C: Bishop Jude Arogundade (via Instagram)

Nigerian Bishop says West must act to stop ‘mayhem’ of Christian ‘genocide’

Nigeria is at risk of following in the footsteps of Afghanistan and being overrun by Islamic rebels unless the West acts firmly to stop terrorist violence in the African nation, a Nigerian Bishop has warned British politicians.

Christians make up roughly half of Nigeria’s population, and Christians have been subject to increased risk of violence as part of wider political violence playing out in the country. There has been a worrying rise in the number of attacks on Christian churches in Nigeria, increasing from 18 in 2019, 31 in 2020, to 23 in the first six months of 2022, according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data (ACLED).

Islamic terrorist groups including Islamic State (ISIS) and Boko Haram have taken responsibility for increased attacks on Christianity in the region, and have been blamed for the undermining of freedom of religion across Nigeria.

Bishop Jude Arrogunda, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Ondo, said that Christians in his country and suffering intense persecution that is now bordering on genocide. He made the plea for assistance in London on 16 November as he attended the launch of ‘Persecuted and Forgotten?’, a report on Christians oppressed for their faith from 2020-2022. The report was published by Aid to the Church in Need.

He began his address in the Houses of Parliament by recalling a massacre in his own diocese which took place on 5 June. The horrifying attack at St. Francis Catholic Church in Owo killed 41 people and seriously injured 73 others. Those responsible have yet to be held responsible.

“Like other attacks on churches in Nigeria, no one has been charged for committing this crime,” he said.

“No one or group of people should have the audacity under any circumstance to unleash the level of mayhem going on in Nigeria on innocent citizens,” he added.

“The world must insist that terrorists, their sponsors and their sympathizers be brought to justice. Please, ask the Nigerian government to deploy all the legal instruments and political institutions for protecting and enforcing the rights and freedom of the minority to stop the killings.”

The report investigated religious freedom across 24 countries from 2020-2022. It reported an increase in the oppression or persecution of the Christian population in three-quarters of those nations. 

While the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria has “repeatedly” spoken out against the situation, calls for action and support have fallen on deaf ears, Bishop Arrogunda claimed.

“We have walked for life, protested and even called the President (Muhammadu Buhari) to resign if he is incapable of fulfilling the basic purpose of government — the security of lives and properties of citizens. Even at that, nothing has changed,” he said.

He pointed to the harrowing situation in the province, as he highlighted how over 3,000 people have been killed as of June this year in Nigeria amid increased cases of terrorism, which he described as a “genocide”.

“With 3,478 people killed as of June this year and the increased cases of terror thereafter”, the Bishop said, adding that he strongly wished to urge the UK government and “all people of goodwill to compel the Nigerian government to stop the genocide”.

He said that without help from other nations, Nigeria faces the same fate as countries like Afghanistan, adding that the entire country is “on edge” at the moment amid fears the violence and targeted persecution will escalate and spread further. 

“Or, in the least, ask for help from other countries before Nigeria is overrun, as is the case of Afghanistan,” the bishop said.

“The entire nation is on the edge, apprehensive of a major offensive that may sweep round the entire country,” he added. “Already, many embassies were forced to close down (the) last two weeks as a result of an intelligence report predicting (a) major attack in Abuja, the federal capital of Nigeria.”

The Bishop also said the belief that violence in Nigeria is “caused by climate change” is wrong, adding: “This pogrom is not caused by climate change as believed by some Western climate change ideologists. It is far from it. It is clearly the use of terrorism to accomplish an age-long ethno/religious objective. The world must stop this evil and hold the perpetrators accountable”.

In other places across the globe, the situation is also dire for Christians. More than 7,600 Nigerian Christians were reportedly murdered from January 2021 to June 2022, with a sharp increase in terrorist violence recorded in Africa. In Asia, state authoritarianism was reported as the main factor behind increased oppression with North Korea reported as the worst offender. 

Christians in North Korea are officially represented by the Korean Christian Federation, which is a state controlled body which has responsibility for contacts with Churches and governments abroad. The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights published their most recent report on North Korea last year; it stated North Korea’s Government is “engaged in a systematic and widespread attack” on the groups that it considers to be a threat to the regime which includes religious and faith groups.

Meanwhile, the report noted that there have been 710 incidents of anti-Christian violence in India between January 2021 and the beginning of June 2022. In October 2021, during a mass rally in Chhattisgarh, Swami Paramatmananda called for Christians to be killed, leading to applause from members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The report noted that India had witnessed 710 incidents of anti-Christian violence between January 2021 and the start of June 2022, driven in part by political extremism.

In one instance, members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party applauded during a mass rally in Chhattisgarh in October 2021 as Swami Parmatmananda called for Christians to be killed.

The report is part of a body of recent evidence which points to an increase in Christian persecution worldwide. In 2022, advocacy organisation Open Doors expressed high levels of concern in its report which stated that at  least 360 million Christians experienced “high levels of persecution and discrimination.” The group reported that such discrimination was at levels 20 million higher than the year previous.

It also made the alarming estimation that the number of Christians killed because of their faith surged to 5,898 in 2022, up from 4,761 in 2021. Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen saw the highest rates of persecution globally according to Open Doors. Such persecution included attacks on places of worship, disinformation, legal threats, intimidation, and stereotyping.

On Thursday, a debate at Westminster Hall on Christian Persecution: Freedom of religion or Belief heard from Jim Shannon MP and Fiona Bruce MP.

DUP MP Jim Shannon, who proposed the debate topic to the Backbench Business Committee, said he hoped the debate would highlight the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and the Far East, including in countries such as Iraq, Nigeria, and North Korea.

The debate heard how international law provides for the protection of Freedom of Religious Belief. Under the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the right to freedom of religion or belief, in both public and private, is protected. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also outlines that all have the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief, and to manifest this through worship, observance, practice and teaching.

In 2020, Fiona Bruce MP was appointed the UK Special Envoy for FoRB by the UK Government. The Envoy supports the implementation of the Bishop of Truro’s recommendations on protecting Christians from persecution (see below) and UK international efforts to raise cases of concern.

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