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Why Are Nigerian Christians Being Persecuted?

On January 17, 2023, Open Doors, an organisation that monitors Christian persecution across the globe released its World Watch List for 2023. The jarring report notes that Nigeria accounted for 89 per cent of Christians that were martyred worldwide. To put it another way, 89 out of every 100 Christians that were killed for their faith across the world came from Nigeria.

[Ruins of a church destroyed by terrorists in Garkida, Adamawa state. Source: ICIR]

What’s in the report?

The report covered the period from October 1, 2021 to September 30, 2022. Out of a total of 5,621 Christians killed for their faith during this reporting period, Nigeria alone recorded 5,014 deaths.

The report also noted that Nigeria ranked joint second highest behind China where churches were attacked or closed the most.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its 2022 report recommended that Nigeria be added to the Country of Particular Concern (CPC) list. This list is a designation by the United States Secretary of State of a nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom. 

Nigeria currently ranks as the sixth worst country for Christians to live in on the World Watch list, with a score of 87.93/100. Its persecution level is classified as “extreme persecution”. The worst five are North Korea (97.7), Somalia (91.62), Yemen (89.26), Eritrea (88.78) and Libya (88.46).

Out of the top 50, 19 are in Africa, 27 are in Asia, and four are in Latin America. Nigeria’s the only one with a roughly 50-50 split of Christian and Muslim populations.

What were the reasons for persecution?

The report highlighted reasons why Christians were persecuted in these countries. They include:

‘Islamist’ oppression

The main source of oppression in 31 of the 50 most persecuted countries is Islamic oppression.

Dictatorial paranoia

Nine countries suffered persecution chiefly by being under dictatorial governments.

Communist and post-communist oppression

Four countries suffered persecution mainly due to communist ideologies.

Religious nationalism

Three countries suffered persecution primarily because of religious nationalism.

Organised crime and corruption

The chief source of persecution for two countries on the watchlist came from organized crime and corruption.

Christian denominational protectionism

One country, Ethiopia, suffered Christian persecution due to denominational strife.

What can be done?

Nigeria suffered persecution from several sources. The primary one being Islamic oppression (very strong). Others were ethno-religious hostility (very strong), dictatorial paranoia (very strong) and organised  corruption and crime (very strong).

Reversing this worrying trend requires that we become more tolerant of our religious faiths especially in hotbeds across the country where religious violence is rampant. This is work that requires cooperation across all quarters including the government, security agencies, clerics, local community leaders and individuals. Increasing awareness campaigns and programs designed to encourage interfaith interactions could also help. 

Ultimately, no one’s truly safe until everyone’s safe.

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