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Christians and the Struggle for Religious Freedom
A vital booklet about religious freedom to inform, inspire and challenge you. Includes an explanation of what religious freedom means and examples of the challenges Christians face in our Persecuted and Forgotten? 2012 update.Get the book or download your copy
Latest news from Nigeria
- NIGERIA: Government afraid that tackling Boko Haram extremists will cost votes, says bishop
- NIGERIA: Cardinal says country in "jeopardy"
- NIGERIA: New Cardinal says: "Nowhere is safe now"
- NIGERIA: Bishop of bombed diocese calls for peace amid fears of retaliation
- NIGERIA: Christians are "near desperation" after latest bomb attack
Nigeria - Country profile
On Christmas Day 2011, 44 people were killed and more than 80 others were injured when extremists targeted Mass-goers at St Theresa's Catholic Church in Madalla, near the Nigerian capital, Abuja.
The attack was one of many that day but its ferocity and high death toll meant that it came to be seen as a watershed moment in an emerging security crisis. A problem concerning extremist attacks was now a national crisis with the potential to cause a Christian exodus from parts of the country.
In the months that followed, rarely a week went by without Christians being targeted at Sunday services. Those responsible also targeted markets, banks, police, government buildings and schools, but the Church bore the brunt of the violence. The perpetrators, Boko Haram, a Jihadist Islamist group with links to Al Qaeda, had made their objectives clear: to replace secular government with an Islamic system centred on Shari'a law.
Listen to Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama's talk at our 2012 Westminster Event
Nigeria is no stranger to religious, ethnic and social tension and violence. Boko Haram (which translates as 'Western education is forbidden') has roots dating back as far as 2001 and the Islamist group's attacks grew in number and intensity over the course of the next decade.
It is against this backdrop that the Church in the most populous country in Africa has grown exponentially. The country boasts more than 5,000 seminarians – the most of any country on the continent.
That vote of confidence for the future of the Church is now facing its greatest test. Although Christians in the period under review faced particular harassment in the Muslim-dominated north, where Shari'a is practised, violence also broke out elsewhere.
The precise cause of the tensions between Muslims and Christians is intricate. The US State Department's report on religious freedom concluded: "Violence between Christian and Muslim communities increased in several regions arising from complex factors including economic disparity, ethnic identity and seasonal migration patterns." (Source: US State Department: July – December 2010 International Religious Freedom Report 13/9/11). Catholic bishops often went further, arguing that apparent religious tensions concealed root causes in ethnic and social problems.
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"A war on Christians"
Whatever the precise causes, by 2012 it was becoming clear that Christians were under direct threat. Boko Haram was warning that it was about to wage a "war on Christians". Christians were fleeing en masse from parts of the north-east including Maiduguri.
Any hope that the state of emergency declared by President Goodluck Jonathan in January 2012 would restore law and order was left in tatters as Boko Haram stepped up its campaign of terror. In March 2012, a Boko Haram spokesman declared that a campaign was underway in effect to eradicate Christians from parts of the north. The spokesman declared: "We will create so much effort to have an Islamic state that Christians will not be able to stay."
Reports indicated that the tensions were being exacerbated by so-called revenge or retaliation attacks. Calling for calm but stating a determination not to be cowed by acts of aggression, bishops in Nigeria rallied the faithful with statements calling for prayer and the pursuit of justice by peaceful means.
In the Archdiocese of Jos, in the north-east, one of the areas worst affected by the violence, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama told Aid to the Church in Need: "When I visit the people, I see the injustice they suffer... We must not look at the suffering as a sign that God has condemned us. Rather, it is a challenge and sets us on the road to unity with him."
With no sign of an end to the attacks, there are growing concerns about the security services' capacity to enforce the rule of law. In late April 2012, Archbishop Kaigama was joined by Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja in denouncing the governments attempts to deal with the extremists, saying the authorities were "weak".
"The rampant attacks show that government security is not working," said Archbishop Kaigama. "The government is not able to cope with the security situation and we feel quite apprehensive as a result."
Archbishop Onaiyekan added: "[The government] have had adequate time to learn how to deal with this situation, gathering intelligence about those directly involved and bring them to book.
"It has become clear that we have a weak government..."
In the meantime, the fate of many Christian communities, especially in the north, hangs in the balance.
