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07/07/2023 Nigeria (International Christian Concern) – Reverend Musa Hyok never thought his sermon could have such devastating consequences.   

A pastor with the Church of Christ in Nations in Nigeria, Reverend Hyok urged his parishioners to vote wisely in the presidential elections in February of 2023. He advised his congregation not to vote for Bola Tinubu, a radical Muslim candidate running with a Muslim Vice President – an unprecedented move in Nigerian political history. Reverend Hyok expressed concern to his congregation that such a ticket would marginalize the interests of minority religious groups.  

A few days later, Fulani militants invaded the village and murdered Reverend Hyok and his two sons.   

“They targeted the pastor for preaching to the community not to vote for Muslims as the country’s presidents but couldn’t say who he was supporting,” a community leader told ICC. “The militants promised to attack the Christian communities that failed to vote Muslim during the election.”  

The militants made good on their promise shortly after when they killed four Christians in Benue State as they returned from voting.   

Governmental indifference and escalating violence continue to make Nigeria one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian. Since the beginning of 2023, Fulani militant extremist violence against Christians has increased, with a large number of them targeting Nigeria’s Plateau State. 

The presidential elections in February only increased tensions. A report released by the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, the largest human rights organization in Nigeria, estimated that in May, the month of handover in Nigeria, 700 Christians were slaughtered by Fulani militants. These attacks, speculated by some to be “farewell gifts” for the exiting Nigerian president, increase the death toll to 2,150 Christians killed in the first 160 days of 2023. 

Fulani militant raids have become increasingly frequent, intense, and well-coordinated, employing tactics similar to Boko Haram, targeting villages and capturing women and children for converts and forced brides. Caleb Mutfwang, governor of the Plateau State, described these attacks as an “ethnic cleansing.” 

The Nigerian government has made little effort to provide adequate protection for these communities and, despite increasing displacement and famine, has supplied little to no humanitarian aid to affected villages.   

Such indifference is unsurprising since a recent statement from the Shitile Development Association noted that “the identity of the perpetrators is known to security agencies and the Nigerian government.” Many top government officials are either sympathetic to the Fulani cause or are paid to look the other way. 

This reality is illustrated by recent controversial remarks from former Kaduna governor Nasir El-Rufai. In an address to a gathering of Muslim leaders and imams, he said, “No liar will ever come out to play politics of Christianity and win an election ever again. . . That’s the only way there’ll be peace in this land. By the time we do it over and over again (Muslim-Muslim rule), everywhere will be calm.”   

Critics contended that these remarks demonstrated obvious religious bigotry and a desire to suffocate Christian voices in Nigeria’s government. Others noted that such statements would serve only to further divide Nigeria along religious lines.   

The U.S. government has not acknowledged the religious nature of the violence in Nigeria nor taken steps to place any pressure on the Nigerian government, refusing to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). A recent report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) portrayed the violence as primarily “retaliatory,” contending that “Fighters associated with predominantly Christian communities and ethnic groups have used these narratives to foment ethnoreligious violence against Fulani Muslims, including against civilians.”   

In response to the report, Sean Nelson, a legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom International, commented, “The report rightly speaks against using an overly broad brush when discussing the Fulani Muslim community and militancy within it, but then proceeds to imply with false moral equivalency and little evidence that the broader Christian community is responsible for large portions of the violence.”   

He continues, “The international religious freedom community would benefit from an explanation as to how the report was produced and approved, and USCIRF should consider a retraction. It is vital that the international religious freedom community is able to come together to advocate for those in Nigeria who have been so regularly and grievously victimized.”  

The state of religious freedom and Christian tolerance in Nigeria has seen no relief since we reported Nigeria as one of the worst countries in the world to be a Christian in our 2022 Persecutor of the Year report. If you’d like to sign up to receive the 2023 Persecutor of the Year report when it comes up, sign up here.  

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