By Ifeoluwa Siddiq Oyelami
Last week, Aljazeera English published an editorial, ‘No church in the wild: Armed groups on Nigerian clergy abduction spree’ written by one Ope Adetayo. The article dwelled on the supposed targets of Christian clergies by armed groups in Nigeria. By arguing that armed groups in Nigeria are increasingly targeting Christians, especially clergies, the article portrayed a scenario that depicts the crucifixion of the “weak” Christians of Nigeria by their Muslim neighbours. While the author provided some statistics and narrations to support his claims, it is unfortunate and disappointing that these stats and narrations are self-serving and do not reveal the truth. For instance, citing the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), he claimed that there is a 25% increase in attacks targeting Christian; however, the same report the journalist(!) quoted from stated that “Despite the spike in anti-Christian attacks, the Christian community is not one of the predominant targets of political violence in Nigeria.”. Aside from the fact that the Christian community is not a (sole) target of violence, the increase in Christian targets is low compared to the overall rise in armed violence in Nigeria. According to the same ACLED report, there is a 29% increase in targets against civilians. Consequently, even without consulting any other source, we can safely establish that there is an increase in violent attacks across the country, regardless of the religious ethnicity of the target.
Perhaps the Al Jazeera article writer may want to consider the way of many other Christian writers and journalists who say, ‘we are talking about people attacked in the churches.’ So sorry, but this may not also answer the problem of false presentation and interpretation of statistics as stats may not even augment their victimisation claims. It appears Muslims have been so sensitive and do not keep statistics of mosque attacks; it is evident that mosque attacks have increased considerably per the overall increase in violent crimes in Nigeria. For example, just a few days after Al Jazeera published the article, a mosque in Zamafara state was attacked, and worshippers were kidnapped. This year alone, several attacks perpetuated on the mosques, their congregations, and especially the imams may be mentioned. However, Muslims have always seen these events as ‘acts of aggressors taking advantage of our vulnerability as against the Christians’ ‘Muslims are trying to erase us’ mantra.
The Nigerian Christian victim mentality is not new, and they have always used it to bolster their imaginative Islamisation theory. This has made them so insensitive towards events that it is not uncommon to see headlines like “Christians and other civilians died in the attack” in the Christian-controlled local media. Thus, Ope Adetayo is only one example of how those in this school purposefully mislead the public by manipulating data and facts. As Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics”.
The story from Al Jazeera not only manipulated the data on purpose but also came at an odd time. A few days before it, two Christian soldiers were arrested on charges of a Muslim cleric’s murder. The incident has since then led to increasing concerns about how violent crimes against Muslims in Nigeria are being played down. Thus, it is somewhat easy to conclude that the article about killings of Christian clergies is but a counter-narrative to Sheikh Goni Gashua’s case. Additionally, although a regular writer on Al Jazeera, the author might have chosen the platform to publish this piece since his story would sell better on a medium thought to be relatively sensitive on Muslim matters.
Having stated that, it is essential to emphasise that we do not condone the evil acts committed against Christians because of their faith. However, it is incredibly unfair for Christians in Nigeria to depict themselves solely as victims, while in reality, everyone in the country is suffering from rising violence due to the country’s economic and social woes.
Violent Crimes in Nigeria
In recent times, violent crimes, especially kidnapping, targeted homicide and banditry, have escalated and spread to virtually all the regions of the federation. These crimes have been committed by so-called Islamist groups, bandits, and secessionist groups in the east. Since many speculators perceive bandits and Islamist groups to be representative of Islam due to their origin in Muslim-dominated regions, it is necessary to give a mention to them.
The bandit groups mainly originated from the Northwestern part of the country and have terrified the people (Muslim population) for years. Banditry came into the spotlight during the rush for gold in Zamfara state, a poor Muslim state which, like many other northern states, lacks proper policing. At the turn of 2021, while trying to curb the violent activities in the state, the government banned all sorts of mining in Zamfara. Since then, bandit groups seek their extorts from kidnapping- a rather lucrative business popularised by Boko Haram and some southern miscreants. However, the reality is that banditry/kidnapping in Nigeria does not discriminate based on demographic characteristics such as religion or ethnicity. Thus, anyone might fall prey to it. What of the so-called Islamists? Boko Haram, Ansaru and ISWAP.