Promoting inter-religious dialogue
Breaking down barriers between people of different faiths is a priority for the Church in Nigeria. In parts of the country, meaningful dialogue is fraught with difficulties, however, elsewhere, thanks to you, initiatives promoting inter-faith tolerance are now underway. Read more
A Bible study programme for young Christians
In Oyo diocese, Nigeria, more than 400 young Christians have spent their weekends focusing on the Bible with lectures, discussions, film and drama. The course director Fr Michael Oyedare said it has helped the teenagers “live a life of witness”. Read more
Repairing churches damaged in extremist attacks
Following urgent pleas from parish communities, your generosity is helping to repair three bomb-damaged churches in northern Nigeria, including St Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, where 44 people were killed on Christmas Day 2011. Read more
Training Nigeria’s priests of the future
Nigeria has more seminarians than any other country in Africa. Your generosity is supporting many of them; including 50 in Jos, Central Belt. They wrote saying: “Our personal goal is that we will be solid, happy and joyful priests. This becomes the work of a lifetime.” Read more
Helping the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Mercy
The Daughters of Mary, Mother of Mercy are celebrating the order’s 50th birthday and, thanks to your generosity, they will be provided with a van that will help them reach out to the most disadvantaged people in some of the remotest regions across west Nigeria. Read more
Violence and persecution in Nigeria
January 2010: Up to 500 people died during three days of inter-religious violence in Jos. Most of those killed were Muslims. During the unrest, churches and mosques were attacked, and some 5,000 were made homeless.
March 2010: Muslim extremists dressed as soldiers attacked two Christian villages in Plateau State, torching 20 houses and killing 13 people, mostly women (including one who was pregnant) and children. The victims had their tongues cut out.
April 2010: Two Christian journalists were stabbed to death north of Jos by a group of young Muslims, who talked about their crime on their victims’ mobile phones. That same day four other Christians were killed by a gang of young Muslims. It came after the body of a Muslim teenager was found buried in the Christian village of Nasarawa Gwom. (Source: CDN, 21 April 2010)
December 2010: Nearly 40 people were killed and 74 were injured during attacks on Christmas Eve. In Jos city several bombs exploded. Two churches in Maiduguri were attacked, killing at least six people including a Baptist pastor and two choristers preparing for a carol service. (Source: CDN, Asia News, The Guardian/AP, 28 December 2010)
January 2011: Six villages near Jos in Plateau State were attacked in the middle of the night by a group of militants, who killed five people. It took up to two hours for police to arrive. State security arrested 29 men who were heavily armed with automatic weapons, axes and machetes. The security also allegedly found 25 automatic weapons in a nearby mosque. (Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, 28 January 2011)
November 2011: Renegade politicians whipping up religious hatred are to blame for bloodshed and violence in northern Nigeria according to the local bishop – who says the police have failed in their duty to protect the people. Latest reports say that more than 100 people died in the recent attacks, centring on the towns of Damaturu and Patiskum, where bombers targeted mosques and churches, and staged gun battles with local police. Read more
December 2011: A series of bomb attacks on churches in central and northern Nigeria killed 40 Christians, including 35 who died at St Theresa's Church outside the capital, Abuja. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram was behind the attacks. Up to 90,000 people in Damaturu, northern Nigeria, fled their homes as police clashed with Boko Haram. Read more
January 2012: A fresh wave of violence against churchgoers in Nigeria left 27 people dead. The religiously-motivated massacres, three in as many days, targeted Christians in Mubi and Gombe, both towns in the north-east. Some 17 other deaths have been reported in other regions. (Source: BBC News (Online), 05/01/12 and 07/01/12; The Guardian, 09/01/12). Read more
January 2012: Christians in the region of Bauchi city, north-east Nigeria, suffered a series of attacks. In Tafawa Balewa, Christians travelling to Sunday services came under fire, the Evangelical church was destroyed in a bombing which killed at least eight people, and St Paul’s Anglican Secondary School was partially destroyed. (Source: CDN, 20/01/12 & 24/01/12).
January 2012: Up to 35,000 people fled from the north of Nigeria following ongoing attacks by extremist Islamist group, Boko Haram. At least 160 people died in the attacks in Kano city, Borno State. Read more
February 2012: Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack during Sunday service at a Protestant church in Jos, central Nigeria. At least three people died, including a young girl, with 50 others wounded. Read more
March 2012: Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama called on Christians not to seek vengeance when speaking to people grieving after a bomb attack at St Finbarr’s Catholic Church, in Rayfield, Jos. Up to a dozen people died and 42 others were injured when early morning Mass at St Finbarr’s was interrupted by a suicide car bomb attack. Boko Haram later claimed responsibility. (Source: Christian Today, 11/03/12).
March 2012: Islamist group Boko Haram declared a “war on Christians” saying that it would launch a series of “coordinated” attacks in order to “eradicate Christians from certain parts of the country, and that “…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.” (Source: International Christian Concern 05/03/12).
April 2012: Up to 40 people died and at least 30 were injured after a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a busy part of Kaduna city after being refused entry to a nearby church where an Easter Day service was taking place. (Source: CSW 10/04/12; (Nigerian) National Post 08/04/12).
April 2012: Leading Catholic bishops lambasted the country's government as too weak to tackle the growing threat posed by extremists, especially the Boko Haram group, after the latest attacks targeting Christians. Esxtermists targetted Sunday services at a university campus in Kano, and a chapel in Maiduguri belonging to the Church of Christ in Nigeria, killing at least 21 and injuring another 20. Worshippers at the university chapel were gunned down as they fled. Read more
Last updated: 23/10/2012