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.
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.
(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 Nigerian government released a statement confirming that kidnapped Christian teenager, Leah Sharibu, was alive and that it was still negotiating her release with Boko Haram.
On Sunday 14 April, ethnic Fulani Muslim militants in Nasarawa State shot dead 17 Christians holding a dinner to celebrate the dedication of a baby earlier that day.
Five years after Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in northeast Nigeria, 112 remain missing.
In the past five weeks, ethnic Fulani Muslim militants have killed 146 people in Christian areas of southern Kaduna state and destroyed over two hundred houses.
Christians in Nigeria’s Middle Belt and north are hoping for change but fearful of violence as they anticipate the elections on Saturday 23 February