Almost half of Nigerians are Christians – 95.4 million people from a population of 206.2 million – but most of these are in the south of the country. Northern Nigeria is largely Muslim, and it’s in the north and the central region of Nigeria that most persecution of Christians happens.
What does persecution look like in Nigeria?
More Christians are murdered for their faith in Nigeria than in any other country. Violent attacks by Boko Haram, Hausa-Fulani Muslim militant herdsmen, ISWAP (an affiliate of ISIS) and other Islamic extremist groups are common in the north and middle
belt of the country, and are becoming more common farther south.
In these attacks, Christians are often murdered or have their property and means of livelihood destroyed. Men and boys are particularly vulnerable to being killed. The women and children left behind are very vulnerable and living testimonies to the power of the attackers. Perpetrators are seldom brought to justice. Christian women are often abducted and raped by these militant groups, and sometimes forced to marry Muslims.
Christians from a Muslim background face rejection by and pressure from their families. Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency (2015 onwards) has seen a sharp increase in attempts to force Islamization on the country, including appointing Muslims to key government positions.
Many Christians who are driven out of their villages and away from their sources of livelihood are forced to become internally displaced persons (IDPs), often living in informal IDP camps. Given the continuous occupation of their villages by Fulani militants, the lack of government support, the lack of proper education for their children and the high vulnerability of IDPs, these believers continue to suffer even after the brutality of the initial persecution.
Persecution, and especially violent attacks, are most prevalent in the north and Middle Belt of Nigeria, The government’s attempts to Islamicize the country are more widespread, affecting even Christian majority communities in the south. Christians who have converted from Islam are very vulnerable in the north of the country, particularly in those areas governed by Shariah law. Christians living as IDPs are also particularly vulnerable.
Martina’s husband, Rev. Joseph Kura, was brutally murdered by suspected Fulani militants. The tragic event has forever changed the trajectory of Martina and her children’s lives. But God has remained with Martina and the children, consistently reminding her and everyone around them that He is “a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows”
“God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Thank you, Open Doors, for being a family and a source of hope to my children and me. This house is a ministry that God has given to me, to encourage other widows to hold on to God and not lose hope.”Martina
What has changed compared to last year?
Nigeria has risen several places on the World Watch List, and persecution has worsened in all areas of public and private life. Violence against Christians perpetrated by Boko Haram, Fulani militants and ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province)—as well as other, unidentified armed attackers—has led to tremendous suffering among the Christian community.
Nigeria entered the top 10 of the 2021 World Watch List primarily because this violence has increased and begun to spill out into other parts of Nigeria, and the government seems unable or unwilling to protect its Christian citizens. Islamic extremist attacks have not abated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Christians who are staying at home to combat the spread of the virus have been vulnerable to attack.
Open Doors partners with the local church to strengthen persecuted believers in Nigeria through discipleship and persecution survival training, community development projects, emergency relief, trauma care and legal assistance.
- Pray for the Lord’s grace and comfort for believers - many are displaced, have lost loved ones and their homes, and many have also experienced trauma.
- Pray for President Muhammadu Buhari and his government. Pray that they will take decisive actions to protect all citizens in every part of the country.
- Pray that the programs provided by Open Doors partners will strengthen the church to testify and share the gospel in very difficult circumstances.
Lord God, we lift up our brothers and sisters in Nigeria facing extreme violence and other forms of persecution. Comfort those who mourn, we pray, and replace their weeping with joy. Heal their trauma and show them who they are in Your eyes. Protect Christian communities from Islamic extremist attacks, and transform the hearts of those who persecute believers so ruthlessly.