Despite the religious war between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, Muslims are converting to Christianity in the northern part of the country. According to a report, the current rising level of Christian persecution in Nigeria today has taken the lives of over ten thousand Christians in a space of five years, but that did not stop Muslims to abandon their religion for Christianity.
There is so much media attention on Islamic States and the plight of persecuted minorities in the Middle East. 11,500 Christians in northern Nigeria were killed between 2006-2014, and 13,000 churches were destroyed, forcing 1.3 million Christians to flee to safer areas of the country. In 2014, Boko Haram, was ranked the world’s deadliest terror organisation by the Global Terrorism Index.
A new report, “Crushed but not defeated,” by Open Doors and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) reveals a horrific degree of violence against Christians. CAN, Nigeria’s largest confederation of churches, has committed to revive the Church in Northern Nigeria, both by grass roots action and by advocacy, and has called on the UN and other international bodies to engage with the plight of Christians who feel long abandoned.
While Nigeria is technically a secular federal state with religious freedom enshrined in its constitution, the reality in Northern Nigeria is radically different, said Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland.
“For decades, Christians in the region have suffered marginalization and discrimination as well as targeted violence. This is happening not only in the Sharia states of the Far North where the pressure of Islam is hard felt, but also in the non-Sharia Middle Belt states where Sharia has not been formally implemented.”
According to the report, there are three distinct perpetrators of persistent violence against Christians in northern Nigeria, united around one cause: defending northern Muslims’ interests, Muslim identity and the position of Islam. These perpetrators are not only proponents of radical Islam, but the northern Muslim political and religious elite and the Muslim Hausa-Fulani herdsmen are also major perpetrators of religious violence against Christians.
“Mutual trust has disappeared and Muslims and Christians have become increasingly separate groups, clustering together in town suburbs and distinguished rural areas. Many Christians say they face harassment, hatred, marginalization, intimidation and violence. They have very limited freedom to worship and to build churches. They have no real voice in public media, have hardly any access to government positions for employment and are barely represented in local politics.”
Although those living in Northern Nigeria are unable to participate in politics and are struggling even to provide a livelihood, there has been an increase in Christian political engagement with politics in the Middle Belt states of the country. Those who are choosing to stay are experiencing a renewed fervor in their faith, according to the report, and some Christians reported that their churches in the north are growing as Muslims convert to Christianity. The report cited reasons including many Muslims having dreams where they claim to have seen Jesus Christ.
“Many among the Muslims want to become Christians, but they are afraid of being killed or pressured by fellow Muslims,” an interviewee in the report said.
But while there are glimmers of hope on the ground, a response is required from those with higher political power, such as Nigeria’s government, the UN and other Western governing bodies.
“Policy makers in churches, governments and society in Nigeria and in the international community should become aware of the scope and impact of the violence,” the report recommended. There needs to be a united and proper response to end the violence and restore a situation in Northern Nigeria where Muslims and Christians alike can live together, exercise their human rights and have equal access to education, work and property and will have the freedom to worship.”