Originally published in World Watch Monitor
The world’s deadliest terrorist group is not in the Middle East. It’s in Nigeria, where the Islamist insurgency Boko Haram and other forces killed more than 4 000 Christians in 2015.
That tally was a 62 per cent increase from the previous year, according to Open Doors, a global charity that supports Christians in places where their faith exposes them to government, social or sectarian hostility.
In response, Nigeria’s largest confederation of Christian churches is, for the first time, jointly endorsing a commitment to revive the Church in the country’s north, before it collapses from a decade of violence that has killed thousands of Christians and driven away more than 1 million.
‘Crushed but not defeated’
At the same time, the grouping, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has jointly published with Open Doors a detailed study of the violence and its impact. “Crushed but not defeated: The impact of persistent violence on the Church in Northern Nigeria” was scheduled to be released on February 24, 2016 in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.
CAN is comprised of councils representing Protestant denominations, indigenous Evangelical churches, Pentecostal churches, and the Catholic Church – denominations that, together, encompass about half of Nigeria’s 173 million people. The association has adopted the report as the factual foundation of a joint declaration, which demands that the government quell the violence and guarantee religious freedom, and asks the UN to launch an inquiry into atrocities.
“This is the first time we’re going public to sign a declaration which gives the true picture of the persecution Christians are going through in this country,” said Rev Musa Asake, the association’s general secretary. “This event gives us an opportunity to let the entire world know what the Christians in Nigeria have been going through.”
From 2006-2014, the period covered, the report says religion-based violence killed an estimated 11 500 Christians in Nigeria’s north. It says 13 000 churches were destroyed, abandoned or closed during the period, and 1.3 million Christians fled to safer regions in the country.
Over the past two years, the situation worsened; violence spilled over into neighbouring countries Chad and Cameroon. In 2014, Boko Haram was the world’s deadliest terror group, ahead of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, according to the Global Terrorism Index.
“This targeted violence, discrimination and marginalisation of Christians in northern Nigeria, if unchecked and halted, could lead to the extinction of the Christian faith and Christian communities in northern Nigeria,” the Christian Association of Nigeria declaration asserts. “Christians in the northern region have for long been abandoned to their own fate by the Nigerian authorities.”
Potential to unite and stand strong
The report recommends: “There is still a large Christian presence in northern Nigeria with potential to unite and stand strong. But the Church in northern Nigeria will need to find a way to not close in on itself and disengage from society.”
The region of Africa that today is northern Nigeria has been governed by Muslim sultans and emirs for centuries, through British colonial rule and the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 19th Century, and into independence in the 1960s. The northern Christian population grew rapidly, to the point where Christians today form the majority in half of the 12 northern states, which are now all under Islamic law, although Christians are in theory exempt from sharia provision.
Across the “middle belt” that separates Nigeria’s north from its south, nomadic ethnic Fulani herdsmen, mostly Muslim, have clashed with indigenous, largely Christian farmers over grazing land for generations, and the conflicts have intensified since 2011, according to the report.
After military rule and civil war yielded to a democratically elected government – headed by a Christian president – in 1999, the ruling Muslim political class in the north moved to consolidate their hold on the region. In 2000 and 2001, the 12 northern states incorporated sharia into their legal systems.
Radical Islam gained a foothold in the early 1980s, strengthened after the 1999 election, took on the name Boko Haram and blew up into a military insurgency in 2009 under a new