ROME — Angelenos who followed the recent drama of Bishop Moses Chikwe in Nigeria, who spent 15 years in Southern California before returning home last year, and who was kidnapped just after Christmas and then released by still-unidentified gunmen, may have been surprised to hear how dangerous it actually is to be a Christian in Nigeria.
After all, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, and it absolutely pulsates with Christian energy. It’s the largest Christian nation in Africa, too, with some 80 million believers, and levels of faith and practice are off the charts. According to the Pew Research Center, a staggering 89% of Nigerian Christians attend church services at least once a week, one of the highest shares in the world; in the U.S., by way of comparison, it’s about 40%.
Move around any Nigerian city, and you’ll see billboards advertising the “Church of Jesus Christ Militant” and the “Mighty Miracles of the Holy Ghost Temple,” and you’ll see sprawling megachurches dominating skylines.
Attend any Sunday Mass in the country, and you’ll wonder if you’re at a church or a daycare center, because young people are literally hanging from the rafters. Spend five minutes in casual conversation with any randomly chosen Nigerian Christian, and if you don’t hear at least one reference to God, Jesus, miracles, or the devil, you should play the lottery that day because your longshots are coming home.
Nigeria is sort of like the Texas of Africa, in that the national motto might as well be “go big or go home.” Nigerians tend to be voluble, enthusiastic, and deeply passionate about whatever they do, and Nigerian Christianity is no exception.
So, if all that’s true, then why is Nigeria also a killing zone for Christians, statistically perhaps the single most dangerous place on the planet to be a Christian?
The numbers tell a grisly tale: According to Genocide Watch, a nonpartisan watchdog group, some 11,500 Christians have been killed in Nigeria since 2015, meaning 2,300 a year, which translates into roughly one new Christian martyr every four hours. Some 4 to 5 million Christians are believed to be internally displaced.
In all likelihood, such violence killed more Nigerians in 2020 than the coronavirus, since to date the total death count from the pandemic in Nigeria is 1,373, well below the annual average for Christian fatalities. In other words, you could make the argument that anti-Christian persecution is Nigeria’s real pandemic.
How to explain this scourge in a nation with such a vast Christian footprint?
First, despite their numbers, Christians are only about half the Nigerian population. Most of the rest are Muslims, which makes Nigeria by far the world’s nation with a roughly evenly divided Muslim and Christian population. As one Nigeria imam told me years ago, that makes the country “like Saudi Arabia and the Vatican rolled into one.”
For the most part, those Christians and Muslims live in genuine harmony, and stories of marriages and friendships across the religious lines are legion. Yet there is a segment of the Islamic population, like everywhere, which has become steadily radicalized over the past generation, most prominently producing the infamous Boko Haram terrorist group.
Boko Haram isn’t driven simply by anti-Christian animus, since they also routinely attack the institutions of a state they regard as corrupt and illegitimate. Nevertheless, the group is explicitly committed to turning Nigeria into an Islamic caliphate with no room for religious diversity, which makes Christians targets almost by definition.
Moreover, Nigeria is also a land of contradictions, with vast wealth in some sectors of society resting cheek-by-jowl with grinding poverty. There are myriad unresolved tensions in the country, some of them stemming from the Biafra War in the late 1960s, when a largely Christian region of southern Nigeria attempted to secede from a Muslim-dominated government in the north.
Some stem from unresolved land use disputes, as is the case in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region. There, Fulani herdsmen seeking new grazing land for their livestock, often due to desertification and soil degradation, routinely come into conflict with farmers, understandably motivated to protect their crops and incomes. For decades the Nigerian government has failed to resolve these disputes, often prompting people to take matters into their own hands.
There are also persistent ethnic fractures in Nigeria, often along tribal lines, and those ancient rivalries can easily make a difficult situation worse.
In all those cases, and others, when one of the groups in conflict is largely Muslim and the other Christian, it’s easy to take religious affiliation as a sign of complicity in one’s perceived grievances. It’s also easy for religious passion to inflame pre-existing tensions and to provide a sacred warrant for violence.
Moreover, sometimes violence against Christians has no explicitly religious motive at all. Kidnapping has become a cottage industry for criminal bands in Nigeria, and often Christian pastors are targets of preference, along with politicians and business leaders, on the theory they represent institutions with deep pockets who’ll pay to get them back.
