, President Buhari has spent the past year crediting the violence to cattle feuds and land disputes.
In Benue, Nigeria, between 2012 and 2014, more than 300 villages were attacked by Fulani militants, killing an average of eight people per attack.
This past February, in a week’s time, the Fulani militants slaughtered 145 people in 25 different villages in the Agatu Local Government Area alone. After this, Buhari launched an investigation into the attacks.
After the investigation was underway, however, the Fulanis continued their attacks unabated.
In April, the militants expanded their reach into Nigeria’s southeastern region in Enugu State. Survivors of the attacks claimed to have seen Fulani militants armed with AK-47 assault rifles and machetes, causing many to question the source funding this group.
Nigerian Christians live in constant fear, with little support on this issue from their elected president. While Boko Haram continues to capture international attention for their atrocities in Nigeria, the Fulani militants have enjoyed almost complete impunity thus far.
One Year Down
In conclusion, President Muhammadu Buhari has seen success and failure in his first year. He has pushed Boko Haram back to guerilla tactics, regaining much of the stolen territory from the militants, and he has at least semi-recognized the consistent sufferings of the Christian minority.
In regards to Boko Haram, we can expect to see more and more success as the president and the Nigerian military continue to hunt them down. In regards to the Fulani militants, however, President Buhari cannot continue to ignore the real threat they present to the Christians in Nigeria.