The Federal Republic of Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and its leading oil producer, but the majority of Nigerians live below the poverty line and corruption is widespread. Independence from Britain in 1960 was followed by decades of coups, civil war and military dictatorship.
Nigeria is constitutionally secular, with freedom of religion. The population is divided between the mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south, with both sharing the volatile Middle Belt.
Christians in Nigeria
Christians living in the north experience discrimination and a hostile atmosphere as Sharia law is in place in twelve states and in parts of four others. Christians are supposed to be exempt, but are often forced to comply, and they fear its spread.
Since 2009, the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has been carrying out an insurgency that has included mass shootings at markets and institutions, the bombing and torching of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches – many churches have to post security guards at the gates – and raids on villages by attackers armed with guns and machetes who kill inhabitants and torch their houses. Boko Haram has murdered thousands of Christians and kidnapped thousands more. Christians complain that not enough is done to protect them and that the security forces are slow to respond during attacks.
In recent years, Nigeria’s Middle Belt has been experiencing widespread violence as ethnic Fulani Muslim herdsmen increasingly use military-grade weapons to drive largely Christian farmers off fertile grazing land. Thousands of Christians have been killed and their properties looted and burned, including hundreds of church buildings. The Middle Belt is a volatile zone of convergence between the majority Muslim north and the majority Christian south.
More Christians have been martyred in northern and central Nigeria in recent years than anywhere else in the world, and some Muslims have been killed in retaliation. According to Open Doors, during the period November 2018 – October 2019 Nigeria led the world in Christian martyrdoms (1,350 confirmed) and abductions (224 confirmed).
The kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls
Among the 4,000 Nigerian women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram since the start of its insurgency, the most high-profile are the “Chibok schoolgirls” abducted in April 2014 from the Government Girls’ Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. Most were from Christian families. Of the 276 girls kidnapped, many have escaped or have been released, but 112 are still missing.
Church in Chains in Action
Church in Chains has met successive Nigerian Ambassadors to Ireland to raise concerns about the lack of government action to protect Christians and has sent aid via several partner organisations to support victims of attacks on Christian villages.
In 2016, Rev Soja Bewarang came to Dublin to speak at Church in Chains’ annual conference. Since 2016, Church in Chains has sent aid via Stefanos Foundation to provide displaced Christian families with food and essential items such as clothes, blankets, toiletries, mosquito nets, plates and Bibles. Over €27,000 was distributed during the years 2016-2018.
In January 2020, following a period of intense persecution of Christians including the beheading of an abducted pastor, Church in Chains wrote a letter to the Nigerian Ambassador to Ireland, Dr Elizabeth Uzoma Emenike, appealing to the Nigerian government to “to acknowledge the reality of the persecution of Christians in the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria by terrorists and Fulani militants and to take strong, effective action to end it.”
(Christian Association of Nigeria/Christian Solidarity Worldwide/International Christian Concern/Morning Star News/Nigeria Social Violence Project/Open Doors International/Release International/Voice of the Martyrs Canada/Washington Post/World Watch List/World Watch Monitor)
The Christian Association of Nigeria reports that five million Christians took part in nationwide prayer walks protesting about the recent upsurge in attacks and abductions.
The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Dr Samson Ayokunle, has called for three days of fasting and prayer to end violent attacks on Christians.
Pastor Lawan Andimi was beheaded by Boko Haram terrorists on the afternoon of 20 January
On 2 January, Rev Lawan Andimi, Adamawa state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, was abducted during a Boko Haram raid in northeast Nigeria.
The six students and two staff members kidnapped from a Christian-run school in Kaduna state on 3 October have been released.