Country Conditions: Persecution Of Christians In Nigeria
Nigeria otherwise known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria operates a federal presidential system of government. The Nigerian government has three arms, which are the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The primary laws governing the country are entrenched in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
According to the Constitution, Nigeria is a secular state, allowing a free ground of play for all religions. The Nigerian populace enjoys maximum freedom of religion, with almost no interference from the government. All religious bodies are allowed to publicly and privately practice their religion as they deem fit. Since this is the case, why then are there violent acts targeted at Christians? Who are the perpetrators of these violent acts? What is the motive backing the perpetration of the violent attacks against Christians? What is the goal of these attacks? What is the situation of these attacks in recent times?
These and more, are some of the questions this article aims to answer.
Religious Conflicts In Nigeria
Adherents of the African Traditional Religion(ATR), Christianity, and Islam account for over 95% of the Nigerian population. Yet, the "persecution" of the Christian population is not a result of any form of government religious censorship, but the continued strife and unrest between Christian and Muslim faithful. Before the advent of independence in 1960, all religious groups coexisted in relative peace. The early post-independence tribal feuds and military coups metamorphosed into a civil war and this later bore a religious inclination. Since that time, the conflicts took on a religious shape, mostly between Christians and Muslims. With adherents of both faiths continuously viewing each other with suspicions.
The religious conflict in Nigeria stems from social, political, and tribal roots, and has grown to possess a religious coloration. With the conscious awakening of religion in the 1960s and 1970s, religion was placed at par with the political grasp for power. With time, political aspirations were no longer based entirely on political consciousness but on religion. This further created a dent in the relationship between Christians and Muslims.
Over time, the Northern region of Nigeria grew to become a war zone for members of both the Christian and Islam faith, giving rise to successive conflicts and retaliative attacks.
Early traces of these violent acts began in the 1980s. In 1982, the Maitatsine riots resulted in the loss of lives and properties and the burning of churches and mosques in Kano and Maiduguri. This continued till 1984 spreading to Adamawa and Gombe. These issues skyrocketed with the alleged registration of Nigeria as a member of the Organization of Islamic Countries in 1986 by the Ibrahim Babangida administration. Christian saw this as a step towards Islamisation of the country, but the Muslims defended the claim by posing that the nation had strong diplomatic ties with the Vatican.
In 1987, an attack on Christian students by the Muslim students of the College of education in Kafanchan led to a counter-attack by the Christian students on their Muslim counterparts. These attacks led to the loss of lives and the destruction of worship houses in both groups. The bad blood between both religious arms was further spiked by the media choosing to favor either party with their reports. Some factions of the media supported the Christians by only counting the losses incurred as a result of the Muslim attacks, while other factions supported the Muslims by only counting the losses perpetrated by the Christians.
These conflicts continued to grow, and at some point with attacks on Christians in the North comes a reprisal attack on Northerners in the East. The clash increased again with the introduction of Sharia law in some northern states.
These conflicts grew until the rising of the Boko Haram insurgency. At this point crisis developed to include suicide bombings. With the introduction of Boko Haram, churches and Christian gatherings were mostly targeted. In more recent times, Fulani herdsmen and unidentified bandits have joined the list of terrorist groups. These Fulani herdsmen are mostly focused on the destruction of indigenous settlements and the killing of farmers resulting in further unrest.
So far, the resultant effects of these conflicts on Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Nigerians, especially in the Northern part of the country live in constant fear, even schools are not safe.
A great cause for these conflicts arises from the fact that many of the perpetrators are uneducated. They are blindly led, mostly by extremists and clerics for selfish benefits. Underground reports have it that some of these conflicts(especially in recent times), politically instigated. Politicians have been greatly suspected and accused of using insurgencies to their benefit. Usually to cause a level of instability for their opponents. To a large extent, it might be safe to say that what happens in Nigeria is not persecution, but the resultant effect of social and political struggles. This has led to both religious groups seeing each other as a threat.
Religious education at all levels as an instrument of peace will go a long in quelling this strife. Christian faithful, as well as Muslim faithful, must take the bold step of embracing the other in love, and seeing each other as brothers and sisters.