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Nigeria - Country profile

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St Theresa's Catholic Church in Madalla, Nigeria, after an attack by extremists on Christmas Day 2011. Photo © EPA/LUSA

"They can burn our churches, they can attack our homes but they cannot destroy our spirit. We have suffered persecution, discrimination and harassment but they can never take away our faith and our hope in the risen Lord."

These were the words of Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria, to Aid to the Church in Need staff visiting conflict-ridden north-east Nigeria in May 2013. The fact-finding trip, taking in visits to a dozen or more churches damaged or destroyed by persecution, came soon after a religious freedom watchdog produced research showing that in the year to October 2012, 791 of the 1,201 killings of Christians worldwide took place in Nigeria.

The most dangerous country for Christians

In the last two years, Nigeria has been the most dangerous place in the world for Christians. The reports coincided with statements made by a priest from Borno state, north-east Nigeria, claiming that 50 of the 52 Catholic churches in the region had been forcibly abandoned, damaged or destroyed. At the same time, the Nigerian Catholic Bishops' Conference stated that since 2007 more than 700 churches had been attacked.

In spite of heightened security – notably armed guards outside each church – suicide bomb attacks on churches packed with Sunday worshippers continued through 2013. The violence followed two years of vicious attacks against Christians, with attacks on Catholic cathedrals such as Zaria and Bauchi.

Deadly clashes in wake of election result

The violence peaked after the disputed presidential elections of April 2011 when, according to the Christian Association of Nigeria, 430 churches were destroyed or damaged. When Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, triumphed against Mahammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north, the ensuing conflict left 800 people dead and 65,000 people forced out of their homes.

Boko Haram behind most anti-Christian violence

In many if not most cases, attacks against Christians have been carried out by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, which is not satisfied by the imposition of Shari'a law in 12 of the country's 36 states, where Muslims are very numerous. The group demands 'pure' Islamic rule and wants to overthrow secular rule and stamp out Christian influence.

Angered by reports of Christians carrying out reprisal attacks against Muslims and mosques in June 2012, a Boko Haram spokesman said: "The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state."

It followed a March 2012 Boko Haram declaration of a "war on Christians" aimed at eliminating them from parts of the country: "We will create so much effort to have an Islamic state that Christians will not be able to stay." An ACN fact-finding trip in May 2013 revealed how the violence had prompted mass migration of Christians away from parts of the north, especially among certain groups, notably Igbo traders.

Boko Haram's violence makes plain that Christians are by no means the group's only target. In many cases, the main focus is the government. Attacks on state banks, court houses, buildings and security apparatus continued. In response, in May 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three states in the north-east, paving the way for the Nigerian military to flood the area.

Religion a signifcant catalyst to violence

Religious freedom observers repeatedly underlined the anti-Christian nature of much of Boko Haram's violence. One stated: "While other causes factor into the violence in areas of conflict, religion is a significant catalyst and is often misused by politicians, religious leaders and others for political gain."

While denouncing reprisals by Christian groups, Church leaders frequently asserted that the violence was primarily political rather than religious and that ethnic, tribal and economic factors were predominant.

Government fails to crack down on militant attacks

Church leaders and religious freedom observers denounced the government's efforts to crackdown on Boko Haram and other militant groups. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2013 report stated: "The government continued to fail to prosecute religiously motivated violence."

In April 2012, Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, soon to be made a Cardinal, denounced the government for failing "to muster the political will" to deal with the crisis, adding: "We have a weak government that has put together a whole lot of compromises that mean that the action that should be taking place is not taking place".

All the while, pressure grows on the government to enforce law and order in a region of the country increasingly "teetering on the brink", to use Archbishop Kaigama's phrase, with potentially devastating consequences, perhaps especially to the country's Christians.

Key projects

  • Keyproj

    NIGERIA: Printing Child's Bibles in local languages

    Thanks to you, Aid to the Church in Need has printed and distributed as many as 750,000 Child's Bibles in Nigeria – and has now been asked to provide copies in Berom language, spoken in Plateau State in the centre of the country. 

    Read More
  • Keyproj

    NIGERIA: Supporting inter-faith dialogue in a climate of violence

    In northern Nigeria, where Christians have come under attack like nowhere else in the world, you are helping us to sponsor inter-faith dialogue initiatives aimed at quelling unrest in the wake of atrocities that have killed hundreds and injured many more. 

    Read More
  • Keyproj

    NIGERIA: Helping female catechists be pioneering women of faith

    Twenty committed Catholics in northern Nigeria have begun training to become the first female catechists in the region – overturning a tradition of the Nigerian catechist always being male. 

    Read More
  • Keyproj

    NIGERIA: Supporting 327 seminarians training for the priesthood

    Trying a vocation for the priesthood is an exacting challenge for any seminarian, but perhaps none moreso than the seminarians at St Augustine's seminary in Jos, Nigeria. Thanks to you we have been able to support the seminarians there – and the priests responsible for their training – as they study against a backdrop of threats and deadly violence. 

    Read More
  • Keyproj

    NIGERIA: Renovation of St Augustine’s Seminary in Jos

    Christians in some of parts of Nigeria have come under intense terrorist attacks and persecution by extremist group Boko Haram who have a mission to destabilise the country and have 'declared war on Christians'. Christians there are courageous and steadfast in their devotion to God. Seminaries are simply bursting at the seams, as many young men are determined to follow the path to the priesthood. But sadly, there is not enough suitable accommodation to house them all. 

