We must speak up for those of faith who face persecution, including Christians in Nigeria

The issue of freedom of religion and belief in Nigeria is close to my heart. I visited Nigeria in 2022 with the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief (APPG FoRB). We speak for those with Christian belief, those with other beliefs and those with no beliefs, because we genuinely believe in the love that our God has for others and the importance of reaching out across the world, where many obscene, difficult and heartbreaking things are happening, to speak up for human rights and to be a voice for the voiceless—those who have no one to speak for them.

The recent debate on FoRB in Nigeria held on February 6th was fueled by the atrocities at Christmas in which almost 200 Christians were murdered because of their beliefs. They were attacked, murdered, and abused by Fulani tribesmen. Those who were able to do so fled into the forest. Their houses and churches were destroyed, and their property was taken.

What happens in Nigeria will dictate what happens across all of Africa. With a population of almost 220 million, Nigeria is the cauldron for the rest of Africa. That middle band of Africa is awash with weapons, arms, and people with evil intent.

I believe that there is more that we can and must do to make changes on the ground to get help and support to those who need it most, and simply to do what is right. In addition to the recent Christmas massacre, Islamic insurgent-directed Fulani gangs killed at least 10 Christians in Taraba state—another in a catalogue of murder—while a dozen similar gunmen kidnapped over 150 people in Zamfara state, and Boko Haram killed 15 rice farmers in Borno state. It seems to never end.

I remember being outraged when I first heard about Boko Haram’s actions against women and children and the trafficking of those young girls. Even today, one young girl, Leah Sharibu, is still under the control of Boko Haram. The violence in Nigeria affects all as many Nigerian Muslims who do not partake in militant attacks are also vulnerable to attack, because they do not participate.

When I visited Nigeria with the APPG FoRB, we made the case clearly. We met many people of the Muslim faith who told us that they were as disgusted at what was happening against Christians as we were. We must distinguish those who are involved in terrorist campaigns from ordinary people who have a different faith but do not try to enforce it on others.

In terms of FORB, even the judiciary are an area of concern. In the past year, a sharia court sentenced Sheikh Abduljabbar Kabara to death for blasphemy, contrary to the constitution of Nigeria, as a sharia court should not have the power to do so. Other judicial authorities sentenced humanist leader Mubarak Bala to 24 years in prison for blasphemy and other charges. Mubarak Bala has been incarcerated since 28 April 2020.

We used our visit to speak to some of the judiciary and judges in Nigeria and to put the case. The Member for Argyll and Bute was in that delegation and made a very good case for the release of Mubarak. We thought we had made some headway on that, and the indications coming from the judiciary seemed to say that, but he is still in prison.

I believe that more on-the-ground missionaries should be involved. I have many in my constituency; in almost every church there are missionaries with contacts across the world, including in Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria—in large numbers—Eswatini and South Africa. I make that point because there is a non-governmental workforce that could be used as part of the Government network. I have suggested before that missionary groups are there for one purpose: not to be political or to direct focus of the Government, but to help people. They could be a vital part of the UK network.

We must speak up for those with a Christian faith, those with other faiths and those with no faith, and as I highlighted in the debate we must “not grow weary in doing good.”

Jim Shannon MP

Jim Shannon is the Democratic Unionist Party MP for Strangford, and was elected in 2010. He currently undertakes the roles of Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), and Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights).