An Assessment Of Claims On ‘Christian Genocide’ In Nigeria

A Non-Governmental Organisation in Nigeria, the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), has regularly released figures since 2018, which it says are evidence of an ongoing genocide against Christians by jihadists and jihadist herdsmen in the country. But an analysis of statistics from reliable sources shows that these claims are inaccurate.

Over 1,200 Christians killed in 2020?

In July, the Family Research Council, a “fundamentalist Protestant” activist group based in the United States, published a report titled, “The Crisis of Christian Persecution in Nigeria”,  authored by Lela Gilbert, Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at the council.

“A July 15, 2020 headline reports that 1,202 Nigerian Christians were killed in the first six months of 2020,” Gilbert wrote. 

“This is in addition to 11,000 Christians who have been killed since June 2015. Such violence has reached a point at which expert observers and analysts are warning of a progressive genocide—a “slow-motion war” specifically targeting Christians across Africa’s largest and most economically powerful nation.”

She added that reports about the assaults rarely made it to mainstream media outlets and  instead “generally found in publications sponsored by Christian organisations in their newsletters and websites”.

The report was shared on August 4 by a Twitter account that appears to belong to Nnamdi Kanu, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The tweet has since been retweeted nearly 6,000 times and liked by over 4,100 users.

Gilbert has made two claims here; that over 1,200 Christians were killed between January and June this year due to extremism and political violence, and 11,000 were killed between 2015 and 2019.

Verifying Gilbert’s claims

The source of Gilbert’s first claim is a July report by The Christian Post (CP), an interdenominational news website based in the U.S., which in turn referenced a report released in July by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, an advocacy group based in Anambra State, Southwest Nigeria. The report was written by Emeka Umeagbalasi, a graduate of Criminology and Security Studies from the National Open University of Nigeria and described by CP as a Christian criminologist.

Umeagbalasi said “no fewer than 1,202 defenceless Christians” were hacked to death in the first six months of 2020: including 812 by “Jihadist Fulani herdsmen” and 390 killed by Boko Haram, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), and other groups.

“Between 1st Jan and 14th May 2020 when we did our last update, not less than 200 Christians were hacked to death by Boko Haram/ISWAP; and out of over 260 killed by the same Jihadist sect from 15th May to 30th June 2020, not less than 100 were strongly believed to be Christians,” he said.

He added that “while 100% of victims of Jihadist Herdsmen killings are Christians, it is symmetrically 60%/40% or 50%/50% for Christians and Muslims killed in recent times by Jihadist Boko Haram/ISWAP”.

“This is unlike in 2009 to 2017 when it was 80% Christian victims and 20% Muslim victims. In other words, Jihadist Herdsmen target and kill Christians only or burn or destroy their properties including dwelling houses, farmlands and worship and learning centres,” he said.

He further claimed that all the areas attacked by “jihadist herdsmen” are Christian communities and there was no evidence showing that Muslims or their properties had been victims. “Ansaru Jihadists, on their part, strictly kill Christians including abducted foreigners while asymmetric Muslim deaths in their hands are seen as accidental occurring under exceptional situations,” he said.

The group, Intersociety, said from July 2009 to 2020, 32,000 Christian lives had been lost: 15,000 deaths caused by herdsmen and 16,800 by Boko Haram and ISWAP.

While the report did not provide references for its statistics, it occasionally cited a few news websites and said it obtained certain figures from groups such as the Southern Kaduna People’s Union, Adara Development Association, Tiv Youth Forum, Tiv Cultural and Social Association, “as well as other dependable sources”.

“Attached below is a separate file containing ‘Statistical Sources’ of this research report,” Umeagbalasi wrote at the end of the report. But HumAngle could not find this document. A search through the group’s website yielded no result or additional information about the claims.


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