Nigeria: Militants wielding axes, machetes kill 27 Christians ahead of gubernatorial election

AFP via Getty Images/KOLA SULAIMON
AFP via Getty Images/KOLA SULAIMON

In a recent wave of violence, militants targeted Christian communities in Nigeria’s Kaduna state resulting in at least 27 deaths, according to a U.S.-based persecution watchdog whose sources suspect the attacks were aimed at preventing Christians from voting in the gubernatorial election.

The assailants, who had previously attacked the Agwan Wakili area in Kaduna, killing at least 17 people, returned this week and struck the Mubushi and Langson communities, which left at least 10 dead a few miles from Agwan Wakili, the watchdog International Christian Concern reported. 

At least 10 people have been reported killed in this week’s attack on Langson, the Nigerian newspaper The Guardian reported. According to ICC, 14 others were injured.

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Security forces had been deployed to the sites after the attacks, the group added, noting that its representative visited the scene to document the aftermath and gather photographic evidence, but military officials confiscated his phone.

During the night-time attack, most villagers were sleeping outdoors due to the intense heat, while others kept watch as they had received a prior warning, ICC said, adding that witnesses suggested the attack was carried out to prevent Christians from voting in the election.

A local leader was quoted as saying that the assault was a “political massacre of Christians” in areas where the ruling All Progressives Congress party was likely going to lose Saturday’s gubernatorial election. An area leader from the Labour Party was also running for governor of Kaduna, and the people of the attacked communities were expected to vote for him.

The source added that Christian farmers in Nigeria often face heightened violence during election periods.

Another ICC source said some militants are members of the Nigeria army.

An ICC staffer received a message from a contact indicating that a helicopter had flown over the community shortly before the attack, potentially to survey populated areas, analyze security measures and facilitate the militants’ infiltration.

Earlier this month, gunmen suspected to be bandits killed the son of a village pastor and abducted his wife, along with three others, in an attack in Karimbu-Kahugu community in Lere Local Government Area of Kaduna.

Christian rights groups have warned for years about the deteriorating religious freedom conditions in Nigeria amid the rise of terror groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State in the northeast. Advocates have also warned about an increase in deadly violence against predominantly Christian communities committed by radical herders in the farming-rich Middle Belt states as the country deals with desertification and erosion of natural resources.

Critics of the Muhammadu Buhari government contend it is not doing enough to thwart the violence.

However, the U.S. State Department under President Joe Biden reaffirmed its decision to remove Nigeria from its list of countries of particular concern for religious freedom violations after conducting what it described as a “careful review.” Nigerian Christians, human rights groups and members of Congress objected to the Biden administration's decision to lift the CPC designation from Nigeria. 

The CPC designation carries with it the possibility for sanctions and other deterrence actions to influence those countries to improve religious freedom conditions.

A 2021 religious freedom report released by the State Department in June 2022 noted, “There was pervasive violence involving predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Christian, but also Muslim, farmers, particularly in the North Central, but also in the North West (where most farmers were Muslim) and South West regions.”

The report added, “According to the Nigeria security tracker maintained by the Council on Foreign Relations, there were an estimated 10,399 deaths from violent conflict during the year, compared with 9,694 in 2020.”

According to the watchdog group Open Doors, Nigeria ranks No. 6 on the organization’s 2023 World Watch List, which lists the top 50 worst countries for Christian persecution. The watchdog group reported that in 2022, 5,014 Christians were killed for their faith, and 4,726 were abducted.

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