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Nigeria: Christians face increasing discrimination
25 January 2017
Christians in Nigeria are continuing to worship despite persecution and personal hardship. The following stories highlight the variety of different ways that persecution manifests itself in the beleaguered north of the country. The map below shows where the stories are taking place.
Christian Community in Yobe abandoned
The drawn-out Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria has created a humanitarian disaster. In the northern state of Yobe, Christians who have returned to their destroyed and severely damaged communities are facing added pressure for their faith.
Reports reached Open Doors that while the government has spent millions on rebuilding communities and restoring amenities, Yobe's only Christian community, Kukar Gadu, has been abandoned. No restructuring has taken place there. Open Doors contacts have also been informed that around 50 Christians who worked for the government got sacked because they did not come to work during the insurgency, but they were unaware of Muslims being sacked for the same reason.
These circumstances exacerbate the poverty and hunger Christians are facing, exposing them to pressure from Muslims to convert to Islam in exchange for financial support. So far, Open Doors workers are aware of ten people who have converted to Islam to receive money to start up new businesses. One convert to Islam told an Open Doors contact in the area, "Before my conversion I could hardly see food to eat or money to solve the basic needs of my family, but now we have enough".
This situation is an illustration of the interaction of the various challenges the church faces in northern Nigeria, particularly Sharia-governed states like Yobe. Christians have long faced discrimination and isolation, and have often seen lack of development in their communities for long periods of time.
Churches demolished in Jigawa
Anxiety is high among Christian communities in Nigeria's northern state of Jigawa after authorities began demolishing church buildings in Dutse, the state capital.
On 11 January, bulldozers, escorted by security forces, reduced two Churches to rubble. "It was a terrible experience, with so many Christians who witnessed the demolition crying," said Rev. Musa, chairman of the Jigawa branch of CAN (the Christian Association of Nigeria). "I felt so bitter because we were in a situation where you have been cheated and you cannot talk."
According to Jigawa's Executive Secretary of Urban Development Board, Alhaji Garba Isa, the churches were bulldozed because they were built without obtaining permission as required by law. He also said notices were sent to them three times to discontinue the development of their buildings. However, Rev. Musa rejected the claims. He said there was no notice of demolition issued to the pastors of the two churches, or the leadership of CAN.
"They just came in unexpectedly and they demolished everything. Nobody was allowed to remove any valuables in the church buildings and other nearby properties," he said. Both churches had applied for official registration documents, he said, but the government had refused to grant them.
The Lord Chosen Church had been standing for 17 years and the Redeem Christian Church of God eight years. Moreover, all the churches in Dutse have papers proving ownership, which directly emanate from the original indigenous owners, who were given customary rights to use their land freely.
Sharia Law - Widespread discrimination
Jigawa is among the 12 northern states which adopted Sharia law in the 2000s. This has fostered an increase in intolerance which has resulted in widespread discrimination against Christians in the majority-Muslim states.
Christians living in Sharia states say they are treated as second-class citizens and denied basic rights, such as access to education or certain jobs. Access to land and building permission are very restricted or denied. Land, school or health services belonging to churches are often confiscated by state authorities without any compensation. "We feel we are equally citizens of this country and we have the rights to be allowed to practice our religion. But this demolition was done out of injustice and discrimination," said Rev. Musa.
"From all our 36 churches in Dutse, none of them have got building permission because they are not responding to our applications, though we have several copies of our applications seeking permission to build churches. They don't permit it because they do not expect churches to be established there."
Six more churches have been earmarked for demolition.
Churches in Jigawa have witnessed significant growth and most have reached their capacities, while some are overcrowded. For now, the authorities have not set any plan for compensation or any other alternative. The two (demolished) churches will now hold their Sunday services and other weekly programmes in the open air.
Katsina University bans Christian groups
The authorities of the Umar Musa Yar'Adua University, Katsina, Katsina State, have outlawed any other religious or tribal associations on the institutio's campus besides the Muslim Students Society according to Nigeria News 24.
Map of Nigeria showing states:
- That God will intervene in the situation of the believers in northern Nigeria, especially for those who have been sacked from work or are facing discrimination, such as being passed over for promotion
- That the Lord will provide in the needs of our brothers and sisters across the northeast of Nigeria who are suffering much under the humanitarian emergency the insurgency created
- That God will speak to their hearts of those who have converted to Islam and that they will return to Him
- For wisdom for the church in addressing conversions to Islam, and for Open Doors' work to bear fruit as it supports the church in Nigeria.
More News from Nigeria:
- Displaced twice by Boko Haram, Rebecca now helps over 2,000 widows and orphans
- 'Running out of food' - supporting believers on the brink
- 'Desperation matched by determination' as families return home
- Christians denied access to vital aid as humanitarian crisis hits sub-Saharan Africa
- Rebecca brings hope and new clothes to displaced widows
Find out more about persecution in Nigeria.