The terrorist groups: The misguided Muslims
Though not our topic here, anyone who understands the theological framework and modi operandi of Boko Haram, Ansaru and ISWAP, would realise how callous and absurd these groups are. I do not think it is necessary to state here that these people do not represent Islam, nor do they have the Muslims in Nigeria at heart. Undoubtedly, their harms have befallen Muslims more, morally and materially. More Muslims have been killed by these groups, even though they hide behind videos to quote the Qur’an and echo the term Jihad!
Those spreading the theory that people (Christians) are targeted because of their faiths may not realise that this is truer for Muslims than Christians. Yes, some Christians have indeed been killed (because of their faith). But then, Muslims are being killed because of their faith too. At least, it is possible to name more Muslim scholar victims of Boko Haram and its extensions than Christian clergy victims. For instance, Prof. Adam Okene Ahmad, a security expert at the Nigeria Defence Academy, stated in his inaugural lecture that between 2011 and 2015 alone, Boko Haram killed more than 200 Islamic scholars. And guess… that was because of their faith!
It’s tragic, of course, that we’re spending time debating who suffers the most as a result of crime instead of thinking about ways to prevent it. Then again, issues can only be resolved when facts and figures are clarified, and no one presents themselves as the victim and the others as the villain. Fighting violent extremism in Nigeria also requires the collaboration of several parties. Thus, Christians should stop making up false narratives that stereotype Muslims in Nigeria and make them the targets of online harassment. This action, in and of itself, constitutes an act of violence. If this keeps up, the focus may shift away from finding a solution to the violence and into debating body counts.
The Mischievous Christians
Another problem with the Christians, represented by The Christian Association of Nigeria CAN and some pentecostal leaders, is to portray the government as confederate in the terror theatre just because a Muslim leads it. This is not an excuse for the government’s actions but a sobering warning that we will not succeed in our fight against terrorism and other forms of violent crime as long as we use it as a political weapon. This is crucial since most violent crimes in Nigeria today can be traced back to social inequality and structural violence. And who else than Muslims and Christians was responsible for this?
In reference to the original Al Jazeera piece, we can see how Christian writers and leaders in Nigeria have attempted to play the victim card in the face of rising violence. More sickening is that many travel abroad to present this bleak picture of life in Nigeria to a worldwide audience. The victim mentality of some Christian leaders in Nigeria was demonstrated by CAN when it rejected the United States government’s decision to remove Nigeria from its list of religious violators last year. Today, a rising number of Christian individuals and groups go about purpoting fake and one-sided stories in the west to maintain the flow of funds and aid to their local projects and perhaps secure asylums in these countries.
Insofar as we can all see, Nigeria has a problem with security. There is no question that some of the crimes are motivated by religious beliefs. However, it is wrong to politicise situations along religious lines, especially when many crimes are not motivated by religion at all. Some of these crimes were even once blamed on Muslims before it was discovered that the perpetrators were actually Christians. However, no one appears to be paying attention because the Christians’ powerful media and victim mentality continue to help them act out the three monkeys.
Cyberbullying Muslims for the atrocities of certain Muslims while downplaying their vulnerability is itself evil. There are some misguided Muslims who use religion to commit crimes, but trying to indirectly defame Muslims by using fake claims and deceptive statistics does not improve the situation. When a Christian far-right murders a non-Christian immigrant in the United States, everyone discusses the issues; no sane person goes about portraying Christians or whites as villains. At the same time, nobody cyberbullies liberals because of the deeds of violent environmentalists. But then, in Nigeria, Muslims are cyberbullied because some criminals, of whom they are victims, claim to share the same faith with them.