“We need to do something that we are nervous about doing, but that we have to do,” he said. “We need to go to Muslim leaders and Christian leaders who are for peace, and say ‘we’ve got to have you out at the front of the discussion saying that our faith does not support the use of religion to kill other people as a way of proselytizing.”
The country was rocked by violence in 2020. The Bishop of Gboko, in the center of Nigeria, told a U.S. congressional commission in December that “[t]he mass slaughter of Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt, by every standard, meets the criteria for a calculated genocide from the definition of the Genocide Convention.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, noted that Fulanis have been driven into the country’s Middle Belt by desertification caused by climate change; they have also been targeted for counter-reprisals, he said.
Nevertheless, “[t]he largest, dominant driver of conflict in the Middle Belt region is committed by Fulani extremists, who appear driven in large part by ethno-religious chauvinism, against mostly Christian farmers – though I do note that elsewhere Shia Muslims are also victims, and that intra-Sunni conflicts also exist within the Muslim community as well,” Smith said.
Nigerian Catholic clergy and seminarians have been targeted for kidnappings and attacks this year.
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In February of 2020, an 18 year-old Nigerian seminarian was kidnapped and killed by gunmen. One year later, the local Bishop of Sokoto lamented that the spate of kidnappings had gotten “progressively worse.”
“The harvest of death has gotten richer, more and more people are dying,” Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said in February.
In March, gunmen attacking a church in Benue State killed a priest and at least six others. Just days before, another Nigerian priest in the diocese of Warri was released after a week-long kidnapping by gunmen.
In February, Pope Francis prayed for 317 schoolgirls who were abducted from their school in Jangebe.