Three new reports confirm the growing spread of violence against Christians in Nigeria.
According to the latest report by the Nigerian NGO Intersociety, in the four months from January to April 2021 Nigeria ‘lost no fewer than 1,470 Christians… the highest number recorded since 2014’.
And reports just published by both the US State Department and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) single out Nigeria as a ‘country of particular concern for tolerating severe violations of religious freedom’.
Intersociety calculate that 2,200 Nigerian Christians were abducted by jihadists between January and April this year. Of those 220 are believed to have been murdered.
The NGO say Fulani militants killed more than 800 Christians, in a conflict often simplistically characterised as clashes over resources between herders and farmers.
Their findings support research suggesting more Christians are being killed in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world.
Intersociety details attacks on churches and pastors and goes on to accuse the government of Nigeria of concealing the jihadist agenda.
Release International has long pointed out a religious dimension behind the growing violence against Christians in the North and Middle Belts of Nigeria. That is also the position of many British parliamentarians and the US State Department.
According to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief Fulani militants have adopted ‘a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP [Islamic State West Africa Province], and demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians and potent symbols of Christian identity.’
In its 2021 Annual Report USCIRF notes that Boko Haram fighters beheaded the local chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Adamawa State because he refused to renounce his faith, while ISWAP fighters executed five aid workers as a warning to “all those being used by infidels to convert Muslims to Christianity”.’
The US State Department report cites Nigerian Minister of Culture Lai Mohammed, who declared Boko Haram and ISIS fighters, ‘have started targeting Christians and Christian villages… to trigger a religious war and throw the nation into chaos.’
The US State Department also quotes CAN president Reverend Samson Ayokunle, who warns his country is ‘under siege’ by terrorists, Fulani militants and others who share ‘a goal to Islamise Nigeria’.
The USCIRF report also raises a concern about the implementation of blasphemy laws in Nigeria. Sharia courts are operating in 12 northern states, even though the country’s constitution is secular and guarantees freedom of religion and belief. USCIRF notes: ‘State-sanctioned Sharia courts handed down harsh sentences on individuals convicted of blasphemy.’
Release International CEO, Paul Robinson, says: ‘These latest reports reinforce what Release has been saying for many years, that the world must wake up to what is happening in Nigeria.
‘Boko Haram has publicly declared war on Christians and stated its aim to Islamise the whole of Nigeria. Fulani militants are killing even more Christians than Boko Haram fighters, and appear to be serving the same agenda.
‘This latest dimension to the violence can no longer be described as simply herder-farmer clashes.
‘These reports also reinforce what Release partners are saying – that the government of Nigeria is simply not doing enough to protect its Christian minority in the North against attack from religious extremists.’
And Release International patron Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali warns, ‘If Nigeria is to continue as a single entity, a concerted military and political effort has to be made to stop the depredations of so-called herders in the Middle Belt and Yoruba land.’
Through its international network of missions, Release International is active in some 25 countries around the world, supporting pastors, Christian prisoners and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice.