By Jonathon Van Maren
July 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – On February 24, the Colosseum in Rome was illuminated in scarlet red to remember Christians being persecuted around the world, the eerie crimson illumination representing the blood of millions who had died, or are still suffering today. Presumably, the Colosseum was selected because it has long been rumored to have hosted the public execution of many Christians, but a more accurate location for martyrdoms can actually be found about twenty minutes away, where St. Peter’s Basilica now stands on the location of Nero’s circus, which once featured the vilest scenes of savagery, lit at night by crucified Christians set ablaze atop their crosses to serve as living torches for the crowd. I did not know, when I first saw the Vatican Obelisk that now stands in St. Peter’s Square, that it had presided over these bloody events—and may have been the last object the Apostle Peter saw as he died in the arena, crucified like his Master.
One of the women who gathered outside the Colosseum that rainy night in February was Rebecca Bitrus, a Nigerian Christian who was held captive by Boko Haram Islamist militants, who savagely beat her and raped her for the duration of her two-year captivity. She was there to draw attention to the plight of Christians in Nigeria—especially women and girls—who face a nearly-constant threat of abduction, sexual assault, and forced marriage from not only Boko Haram, but other Muslim groups as well—and Nigerian Christians have been calling on their government and the international community to notice their plight and come to their aid.
Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang, the chairman of the Denominational Heads of the Plateau and Christian Association of Nigeria, wrote in an open letter on June 29 to the federal government that, “We observe the continuous abduction of underaged Christian girls by Muslim youths who are forcefully converted to Islam and taken in for marriage without the consent of their parents…This is even more worrisome as such acts are supported by several highly placed clerics and Emirs.”
The situation in Nigeria has been steadily worsening over the past several months, as Muslim militants attack agrarian Christian communities with near impunity, murdering pregnant women, killing children, and raping girls. Thousands of Christians have been killed—Rev. Dr. Soja Bewarang estimates that over 6,000 have been murdered so far—largely by Islamic Fulani herdsmen armed with AK-47s and even swords. The government has been attempting to ignore the religious dimensions of these attacks and instead claim that this is merely an economic war by herdsmen on farmers, rather than by Muslims on Christians. Dr. Soja Bewarang’s open letter on behalf of the church leaders of Plateau State begs the government to take action immediately:
The renewed attacks on Christian communities and churches across Nigeria and particularly in the middlebelt of the country where over 6000 persons mostly children, women and the aged have been maimed and killed in night raids by armed Fulani herdsmen have necessitated our outcry through this medium with a view to call on those in government authority, especially the President and Commander- in- Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, to stop this senseless and blood shedding in the land and avoid a state of complete anarchy where the people are forced to defend themselves…
We are particularly worried at the widespread insecurity in the country where wanton attacks and killings by armed Fulani herdsmen, bandits and terrorists have been taking place on a daily basis in our communities unchallenged despite huge investments in the security agencies. The perpetrators are being deliberately allowed to go scot free. It is even more worrisome that these huge numbers of over 6000 deaths in 2018 alone have been recorded in various attacks, especially in the northern and middle belt states of Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Kaduna, Kwara, Borno, Zamfara and other states when the country is not in a state of war.
The worst that have shocked the world is the recent genocide and blood bath in Barkin Ladi, parts of Bokkos, Riyom and Bassa Local Government Areas of Plateau state. There is no doubt that the sole purpose of these attacks is aimed at ethnic cleansing, land grabbing and forceful ejection of the Christian natives from their ancestral land and heritage.
The attacks by the so-called herdsmen across the local areas listed in 11 villages of Plateau state where over 200 persons were brutally killed and our churches destroyed without any intervention from security agencies in spite of several distress calls made to them, further buttresses our concern that the security architecture of the land and the handlers have woefully failed.
In response, several days after the open letter, the office of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement on July 5 suggesting that the Christian indigenous farmers of the Plateau State surrender a portion of their ancestral lands to the Islamic Fulani herdsmen who have been terrorizing them in order to placate them and hopefully stop the bloodshed. The Nigerian president seems determined to ignore the religious dimension of the ongoing murders and kidnappings, instead simplifying the problem to one of grazing territory as well as resources—a problem that could be solved if the largely-Christian farmers simply turned over some of their ancestral property to the men who have been murdering their elderly, kidnapping their girls, and raping their women.
Femi Adesina, a special advisor to President Buhari, has now gone as far as to say that giving the Fulani terrorists land to ranch (under the dubious presumption that they will cease their harassment of Christian communities and live side-by-side in harmony) is a good solution to the ongoing killings because giving up ancestral lands is better than dying. “In the Plateau state, where we had the recent orgy of killings, the government has offered land for ranches,” he reportedly stated, “and I tell you that some people are interested in this thing not being resolved. You can only have ancestral attachment when you are alive. If you are talking about ancestral attachment when you are dead, how does attachment matter?”
The Nigerian Christians have urged the government to recognize that what is taking place amounts to a genocide in progress—and that the official characterization of the ongoing raids by Fulani herdsmen on Christian farming communities cannot be referred to as a “clash” when only one side is engaging in violence, while the other side is perpetually victimized by this violence. They have also decried the arrest and condemnation of young Christian men defending their communities from attacks while the Fulani herdsmen continue their violent raids unmolested and un-arrested by the government, which they point to as evidence of a government conspiracy to assist the Fulani in their goals—President Buahri himself, after all, is ethnically Fulani.
Christians have been persecuted around the world for 2,000 years, from the circus of the Emperor Nero to the Plateau grasslands of Nigeria, to the gulags of the Soviet Union and the concentration camps of North Korea. It is essential that Christians in the West—where Christian communities are beginning to face marginalization and ostracization, but are thus far entirely free of the physical persecution and brutal violence experienced by others around the world—remember these persecuted communities and do what they can to remember them in prayer, as well as support organizations that seek to assist those suffering at the hands of those who hate them for their faith.
The plight of the Nigerian Christians has gone unnoticed by many, and raising awareness about what they are enduring is also important. Thousands of people are being killed by a group that is currently deadlier in terms of violence even than Boko Haram—but very few people have head of the Fulani terrorists. That should change.
Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.