Nigeria’s Christians trapped between COVID-19 and terrorism, human rights leader says
The combination of COVID-19 and the rise in terrorist activity in Nigeria has left Christians in that country in peril, said Nigerian human rights group leader Dalyop Solomon.
“Life became very, very brutish. You will wish you had not been born in this part of the world. There was no way out. There was no way out,” the CEO of the Emancipation Centre for Crisis Victims in Nigeria told The Christian Post. “Behind us are the Egyptians, in front of us is the Red Sea.”
Nigeria’s government has advised Christians to stay in their homes to avoid COVID-19, said Solomon. But if they remain locked down at home, they cannot escape when groups of terrorists attack them. The government fails to respond to these attacks, which have increased in frequency across Nigeria. In 2020, human rights groups estimated that over 2,200 Christians were murdered by radical Islamist militants.
“Prior to this time, the attacks were only concentrated in a few communities, but we can see now it has become very pervasive. Only a few states were not touched by terror attacks. They have expanded the attacks to become land grabs,” he said.
The attacks during the pandemic are also having long-term consequences. Many Nigerians rely on farming to survive. Since radical Fulani militants often destroy or plunder crops when they attack, farmers' livelihoods are destroyed, said Solomon. COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from leaving their homes to plant new crops.
“Both two seasonal farmings we have in Nigeria have been aggravated by the actions of Fulani hitmen grazing [cattle] into farm crops that are about to be harvested,” he said. “Having expended the little an individual has for harvest for the family, just overnight all those dreams are shattered by the barbaric activities of the herders. There won’t be food for the families, and government is not providing food security.”
Between COVID-19 and Fulani raids on crops, it’s likely only one in five Nigerian farms harvested what it planted this year, Solomon explained. The nation has never seen such widespread destruction of crops, and Nigerians will likely face famine in 2021.
Other news outlets have also reported about the concerns over the potential for famine. When Islamists kill farmers, people fear to go out and plant their fields.
Starvation drives people to despair, Solomon said. People turn to robbery, prostitution and selling children into slavery to survive.
“A single pandemic ought to have made us united to see how we can survive this tragic development. But it’s rather turned out to be that COVID-19 has unleashed terror attacks,” he said.
The United States added Nigeria to its list of countries that have engaged in or tolerated ongoing egregious religious persecution.
Government inaction suggests that Nigeria’s pandemic response has hidden motives, Solomon believes.
“It appears to be politically framed,” he said of the pandemic in Nigeria, which has affected around 90,000 people and led to 1,311 deaths. “People affected began to wonder whether it is true that COVID-19 is as real as the way it has been globally reported, or if it is a ploy to instill fears in the minds of the people so militias will have a soft target to unleash hideous crimes on unsuspecting individuals.”
Farmers who report attacks by Islamists don’t receive justice from the government, Solomon said. Instead, they single themselves out for attacks by the terrorists.
“Unless the Nigerian government is purposeful in its approach and its action to tread the path of justice so every individual is treated equally as a member of the human family, I have not seen the prospect of having a secure nation. I have not seen the prospect of having a nation run right. I have not seen the prospect of having a country that will thrive economically,” he said.
After receiving death threats from Islamist terrorists for his human rights work, Solomon spent most of the Christmas season in hiding.
He said the threats make him feel more sad than afraid.
“That one has to go hide out simply because of telling the truth, it’s quite a sad experience,” he said. “This is not the intention of God for man. The truth is God Himself, and one cannot speak God in a situation because some individuals fear that their hideous activities will be exposed.”
Solomon asked for Christians around the world to put pressure on the Nigerian government to do justice.
“Please, as a matter of conscience, faith and love for people under persecution I ask for an intervention and provision of relief materials. Christians in Nigeria need humanitarian aid to cushion the impact of alarming destruction that has been meted out on Christendom as a whole,” he said.