Christians Are Being Attacked and Killed in Nigeria, and They Need Our Help
Unless the U.S. and other nations keep pressure on the Nigerian government to take real steps to end religious persecution, millions will remain at the mercy of militant groups.
On Jan. 18, a Nigerian priest was returning home from a visit with his mother when armed men kidnapped him and demanded a ransom of 30 million naira (about $70,000). The following day, officials found his body tied to a tree, severely beaten to the point that identification was challenging.
This incident came just weeks after a targeted Christmas Eve attack against Nigerian Christians for the second consecutive year. What villagers hoped to be a peaceful night with their families, turned into a violent slaughter of 11 people, at the hands of the militant group Boko Haram. Authorities have yet to indicate any significant punishment for these attacks, which comes as no surprise, given Nigeria’s history of allowing impunity for egregious crimes.
Upwards of 27,000 Nigerian Christians have been murdered for their faith since 2012. U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Rev. Johnnie Moore recently told Fox News in an interview that “thousands of churches have been torched, children massacred, pastors beheaded, and homes and fields set ablaze by the tens of thousands, with people being targeted for their Christian faith alone.”
Militant groups such as Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), and jihadist Fulani, continue to persecute religious minorities through violence and displacement. Some even consider the severity of the situation as potentially constituting genocide.
Although the Nigerian government is fully aware of the brutality against religious minorities within its borders, the authorities often turn a blind eye to the suffering of their own people.
Article 38 of the Constitution of Nigeria guarantees freedom of religion, providing that “every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
However, Nigeria’s inability to hold militant groups accountable for their actions demonstrates the government’s failure to genuinely protect religious freedom.
Pressure on Nigeria remains steady from religious freedom watchdog organizations and other countries. A recent development was made with the United States’ designation of Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for engaging or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
Samuel Brownback, the former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, stated in an on-the-record briefing at the release of the designation: “A major concern for us is the lack of adequate government response in Nigeria. You’ve got expanded terrorist activities, you’ve got a lot of it associated around religious affiliations, and the government’s response has been minimal to not happening at all. ... The government really needs to act.”
Open Doors, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities, identified Nigeria as the ninth most dangerous country to be a Christian in 2021.
David Curry, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, recently stated that “more Christians are murdered in Nigeria than any other country that we can document. On average, about 10 Christians [in Nigeria] are killed for their faith every single day.”
The message from the United States and religious freedom advocates is clear: Atrocities committed based on religious motives or identity must not be tolerated.
As Nigeria continues to face endemic violent militant activity, the Nigerian government’s actions must change. The authorities must prosecute militants and attackers who target individuals and communities because of their faith and must guarantee that all people are freely able to practice and live out their faith, without fear of persecution. Religious freedom is undermined and the perpetrators emboldened when governments do nothing in the face of atrocities.
A global response also must ensure that the Nigerian government takes real and effective steps to protect religious minorities from persecution.
Religious freedom advocates and the media should continue to highlight the atrocities committed against Christians in northern Nigeria. Foreign governments and organizations must also continue to encourage Nigeria to enhance local security forces’ capacity to protect religious minorities, as well as prevent impunity for attacks. The use of sanctions, as authorized by the CPC designation, should be an option for the U.S. if the Nigerian government continues to look the other way on atrocities committed against religious minorities.
It is imperative that the Biden administration continues the policy progress made over the past years toward the protection of religious minorities in Nigeria. Without the advancement of religious freedom in Nigeria, millions will remain at the mercy of militant groups.
McKenna Hammack serves as Veritas Scholar for ADF International’s Global Religious Freedom team.