It’s important to note that Christians aren’t the only victims of Nigeria’s contradictions. In all likelihood, the majority of Boko Haram’s victims are fellow Muslims, including Muslim law-enforcement officers and members of the armed forces attempting to break the group’s back and to protect the country’s Christian population. In many ways, the violence against Christians is an index of the country’s wider challenges.
However, none of that means a great deal to Christians living with the risk of physical harassment, displacement, or even death. Experts may nitpick about which incidents are really “religious,” but the real question is why Christians such as Bishop Chikwe — who obviously had other choices — are willing to bear these risks in order to serve their Church and their nation.
Such fidelity clearly merits admiration, but it deserves something more, too, beginning with the resolve not to forget, and not to look away.
Chadian security forces fire upon protesters in southern town
At least four people were shot and wounded in Chad’s southern Mandoul region on Saturday when security forces fired upon a crowd demonstrating against last month’s military takeover, witnesses and hospital sources said.
Protesters in the town of Sarh, about 550 kilometres (340 miles) from the capital N’Djamena, banged pots and pans in a show of defiance against the military council that has taken over since Chad’s longtime ruler Idriss Deby was killed last month.
Police responded by firing into the crowd with live ammunition, witnesses said. One person who was shot in the abdomen is in critical condition, according to a medical worker who requested anonymity.
“Two of my friends were wounded by gunshots right in front of me, and spent more than an hour on the spot before they could be transported to the hospital,” Allaissem Bernodji Manace, who protested in Sarh, told Reuters.
“We lived through a terrible scene,” he said.
Civil society leaders in the neighbouring town of Koumra said that a dozen people were arrested during a parallel protest, to which security forces responded with beatings and teargas.
A representative of Chad’s military council declined to comment on the actions of security forces, but said the protesters were “just young people who marched through the streets creating traffic jams.”
The demonstrations in Mandoul occurred at the same time as a funeral for five people in N’Djamena who were killed on Tuesday during clashes between protesters and security forces.
The army’s response to those protests was condemned by some of Chad’s strongest allies, including France, the United States and the African Union.
The military council, led by Deby’s son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, has promised to hold elections within 18 months. Deby was killed on April 19 as he visited troops fighting rebels opposed his 30-year rule.
Chad’s transition is being closely monitored by its Western allies, who have worked with the central African nation to combat militants across the Sahel.
Nigeria: Kanu weeps over murder of non-state security commander
Contrary to the report of the Nigerian forces who claim to have attacked the ‘Eastern Security Network’ camp in Imo State, where they killed the commander alongside six other people in a shootout, Nnamdi Kanu who is the general-commander of the non-state security group that the Nigerian government had declared “illegal”, said “there was no shootout”.
The human rights activist disclosed that “Ikonso was killed in his house,… where he was sleeping in the middle of the night”.
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The Eastern Security Network (ESN), which is supported by majority citizens in the Eastern region of Nigeria alongside other citizens from other parts of the country, was formed by Mazi Nnamdi Kanu to fight terrorism and the killings committed by armed Fulani jihadists disguising as “herdsmen”.
When I’ll Declare Biafra, I’ll Be On Ground Myself — Nnamdi Kanu
Mr. Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Biafra separatist group – the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, says he will not proclaim the eastern region of Nigeria as a sovereign state of “Biafra” from exile.
“I will be on ground myself,” said the human rights activist who has been in exile since 2017 after government forces raided his home where they killed 28 civilians in an attempt to assassinate him.
The renewed quest for an independent state of Biafra, has met brutality from the Nigerian government whose security forces have killed at least 1,000 people demanding a referendum, after the civil war that left more than 3.5 million civilians dead.
Nnamdi Kanu, whose parents died following the shock of the military raid on their home in Umuahia, has always pledged to restore the “Republic of Biafra” without minding the price.
His supporters who are predominantly Christian in the southern part of Nigeria believe that the disintegration of Nigeria and actualisation of an independent state of Biafra is the only solution to marginalization, including terrorism and killings by jihadists trying to invade the overrun Christian communities in the country.
“Prepare while we move together,” Kanu told “Biafrans” on Thursday via a short post on his Facebook page.
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