In its 2023 Persecutors of the Year Report, International Christian Concern (ICC) (persecution.org) calls attention to Nigeria, a country torn by decades of violence, which is endemic: from large, organized terror groups to small, disconnected communal militias. Much of the violence occurs in Nigeria’s central Middle Belt region, located between the Christian-majority south and the Muslim-majority north, where communities clash over resources, ethnic animosity, and religion every day. Christians experience a disproportionate share of the killings and kidnappings. This has caused Nigeria to become a dangerous place for them to live. According to a recent article about the persecution in Nigeria, “despite Christianity being vibrant in many parts of Nigeria, the nation’s northern region has experienced an uptick in extremist attacks against believers.”
“Nigeria is one of several flashpoints around the world this year,” says Jeff King, ICC’s President, “But this is not a new problem. For the last 20 years, millions of Christians have been attached by radical Muslims, left homeless and had their land stolen.”
ICC’s new 88-page Persecutors of the Year Report compiles a comprehensive list of the world’s worst persecutors naming countries, entities/groups, and individuals that harass, imprison, torture, and assassinate Christians for practicing their faith.
In 128 days spanning from March 4 to July 6, 55 separate attacks in Nigeria resulted in the deaths of 549 Christians from reports gathered by ICC alone. And yet, despite the clear targeting of Christians and churches, the Nigerian government and much of the international community continue to deny religious motivation behind ongoing violence.
“The Nigerian government continues to spin the narrative that they are doing the best they can, but that the conflict is beyond their control,” says King. “The government is either incompetent or aiding and abetting the attackers.”
The Role of Radical Muslim Terror Groups in Killing Christians and Stealing Land in the Middle Belt
The Fulani are an ethnic group spread across Africa’s Sahel region and numbering 25 to 30 million who mostly live at peace with their neighbors. Sadly, religious extremism, lack of resources, and ongoing communal violence have radicalized some in the community over the last decade, resulting in increased violence against historically Christian communities in the north and central regions of the country.
Radical Muslim terror groups such as Boko Haram and Fulani militants have waged a 20-year genocide against Christians in Nigeria, where Christian men, women, and children are brutally kidnapped, tortured, and killed regularly. The adoption of Sharia criminal law in 12 northern states has contributed to the ongoing persecution of Christians in the region.
“For 20 years, militant Fulani jihadists have openly and unabatedly murdered tens of thousands of Christians in Nigeria, and left more than three million homeless,” says King. “While the world continues to deny religious motive, believers in the country have no doubt: they are experiencing genocide, a one-sided war against Christianity.”
According to the Persecutors of the Year Report, this year saw numerous horrific atrocities committed against Christians. Suspected radical Muslim terrorists attacked and burned a Catholic seminary in Kaduna State and killed a young seminarian who was trapped in the fire. More than 20 people of the Heipang Village in Plateau State were murdered by suspected radical Fulani militants one night in August. In April, a mass burial was held for 33 Christians killed during an attack against Runji Village in the Zangon Kataf LGA of Kaduna State.
In the north, a radical Islamist insurgency now aligned with the Islamic State is waging an effective war against government forces. Preying on the weak and desperate, the insurgency has killed thousands and displaced many more since militarizing in 2011. International efforts to bolster anti-terror operations in Nigeria have thus far proven ineffective.
The small Fulani Christian population in Nigeria faces danger from these rogue militias. They are doubly persecuted — considered traitors by much of the Fulani community, they are frequently rejected by Christian communities who consider them spies. Though some have been accepted and even pastor multi-ethnic churches, many more face systematic rejection and physical danger from both sides.
“And yet there are ‘glimmers of hope,’” says King, referring to how the Persecutors of the Year Report highlights the good that is happening even amid the turmoil and persecution. “Helping to combat the impact of these militias are peace-loving Fulani who risk their lives to warn the Christian community of impending militant attacks. These informants face severe consequences if caught and shine as an inspiring example of kindness and humanity toward their enemies. I am inspired by the courage of these Christians on the geographical fringes of our faith. They boldly witness and stand up to the persecutor. They are the very engine of the worldwide church.”
ICC has advocated for the US Department of State to designate Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of religious freedom. ICC also attended the Peace Dialogue for Fulani and Irigwe leaders, which was hosted by Nigerian military and included at least 100 stakeholders from the Fulani and Irigwe communities as well as leaders from other ethnic groups. The group welcomed the new military commander recently assigned to the Sector and spoke to update him on the security situation in the region.
International Christian Concern has served the global persecuted church since 1995 through its three-pronged approach of assistance, advocacy, and awareness. ICC exists to bandage the wounds of persecuted Christians and to build the church in the toughest parts of the world. Learn more about International Christian Concern at its website, persecution.org, and on its social media pages, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. Visit persecution.org/projects/poy/ to download the 2023 Persecutor of the Year report.