THE Christian presence in parts of northern Nigeria has “almost been extinguished” in the wake of attacks by extremist Islamic groups, perpetrated against a backdrop of persecution and segregation, a report from the charity Open Doors warns.
The report Crushed but not Defeated, launched in Abuja in February, and in the UK last month, states that, from 2006 to 2014, between 9000 and 11,500 Christians were killed in northern Nigeria, and 13,000 churches were destroyed or abandoned. In a region that is home to about 30 million Christians, more than a million have been affected by the violence. Church attendance has been more than halved in some areas, and, in others, “almost . . . extinguished”.
Persecutors are named as extremist Islamic groups, including Boko Haram, armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen, and “the northern Muslim political and religious elite”. The authors argue that the introduction of enhanced sharia in 12 northern states in 2000 has increased discrimination against Christians, and that violence has led to further segregation of Muslim and Christian communities.
The report sets out the historical and socio-economic context, including competition for land, jobs, and government funds, and politicians who seek to exploit religious and ethnic differences. “Some Christians have made matters worse, contributing to the conflict due to their own tribalism, political agendas, hatred, retaliation, and violence.”
Christians interviewed by Open Doors spoke of “struggling with feelings of suspicion, fear, and distrust” towards Muslims.
Church leaders in Nigeria have failed to produce a “coherent vision, strategy, or plan to cope with the crisis”, the authors say. They write of “a legacy of pietism from the missionary movement from the West that emphasises the individual believer’s responsibility to follow Jesus, and prepare for heaven, and disregard their earthly circumstances. . . Merely being peacemakers and loving one’s enemies will not solve the Christians’ plight.”The Church must provide “a holistic vision of the Christian faith, in which personal salvation is coupled with social transformation”.
The report concludes with recommendations from the Christian Association of Nigeria, which calls on the government to uphold its duty to protect citizens.