Nigeria is joint top (tied with Pakistan) for the place where Christians experience the highest levels of violent persecution. It has risen two places to number 12 on this year’s World Watch List.
In the north of the country, Boko Haram continues its deadly attacks – even killing Muslims working for the Red Cross (thus defying Nigerian Army claims that it has been defeated). But it is not as active as in the past few years. And anyway, Boko Haram was only ever a part - albeit a violent and extreme part - of persecution in Nigeria.
Across the Middle Belt of Nigeria, decades of climate change and creeping desertification, combined with rapid population growth, has led to an increasingly violent struggle for land and resources. The conflict is largely between nomadic, predominantly Muslim Fulani cattle herders and indigenous, predominantly Christian farmers.
During the first quarter of 2018 (the most recent for which comparison figures are available) 1,061 deaths were documented in 106 attacks by the Fulani militia on communities in Adamawa, Benue, southern Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states, with an additional 17 lives lost in attacks in the south of Nigeria. Seven instances of violence targeting Fulani herders or communities, in which 61 people lost their lives, are also documented; two of these attacks were in the south of the country.
These are more than just random attacks. An increase in the use of AK-47s and heavier weapons, and the murder of entire families in their homes – such as in the city suburbs of Jos in October 2018 – has led many Christians to claim such attacks amount to a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing. Meanwhile, government accounts often deliberately under-report the number of victims. For instance, over one weekend in June, around 230 were killed, but the BBC and other news agencies reported the ‘official’ government figure of 86.
When he met the Archbishop of Canterbury in London in April, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari told him that foreign fighters from Libya had come via the Sahara region to exacerbate this long-running conflict, which experts say has killed more people than has the Boko Haram insurgency.
But persecution in Nigeria is more than violence. A Christian-Muslim fault-line runs across the middle of the country. In the 12 northern Nigeria states ruled by Sharia (Islamic law), Christians continue to report being denied their constitutionally protected rights. They simply do not receive the opportunities, provisions and protections afforded to Muslims. Violations include difficulty in accessing education and denial of access to jobs in security and many other sectors.
Stand with your church family in Nigeria
Your support and prayers are vital for our persecuted church family in northern Nigeria. Rev Danjuma from northern Nigeria recently told us, “Open Doors is an organisation that identifies with the persecuted church holistically, meeting both our spiritual, physical and economic needs. Without your assistance many of us will die of hunger. Widows who get the school fees support would not have been able to send their children to school if not for your support. Your support has rekindled our hope and strengthened our faith in God.”
Open Doors partners with the local church to strengthen persecuted believers in Nigeria with training, community development, emergency relief, trauma care and legal assistance. This work is only possible thanks to your support. £20 can provide food aid to a hungry family in the region for two weeks, to help them survive.
Please pray for our church family in northern Nigeria. Pray for an end to the violence that has been raging against them for years. Pray that God will provide for all their needs, and use Open Doors local partners to reach those in most need of support. And pray for strength to endure. Rev Danjuma says, “The most pressing request from Christians in persecuted areas is pleading for prayer to be able to stand strong in the faith. Christians do not want to deviate from the Truth when there is so much hardship.”