    Read More

Violence and persecution in Nigeria

December 2011/January 2012: President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency and vowed to ‘crush’ Boko Haram following a spate of violence including Christmas Day attacks on churches and targets in Madalla, Jos, Kano, Damaturu and Gadaka. At St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, 44 people were killed and more than 80 injured Most of the dead were children. Bishop Martin Igwe Uzoukwu said: “Our people have suffered so much but our response should not be one of anger but one seeking peace and justice.”
Source: BBC News online, 1/1/12; Aid to the Church in Need Report,‘Comfort my people’: Nigeria in Crisis, March 2012

January 2012: Three days of religiously-motivated violence left 27 Christian churchgoers dead in the north-east. Elsewhere, 17 other deaths were reported.. Pastor Johnson Jauro said that gunmen burst into his Evangelical church in Gombe city, killing nine people including his wife. “The attackers started shooting sporadically. They shot through the window of the church. Many members who attended the church service were also injured.” Boko Haram claimed responsibility. Up to 20 people died in Adamawa state as gunmen opened fire in a town hall where Christian traders were holding a prayer meeting.
Source: BBC News online, 5/1/12 and 7/1/12; The Guardian, 9/1/12

January 2012: Christians in the town of Tafawa Balewa, travelling to Sunday services came under fire. The Evangelical church was bombed, killing at least eight people and leaving many injured. St Paul’s Anglican Secondary School was also partially destroyed. In Bauchi city, a reported bomb attack at Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Church caused minor damage, with no casualties.
Source: CDN, 20-24/1/12

 March 2013: Extremist group Boko Haram said that it would launch a series of “coordinated” attacks to “eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country”, stating: “We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state that Christians won’t be able to stay.” Human rights group International Christian Concern described the reports as “alarming”, adding: “Since Christmas, Boko Haram has martyred about 100 Christians in northern Nigeria. They think they have not met their goal for eradicating Christians. They are prepared for more bloodshed… I urge Christians around the world to contact their governments and ask them to get Nigeria to protect its citizens.”
Source: ICC, 5/3/12

April 2012: Up to 40 people died and 30 were injured following a suicide bomb in Kaduna city Security guards at the First Evangelical Church denied access to a man driving a car packed with improvised explosives trying to access the Easter Day service. He then detonated the bomb close to two churches and up to 60 buildings were severely damaged vehicles were burnt. Nobody claimed responsibility but commentators point to it having the hallmarks of Islamist group Boko Haram.
Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 10/4/12; National Post (Nigeria), 8/4/12

September 2012: A suspected Boko Haram suicide bomber was among five people killed in an attack at St John’s Catholic Cathedral, in Bauchi, capital of Bauchi state as Mass-goers were leaving after 9am Mass. Bystanders said that the bomber had tried to enter the cathedral earlier but was prevented by church security, so he detonated the blast in the cathedral car park.
Source: This Day Live website, 24/9/12

October 2012: A suicide bomb attack during morning Mass at St Rita’s Catholic Church, Kaduna, left four people dead and 160 injured. Among the dead were three members of the choir who were closest to the centre of the blast, which as well as badly damaging the church, completely demolished the Shrine to Our Lady of Fatima outside.
Source: Aid to the Church in Need Nigeria report, Carrying the Cross of Persecution, June 2013

May 2013: Revd Faye Pama Musa, a Pentecostal minister and secretary of the ecumenical Christian Association of Nigeria in Borno State, was shot dead near his home in Maiduguri. Boko Haram was suspected.
Source: Tablet, 25/5/13

June 2013: Four churches were burned in an attack, apparently carried out by Boko Haram, in Borno State, a few weeks after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a State of Emergency in the region. Church leaders said details of the attacks were scarce as communications with the area affected had been cut off.
Source: AINA, 20/6/13

July 2013: Alarm was expressed at the growing “phenomenon” of Christian girls under the age of 18 being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. The north Nigeria branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria reported five cases and complained of police inaction “…..the officers respond that they cannot do anything. Sometimes we believe they are complicit.” Boko Haram states “Kidnapping Christian women is part of the new efforts to attack Christians and force them to leave the north.”
Source: Fides, 23/7/13

August 2013: Islamist extremists were accused of cutting the throats of 44 villagers during a raid on Dumba village in Borno State, north-east Nigeria. According to an official from the National Emergency Management Agency, the attackers gouged out eyes of several survivors.
Source: The Guardian, 24/8/13

September 2013: Christian leaders criticised plans to demolish 25 church-owned buildings, including schools, to make way for a government housing project. Rev’d Musa Asake of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said: “We have seen that eviction notice … we are all Nigerians, and there are other places that can be developed. The areas being earmarked for demolition are already developed with churches and schools. We have enough problems at hand, and we don’t want to add another problem. Christians have suffered enough in Borno state.”
Source: Morning Star News, 16/9/13

Last updated: 14/10/2013

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Country statistics

Population158 million
ReligionsMuslim 40%
Christian 40%
Local religions 20%
Christian Population63 million

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