In what has become a dark annual tradition, Islamic militants in Nigeria carried out targeted attacks on Christians on Christmas Eve. Up to 200 are confirmed dead and about 300 injured in the attacks that were carried out in 20 villages across the north-central state of Plateau. Islamic militants have carried out similar Christmas attacks for at least the last four years. 

The population of Nigeria is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, a religious split that largely follows geographic lines. The northern part of the country is predominantly Muslim, and the eastern and southern parts are heavily Christian. The middle of the country, sometimes called the “Middle Belt,” is ethnically and religiously diverse. 

Not surprisingly, the threat to Christians originated from the Islamic north, though it has now spread to southern regions. Three groups are responsible for what Open Doors  has called a campaign of “religious cleansing” against Christians. Boko Haram, one of the most notorious Islamist terrorist groups in the world, is responsible for killing thousands of Christians and displacing countless more since violence began to escalate in 2015. In recent years, their ruthlessness has been matched by a rival group, the Islamic State in West Africa 

As dangerous as these explicitly Islamist groups are, the Fulani herdsmen are worse. Because the Fulani territory in north Nigeria is suffering from a long-term drought, the Fulani are moving south to access water. To take land and drive out Christians, the herdsmen have raided and burned villages, slaughtered villagers, destroyed crops, and engaged in a host of other atrocities. It was the Fulani who carried out this year’s Christmas attacks. 

For years, the Nigerian government has denied the obvious religious dimensions of the Fulani herdsmen, instead claiming it to be a conflict between farmers and herders. Former President Muhammadu Buhari is a Fulani. Though he attempted to address some of the economic issues that drive Fulani militancy, he consistently denied that religion played any role in the conflict, pointing out that Muslim villages were also raided. However, the vast majority of attacks were committed against Christians, including Christians in churches on Christmas and Easter.  

In fact, the Fulani’s history of Islamic militancy dates back to the late 17th century.  Denying the religious dimensions of these attacks is pure propaganda, according to the governor of the state of Plateau, Caleb Mutfwang. In a New Year’s broadcast, he called for a week of mourning to begin 2024, referring to the recent killings as a “Christmas genocide” and acknowledging the over 400 that were killed just between April and June of 2023. 

“These unprovoked and simultaneous attacks in different villages were clearly premeditated and coordinated. 

“These series of attacks on our people are a clear case of criminality, insurgency, and terrorism and must be seen and handled in that manner if we must succeed in halting this wanton destruction of lives and property. 

“For the avoidance of doubt, it is a misrepresentation of facts to describe these needless and unprovoked attacks on our people as a Farmer-Herder clash, as has always been the traditional narrative. Let us call a spade a spade; this is simple genocide!” 

Indeed, what has happened to Nigerian Christians over the past decade and more meets the established international standards for the label genocide. And yet, as Johnnie Moore noted on X, “the @StateDept is reticent to speculate on the motive of the perpetrators of a massacre of 200 Christians in Nigeria on Christmas, in an area rife with terrorists.”  

It is highly suspect whether Nigerian Christians should expect help from Nigeria’s current president, who was sworn into office last May. Not only is Bola Ahmed Tinubu a Muslim, but he also broke with the tradition of selecting a Christian as vice president. Given the nation’s top two officeholders are Muslim, many are understandably skeptical of the president’s condemnation of the Plateau state attacks, as well as his promise that “the envoys of death, pain, and sorrow responsible for these acts will not escape justice.”  

Fueling the skepticism could be that in mid-December, President Tinubu referred to his predecessor as “an icon of truth, justice, and patriotism.” He then followed the habit of his predecessor in not acknowledging any religious motivation for the Christmas Day attacks.  

Even if everyone else does, Christians must not forget the spiritual root of this conflict. For over a century, God has been moving, and the Church has been expanding across Africa. In 1900, there wereonly 9.64 million Christians on the continent. Today, there are over 692 million, and they are among the most committed Christians in the world. It is not surprising that Satan would inspire their ongoing persecution.   

For our Nigerian brothers and sisters, we can fight on two fronts. First, we must continue to lobby our government on their behalf, asking our officials to put pressure on Nigeria to take more decisive action against Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen. Second, we must lobby Heaven for both our persecuted brothers and sisters and their persecutors, praying that God’s kingdom would advance and win even the jihadis to Jesus.  

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Photo Courtesy: ©GettyImages/mercava

Publish Date: January 3, 2024

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.