Nigeria Fact Box GG4

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

Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram and its splinter group Islamic State West Africa Province brutally attack Christian communities in the north, where Sharia law is in place in twelve states and in parts of four others. Militant Fulani Muslim herdsmen carry out attacks across the Middle Belt, using heavy weapons to drive largely Christian farmers off fertile grazing land, and these attacks are spreading south. Many analysts now describe the situation in these regions as genocide.

As well as killing, raping and kidnapping Christians, Islamist militants also attack government institutions and moderate Muslims who do not share their jihadist agenda. Millions of Christians have fled following the looting and burning of their houses and church buildings. While many mass school kidnappings have been carried out in recent years, abduction of individuals for ransom is an increasing issue and has become a huge source of fear for Christians. 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.

Conditions for Christians greatly deteriorated under President Muhammadu Buhari, an ethnic Fulani Muslim who served two terms in office from 2015 to 2023. His government failed to protect Christians and prosecute perpetrators of attacks, and he appointed mostly northern Muslims to high offices and the judiciary.

Between June 2015 and June 2023, according to Nigerian NGO Intersociety (International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law), militants killed 31,700 Christians and attacked over 18,000 churches and 2,200 Christian schools. Intersociety reported that since the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009 some 53,750 Christians have been killed, along with over 34,000 moderate Muslims.

Church in Chains partner organisation Stefanos Foundation stated in a Situation Report published in 2022 that since 2016 the majority of murders have been carried out by Fulani extremists, outstripping those committed by Boko Haram. The report said the violence “escalated out of control from 2012”.

The Chibok Schoolgirls

Among thousands of Nigerians kidnapped by Boko Haram since the start of its insurgency, the most high-profile are the “Chibok schoolgirls” (now women in their twenties) 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 around 93 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 sends aid via several partner organisations to support victims of attacks on Christian villages.

Group outside Nigerian EmbassyIn July 2021, Church in Chains held a silent vigil at the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin to remember the lives of over 2,000 Christians killed in the Middle Belt region in the past two years. The vigil was organised after the Nigerian Embassy did not respond to a request (in three letters dating back to November 2020) for a meeting to discuss the situation.

2020 Nigeria PostcardIn June 2020 Church in Chains launched a postcard campaign to President Buhari to express shock at the slaughter of over 600 Christians since the start of the year.

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.”

In 2016, Rev Soja Bewarang came to Dublin to speak at Church in Chains’ annual conference.

(Christian Association of Nigeria, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Christian Concern, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Morning Star News, Nigeria Social Violence Project, Open Doors International, Release International, Stefano’s Foundation, Voice of the Martyrs Canada, Washington Post, World Watch List, World Watch Monitor)