An evangelical church leader in Nigeria has called on state and federal officials to take urgent action to prevent a ‘genocide’ of the Irigwe people.
The Irigwe, an ethnic group in Nigeria’s Middle Belt with a sizeable Christian population, have been under increased attack by Fulani militants over July and August.
Pastor Stephen Baba Panya, president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), has called this ‘genocide’ and implored the state and federal governments to intervene.
Pastor Panya also called on the Nigerian Army and all security agencies to stop this genocide, claiming that the government of Nigeria has so far failed to protect the Irigwe people from Islamist militants.
According to reports, the pastor said, ‘The government must rise up to their responsibility of protecting lives and properties for all citizens, irrespective of their tribe, ethnicity, or religion.’
In just two weeks between July and August, Islamist militants burned down 405 houses and church buildings, destroyed thousands of hectares of crops, and displaced approximately 20,000 Irigwe people from 15 villages.
Among these figures, according to Barnabas Fund partners on the ground, are the 275 houses burned down in an attack which began on the evening of 31 July and in which seven people were killed.
Pastor Panya added, ‘The main town of Jebbu Miango and its surrounding villages such as Kpachudu, Kpetenvie, Nche-Tahu, Tafigana, DTV, and Zahwra are completely burnt down and displaced.
‘God is watching and listening to our prayers and supplications. We should not give up calling upon him for this situation to be brought to an end, especially as all human authorities have woefully failed us.’
Thousands of Nigerian Christians are the victims of Islamist violence each year. Some 120 children from Bethel Baptist High School were kidnapped earlier this year; some have been released, but 83 others are still held captive.
While kidnappings like this are high-profile, many incidents of anti-Christian violence go unreported, so estimating the total death toll over time is hard.
But earlier this year, Mike Pompeo, former US Secretary of State, cited a figure of 1,500 Christian deaths in Nigeria in the first half of this year alone, with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom warning of a potential ‘Christian genocide’.