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Nigeria: The Most Dangerous Place for Christians on Earth

ICC Note:

Two years ago, the worst attack on Christianity took place in Northern Nigeria. In the 2011 post-election violence, over 700 churches were destroyed in under 48 hours. Over 200 Christians were confirmed killed and over 3,000 Christian businesses and homes were torched. Although this level of violence has not been reached in the past two years, violent attacks against Christians continues in Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group operating in Northern Nigeria, is estimated to have killed over 3,000 people many of whom were Christians. Responsibility for this violence goes beyond Boko Haram. Everyday Muslims in Northern Nigeria, influenced by radical clerics, and local governments are also persecuting Christians on an unprecedented scale. If estimates are correct, 70% of Christians killed because of persecution in 2012 were killed in Nigeria. Making it the most dangerous place for Christians on earth.             

4/18/2013 Nigeria (Morning Star News) - The publicly reported Christian casualties in Nigeria last year were greater than the Christian casualties of Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Egypt combined. In fact, Nigeria alone accounted for almost 70 percent of Christians killed globally. This makes Nigeria the most lethal country for Christians by a huge margin.

While media reports do not tell the whole story, and death tolls are not the only factor in persecution, such a great list of martyrs demands our attention. In 2012, over 900 Christians were killed in Nigeria in attacks that specifically targeted Christians for their faith. By the first quarter of this year, at least 128 people have been killed in northern Nigeria, mostly Christians.

Much of the violence in 2012 was attributed to the Jihadist terror group Boko Haram. With 3,000 casualties affecting citizens from a dozen countries in three years, Boko Haram has earned a dubious distinction as one of the top five lethal terrorist organizations in the world. In the last three years, however, the three most deadly incidents of anti-Christian persecution – with triple- digit casualties – in Nigeria were the March 7, 2010 massacre in Jos, Plateau state, the April 16, 2011 pogrom in the country’s sharia (Islamic law) states and the Jan. 20, 2012 onslaught in Kano. Two out of these three incidents were not the handiwork of terrorists but of average northern Nigerian Muslims.

While Boko Haram’s bloody terrorist tactics certainly merit serious concern, the focus on this group has overshadowed a pattern of systemic religious violence in Nigeria. It obfuscates the pervasive history of the killing of Christians by Muslims in northern Nigeria going back over a quarter century.

Transferred Aggression

In 1999, after a pro-democracy movement successfully ended military dictatorship and a Christian was elected president, 12 Muslim-controlled states in northern Nigeria reacted by imposing Islamic sharia law in open violation of Nigeria’s constitution. This resulted in horrific violence the following year that left thousands dead when Christians protested peacefully.

Such acts of violence continue to this day with virtual impunity. In November, for instance, the mispronunciation of a dress style by a non-Muslim tailor led to his death – along with several other Christians – and church burnings in spontaneous riots. This ultimately fatal fashion mistake was not the handiwork of terrorists but of average northern Nigerian Muslims.

Persecution in Nigeria is discernible in three widening concentric circles: sect, state and street levels. While much has been said regarding the smallest circle – sect-level actors such as Boko Haram – most analysts overlook the ongoing and serious persecution in the wider state and street circles, which provide an enabling environment for groups like Boko Haram.

Street-Level Aggression

Let us first consider the street level. The most serious attack on the Christian community in Nigeria’s recent history was not carried out by Boko Haram or any organized Islamic sect. Rather, it was an act of ordinary Muslims across most northern states. This Anti-Christian pogrom, referred to as the “post-election violence,” deserves examination as a bellwether of the real conditions in Nigeria’s tottering political union.

In April 2011, in what was dubbed one of the “freest and fairest” elections in Nigeria’s recent history, Goodluck Jonathan was elected president. Before his victory was announced, violence erupted in the 12 northern sharia states – again.

The final toll for the Christian community was staggering. In a 48-hour period, 764 church buildings were burned, 204 Christians were confirmed killed, more than 3,100 Christian-operated businesses, schools, and shops were burned, and over 3,400 Christian homes were destroyed. While there have been similar death tolls in certain incidents in terms of scope and coordinated scale of destruction, there has been no equivalent attack against the church in recent decades, with the possible exception of government-backed genocides in Sudan.

Yet this was not a government-backed endeavor. Instead, thousands of Muslim youths in 12 states gathered together with machetes, knives, matches and gasoline and carried out this pogrom. The “freest and fairest” elections resulted in one of the “fiercest and most ferocious” violence against innocent Christians that Nigeria has seen.

In several states that our fact-finding teams visited, taxis were randomly stopped by rampaging Muslims and the Christians ferreted out for murder. In one instance a taxi driver, despite the pleas of sympathetic Muslim passengers, drove a pastor to a mob and handed him over to be killed.

While the homes of certain prominent ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) politicians and a few PDP offices were attacked in the initial spate of violence, this was clearly an anti-Christian pogrom. Muslim rioters in Zaria would enter a federal campus and attack only the Christian chapel, leaving the other buildings untouched. People were randomly required to recite the Koran or be killed. Throughout northern Nigeria, this violence was carried out along religious lines, with Muslims attacking unsuspecting Christians. More church buildings were destroyed than any properties associated with the ruling party, the government or any other category.

The post-election violence only scratched the surface of the street-level persecution suffered by northern Nigeria’s Christians. In several months of fact-finding across northern Nigeria, investigators from aid and advocacy organization Jubilee Campaign interviewed pastors whose church buildings have been burned half a dozen times or more in the last decade. In one case, police even watched as Christian women were raped on church premises and did nothing.

State-Level Oppression

The U.S. State Department, among others, claims that the Muslims of northern Nigeria have been marginalized politically and economically by the federal government and have responded to “legitimate grievances” with violence. This has been used to give unconscionable justification to violence against Christians in northern Nigeria, whether by terrorist actors such as Boko Haram (sect level) or the Muslim community at large (street level). The facts surrounding state-level persecution reveal this undeserved justification.

For most of its independent history, Nigeria has been ruled by dictators from prominent northern Muslim families. Suspect census figures and dubious redistricting have bloated the federal revenues that go to northern states. On an economic front, the corruption of these dictators and the amounts of money that they funneled back to their home states – as well as to Swiss accounts – is a matter of public record. Africa’s richest billionaire, according to Forbes magazine, is from northern Nigeria. Inspired by this decades-long hegemony, many in the north reject Western education, leaving their children in the hands of wandering mallams (Islamic clerics) to be instructed in Islam while begging for their bread.

This practice has produced millions of unemployed and unemployable youths who in anti-Christian riots are ready foot-soldiers – and, with the rise of Boko Haram, suicide bombers.

The true victims of marginalization in northern Nigeria are Christians who are totally disenfranchised politically, economically and socially in their own states and by their own ethnic groups due to their religious identity. Discrimination against indigenous Christian communities is endemic in at least 16 of the 19 northern states (three Christian majority or co-equal states did not report state-level persecution), encompassing more than just political disenfranchisement. Christians are denied equal rights, most state jobs and promotions. The level of discrimination is such that many Muslim managers refuse to hire a Christian outright.

Christian neighborhoods are frequently overlooked for development or basic maintenance. In Sabon Gari, a Christian ghetto in Kano City, the roads, water lines and other basic services have not been updated for decades. Many northern cities leave such outer enclaves to “infidels” as a way of separating them out.

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