Niger: The Dilemma of Christian Communities

Source: FSSPX News

The phenomenon is quite old, but the July 2023 Niger coup d'état did not help matters. Large parts of this country of 1.2 million square kilometers are under the control of those whom the inhabitants call “bandits,” who are also active in border countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria.

According to information collected by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), almost all the bandits operating in southern Niger and northern Nigeria come from three ethnic communities (Fulani, Hausa, and Tuareg) present in the two countries. Security officials confirmed to the ISS that most of them belonged to Nigeria's Fulani community.

The “bandits” are therefore mainly Nigerians, including those who operate in Niger. Likewise, their dens are mainly located in Nigeria, particularly in the forests of the affected states (Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, and Kaduna).

This banditry attracts jihadists from several countries in the Sahel to participate in the raid and finance their operations. “The gangs have tens of thousands members. The armed groups move in motorcycle swarms through small paths and forests, emerging several hundred kilometers from their base for an attack,” reports the newspaper Le Monde.

Fides reports the racket suffered by Christians in Niger. The bandits, arriving in a village, offer the following choice: either pay a tax of 50,000 CFA (€76) per male person aged 15 and over, or convert to Islam. In case of refusal, the only option is to abandon the village and everything you own in their hands.

Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, which are currently governed by military regimes, have joined forces in an Alliance of Sahel States (AES). But since 2018 the lives of farmers in southern Niger have continued to deteriorate. Threats, kidnappings, targeted assassinations, desolate and closed schools, intimidation, and a climate of fear characterize the daily lives of residents.

The presence of Nigerien soldiers is not likely to discourage these practices which have taken root in the region. The complaints and appeals for help seem to fall into a void, despite the “environmental sovereignty” rhetoric and the much-vaunted withdrawal of foreign military presence on Nigerien soil (Russians aside).

All this does not deter the “bandits” or armed groups who, in the meantime, occupy the land and, thanks to the scorched earth policy, recruit young people living in poverty, with the promise of easy gains and a new social identity.

Sometimes Christians agree to pay, but it is not rare that they are forced to leave for more protected places: the refusal of “conversion” leaves the option of exodus, because paying the amount requested this year, means it will be doubled next year. The powerlessness, the incapacity, the difficulty in taking charge of the security of the population are obvious. 

But it is not only Christians who are affected by the extortion by armed groups: all inhabitants of the Three Borders region are affected. But they have one common characteristic: they are poor farmers who are being added to the long list of “invisibles” who have little economic and geopolitical importance.

And governments either do not seem to have exerted any real goodwill to protect their citizens, as they are accused of in Nigeria; or do not seem capable of standing up to this polymorphic hydra that continues to prosper by extorting and terrorizing the poorest populations.