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The West should recognise the genocide of Nigeria’s Christians

Following #RedWednesday 2022, Baroness Caroline Cox calls for the UK Government to recognise the persecution of Christians in Nigeria as a genocide.

A "genocide" is how one bishop recently described the situation facing the persecuted Christians of Nigeria.

More than 40 Christians were killed when extremists opened fire during the Pentecost Sunday Mass at St Francis Xavier Church, Owo in Bishop Jude Arogundade's diocese of Ondo. His resolute commitment to peace and justice gained international attention after the gun attack at a packed church in his diocese this summer.

The attack was one of the worst of many to befall a Christian community in Nigeria. It was particularly shocking as it took place in southern Nigeria, well away from conflict hotspots in the Middle Belt and Borno state in north-east Nigeria.

Reflecting on the scale of violence raging in his country, Bishop Jude said: "I say a genocide is taking pace. There is a concerted effort to drive Christians out of their lands by various means, including kidnapping and killing of lay people and priests, stealing land belonging to Christians and attacking churches during services."

Aid to the Church in Need figures show that more than 7,600 Christians in Nigeria have been killed in acts of terrorism and other violence within just 18 months amid growing concern about the country's security situation. These attacks are focused and premeditated, often targeting priests, pastors, church attendees and church infrastructure. I have seen it for myself.

The United Nations defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

Given that almost 8,000 Christians have been killed specifically through documented acts of terrorism, assassination and murder within just 18 months, and countless more wounded or injured for life, how much longer should it take the UN and western governments to concur with Bishop Jude's accurate diagnosis of a genocide taking place in Nigeria?

All the criteria for genocide are being fulfilled in Nigeria. Christians are being routinely killed and harmed physically, mentally and financially as a result of their non-adherence to Shari'a Islamic law imposed by force in the northern states of Nigeria. This violence is inflicted upon Christian communities precisely to bring about their destruction or removal from the northern and Middle Belt regions of Nigeria and areas considered part of Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP's) and Boko Haram's Islamic caliphate. Abducting Christian women, murdering their husbands and instilling fear into Christian communities daily, as well as destroying hospitals, certainly prevents births or the possibility of births in key conflict hotspots, and incidences such as the abduction, murder and imprisonment of the Chibok schoolgirls and Leah Sharibu – and many thousands of other school students – is the clearest evidence you can attain of the forcible transfer of children away from their Christian families into the hands of Islamist captors.

The UN rightly calls out certain genocides when they happen, but in the case of Nigeria's Christians, its recognition of the catastrophe may come too late. This delay costs lives and undermines the West's conviction that the United Nations is best placed to serve the needs of oppressed minorities.

Bishop Jude of Ondo entertains dreams for the future of his diocese, his Church and the world. Yet, unlike many other bishops of his time, he finds himself compelled to travel as far as London and Washington DC to ask for help. The routine murder and harassment of his own faithful has reached an unbearable point: taking his urgent trip to Westminster as an indication of the seriousness of the problem, he fears there may not be many members of his diocese left should the violence continue to escalate.

He launched Aid to the Church in Need's latest report in Parliament last month, ahead of #RedWednesday 2022, calling on governments around the world, starting with the UK, to proactively assist Christian faithful like those of Bishop Jude's diocese, whose only two realistic choices are to flee as displaced people or remain and suffer, forever facing the imminence of martyrdom.

Official portrait of Baroness Cox crop 2 2019

Baroness Caroline Cox is a crossbench Member of the House of Lords and is founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART).

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