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By Mindy Belz – WSJ –

The government seems powerless to stop the massacres and mass abductions..

Christmas Eve was balmy in Nigeria’s Plateau State, where the Rev. Gideon Dawel’s family has lived for decades. Mr. Dawel, 45, pastor of Christ Apostolic Church, was musing about the next day’s service when men in this area of villages, Bokkos, decided to post a patrol. Muslim Fulani herdsmen—some of whom had been terrorizing the region—had shown up nearby. Mr. Dawel phoned a Fulani he knew to ask what might happen. Nothing, he was told. 

Thirty minutes later that changed. “We could not recognize them from afar in the dark,” Mr. Dawel says in an interview. “They were about 100 men with AK-47 rifles. They had the guns, machetes and petrol to burn with. They shot at everyone and everything—rapidly, rapidly, rapidly.”

Before the watchmen could reach police, the attackers set fire to homes and Mr. Dawel’s church. They torched crops and fields. As the gunmen vanished, Mr. Dawel returned home to find his wife and five daughters dead. He fainted at the sight and had to be carried from the village. The next day survivors buried his family without him.

For 48 hours last Christmas, seemingly coordinated attacks struck 37 communities across a 250-mile stretch of Nigeria’s Middle Belt. Fulani terrorists reportedly killed at least 160 people, set more than 220 homes ablaze, burned vehicles and churches. “What ought to be a night of glad tidings turned out to be that of horror,” wrote Dawari George, a former member of Nigeria’s National Assembly.

Gaza and Ukraine are deadly, but if you’re a Christian, the most likely place in the world to be hunted and killed is Nigeria—a diverse country with a constitutional federal government and one of Africa’s largest economies. According to the monitor Open Doors, during the year ending in September some 4,100 Christians were killed and 3,300 kidnapped in raids across the country. From December 2023 to February 2024, 1,336 people were killed in Plateau State, Amnesty International reports. At least 750 churches and other Christian sites were reportedly targeted, many forced to close.

Nigeria’s Middle Belt, a cultural and political hub, was once a buffer between the Muslim north and the Christian south. Plateau State’s capital, Jos, has hosted a university for decades that produced leading politicians, novelists, actors and academics. Mr. Dawel’s village is barely 40 miles south.

But now Christians are being wiped off the map. At a meeting in February, Plateau State’s Baptist conference president, the Rev. Koeleh Saleh, said 62 members of his church had been killed in the preceding eight months. April marked the 10th anniversary of the Chibok kidnappings, when Boko Haram terrorists captured 276 mostly Christian teenage girls from their school in the northern state of Borno. President Obama pledged support, but U.S. drones and intelligence officers failed to rescue a single student. Many escaped on their own or were ransomed; some 80 are still missing.

Many point to that event as an inflection point—when the government did so little to rescue so many. Since then, Nigerian national police and military fail so often to halt attacks or catch assailants that Christians believe they’re on the terrorists’ side. Eyewitnesses say checkpoints turn up empty once attackers arrive. Few are arrested while villages are left devastated and whole populations flee. More than a million Nigerians are displaced by the violence, according to United Nations estimates.

Some local leaders call the attacks genocide. That isn’t implausible, says Robert Destro, a former State Department official. “Massacres by themselves do not constitute genocide, but systematic attacks to get rid of people can be.” The attacks are doing exactly that, squandering blood, treasure and Africa’s rich ethnic heritage.

The Biden administration’s response has bewildered experts. While attacks worsen, the State Department in 2021 removed Nigeria from its list of “countries of particular concern”—nations persecuting religious believers that can be subjected to sanctions and penalties.

What else can be done? Community policing and early-warning systems for vulnerable communities might curb attacks. Formal talks between Fulani leaders and local pastors could forestall land disputes. A more capable national database to document attacks is overdue. People also can pray for peaceful coexistence, Mr. George adds.

Mr. Dawel now lives with his brother in Jos, where he tells me his children’s names and ages: Lois, 18; Patience, 14; Success, 11; Doris, 7; and Rohi, 4. He was married to his wife, Hanatu, 42, for almost 20 years. He doesn’t think he’ll ever go back to his village, but starting over feels impossibly difficult. “Every material thing I had in the world is gone now.”


Ms. Belz is a former senior editor at World Magazine and author of “They Say We Are Infidels.”

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