Factsheet: Religious Freedom in Nigeria – Q4 2020

With at least 73 incidents of militant violence in the final quarter of 2020, Nigeria continues be one of the most violent nations in the world. The two main aggressors, Boko Haram and Fulani militants, were responsible for a total of 410 deaths and a significant number of injuries and abductions as well.

Since their independence from colonialism in the 1960s, Nigeria has undergone violent regime changes, ethnic and religious struggles, and significant socio-economic strife. With over 400 languages, 250 ethnicities, and a great diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds, Nigeria is struggling to respond effectively to the sectarian violence plaguing its people.

There are two main sources of violence in Nigeria. The first is the Boko Haram insurgency, a violent Islamist movement entering its third decade of operations headquarters in the northeast of the country. This groups seeks to expel all western influence from Nigeria and, ultimately, is pursuing the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. The establishment of a caliphate in Nigeria would mean death and destruction for many minorities and Christians in the region. It is believed that Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of more than 35,000 people since it was designated as a terrorist organization in 2009. The real number could be far higher, though, as many of the group’s actions are never reported.

The second main source of violence in Nigeria is the radical Fulani militants behind the Middle Belt crisis. The Fulani are a migrant herder people group who span much of Sub-Saharan Africa. They are about 90% Muslim and, though most Fulani are peaceful people, some have become radicalized by Islamic extremist groups. This seems to be the case for large groups of Fulani in Nigeria. These violent groups, identified by ICC as Fulani militants, have wreaked havoc and destruction among mainly Christian farmers throughout Nigeria’s Middle Belt for many years.

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