Human rights watchdog group International Christian Concern (ICC) released a report earlier today profiling Nigerian Governor Nasir El-Rufai and analyzing his years-long pattern of punishing Christian communities in Kaduna State. While militant groups contribute to religious persecution in Nigeria, No Protest Allowed highlights another major source of persecution in Nigeria—the government.
Since taking office as Governor of Kaduna State in May 2015, El-Rufai has repeatedly endangered Christian communities by ordering them into strict lockdowns. These lockdown orders—which trap villagers in their homes—prevent villagers from organizing early warning systems and make militant attacks even more deadly as villagers no longer have the warning they need to flee impending attacks.
Despite international condemnation of these lockdown orders, El-Rufai has continued to punish Christians using this technique. In 2020, he locked down a Christian-majority agricultural area for over two months during planting season. Militants, taking advantage of his lockdown orders, killed over 100 Christian villagers during that time.
In addition to chronicling several of these lockdowns, No Protest Allowed exposes El-Rufai’s immense wealth and his family’s extensive international travel including to London, Paris, New York, Dubai, and the Caribbean.
Dubbed the “reformist governor” by the Economist, El-Rufai’s carefully-groomed image as a man of the people began to crumble as ICC researchers combed through the El-Rufai family’s social media presence. While El-Rufai has loudly publicized his decision to enroll some of his children in Kaduna’s public school system, ICC researchers found that he quietly sent at least one of his children to a private school in Canada where annual tuition is about $44,000 USD per year. Another social media post showed his family drinking sparkling apple juice infused with 24kt gold flakes at the Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai.
Nigeria goes to great effort to cast itself as a beleaguered nation struggling valiantly against sectarian violence. Secular democracy, the narrative goes, is the guiding principle governing Nigeria—any deviation from that is the fault of malicious nonstate actors intending to spoil what they cannot control.
Nigeria does suffer from sectarian violence—it is estimated that Boko Haram is responsible for over 35,000 deaths and that Fulani militants have killed from 20,000-50,000 in the last decade or so—but the idea that the government is an impartial player doing its best to promote justice and freedom for all is simply wrong.
A self-proclaimed admirer of China’s Den Xiaoping, El-Rufai recently resurrected a military-era rule regulating pastors and their sermons. The regulations are striking similar to Chinese regulations and do not bode well for the future of religious freedom in Kaduna.
“El-Rufai’s actions endanger thousands and help to illustrate the deeply problematic nature of government persecution in Nigeria,” said Jay Church, the report’s author and ICC’s Advocacy Manager for Africa. “ICC hopes that the international community takes note of El-Rufai’s consistent pattern of persecution in Kaduna State and responds accordingly. We call on the U.S. and others to sanction El-Rufai for his egregious violations of human rights and hope to see those sanctions come about in the near future.”
(International Christian Concern)