Backgrounder: Why is there so much Christian persecution in Nigeria?

Backgrounder: Why is there so much Christian persecution in Nigeria?


A recent spate of killings, kidnappings, and destruction of church facilities in Nigeria is a continuation of a situation Nigerians have had to deal with for many years. For one American observer who works in Nigeria, solutions to the problem are “generations away.” But a necessary first step toward peace will take place next month, when a new president will be elected.

On Thursday, at least 11 people, most of them Catholics, were killed when alleged Fulani herdsmen attacked a village near a refugee camp in the Diocese of Makurdi, southeast of the capital, Abuja.

The news came just days after a priest, Fr. Isaac Achi, was killed in his parish residence in the north central state of Niger on Sunday, January 15. Fr. Achi’s assistant pastor was shot and wounded by bandits. 

Also on January 15, 25 churchgoers were abducted in Katsina state in the northwest. The evening before, a parish priest in the southwestern state of Ekiti was kidnapped.

“It’s a continuation of a situation that’s been going on for years,” said Stephen M. Rasche, visiting scholar at the Kukah Center in Abuja, Nigeria, a center for peace and justice, managed by Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto.

Rasche, who has 35 years of experience in international business and humanitarian aid projects in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America, said that although the killing and kidnapping of Catholics, especially priests and other faith leaders, get a lot of attention, persecution of Christians is far more widespread. 

“Many of the victims go unreported – all sorts of different types of Christians who are living in rural areas,” Rasche said in an interview. “And these people being attacked are just as much Protestants, whether they’re evangelicals or Lutherans or Church of the Brethren. It’s happening to all of them.”

The World Index of Christian Persecution cites Nigeria as the first in terms of violence against Chritians. It is estimated that 89% of Christians killed throughout the world are located in Nigeria. More than 7,600 Nigerian Christians were reportedly murdered between January 2021 and June 2022.

Ordinary Muslims who have not been indoctrinated into more radical ideologies also have suffered the brunt of the violence. 

Nigeria is 53.5% Muslim, 10.6% Roman Catholic, and 35.3% other Christian, according to the CIA World Factbook. The U.S. State Department warns travelers to reconsider visiting the country because of frequent crime, civil unrest, kidnappng and terrorism. But some areas are less safe than others.

According to the Economist, almost 40% of Nigerians were living on less than $1.90 a day in 2019 — and that was before Covid-19 hit…


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