Greater Protection for Religious Freedom in Nigeria: A Matter of Life or Death

In an article published June 10 on, International Christian Concern (ICC) focuses on the plight of Christians in Nigeria. 

(photo by By A.B.O,
Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria. (Photo by ABO,

The Washington, D.C.-based Christian nonprofit states that in 2020, 1,900 Christian civilians and government employees, killed by Boko Haram and Fulani militants, were victims of religious persecution. And the majority were killed by the lesser-known Fulani militants, not Boko Haram. 

ICC reports that the government has restrained Boko Haram somewhat by pushing them back to two Muslim-majority northern states. The Fulani have remained free to move through Nigeria’s Christian-majority Middle Belt region, where they attack Christian farming villages at night. 

A June 2020 report by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief stated:

“While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon these predominately Christian communities are stark and must be acknowledged. Such atrocities cannot be attributed just to desertification, climate change or competition for resources…Targeted attacks against churches and heightening religious tensions indicate that religious identity plays a role in the farmer-herder conflict... Some local observers have gone so far as to describe the rising attacks as a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing.”

It concludes that “a process of reconciliation between groups, to open dialogue and de-escalate tensions back to peaceful disagreement is crucial to easing ethnic and religious tensions that exist within Nigeria” and to create any “positive impact on conflict levels.”

But climate change is an important factor in these attacks according to a January 2021 article in the Guardian

“For many years the clashes were problematic, but the two groups usually managed to reach a mutual accommodation. But in the past two decades, the climate crisis has contributed to altering that old order, and what used to be a friendly arrangement has become a crisis marked by looting, raids, cattle rustling and premeditated killings.”

And whereas Fulani herders used to carry machetes and sticks, those attacking Christian farming communities today carry AK47s.

Climate change has also brought increasing numbers of nomadic herders from neighboring countries of Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, that have run out of grazing land and water. They are all competing for resources in the region in hopes of keeping their cattle alive.

In a December 2020 article in Bitter Winter, Monsignor Obiora Ike, former vicar general of the diocese of Enugu, Nigeria, estimated there have been “over 100,000 people killed in ten years due to religiously motivated killings, the highest in any country in the world at this time.”

He speaks of the urgency of confronting “the gradual but speedy ‘Talibanization’ and Islamization policies taking place in Nigeria.” 

Nigeria is “the most populated country on the African continent, with a growing population of well over 210 million people...largely multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious, with over 400 languages and “an estimated 80 million Muslims and 80 million Christians, with the rest made of adherents to the traditional African religions.” 

Monsignor Ike ends his article with “an urgent and crucial call to the international community to focus on Nigeria, where now ethnic intolerance, terrorism and State-sponsored religious fundamentalism are growing, before it is too late.”

 In June 2020, the U.S. State Department placed Nigeria on a Special Watch List for the first time for severe violations of religious freedom. 

In December 2020, the U.S. Department of State designated Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. 

The International Religious Freedom Summit July 13-15 in Washinton, D.C., will hear testimony from victims of this persecution.


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