Violence is defined in WWL Methodology as the deprivation of physical freedom or as bodily harm to Christians or damage to their property. It includes severe threats (mental abuse). The table is based on reported cases as much as possible, but since many incidents go unreported, the numbers must be understood as being minimum figures. The following 5 points should be considered when using the data provided in the Block 6 table:
- Some incidents go unreported because the Christians involved choose not to speak about the hostility being faced. Possible reasons for this may be:
- Doing so would expose them to more attacks. For example, if a family member is killed because of his/her faith, the survivors might decide to keep silent about the circumstances of the killing to avoid provoking any further attacks.
- In some circumstances, the reticence to pass on information may be due to the danger of exposure caused by converts returning to their previous faith.
- If persecution is related to sexual violence – due to stigma, survivors often do not tell even their closest relatives.
- In some cultural settings, if your loved one is killed, you might be under the obligation to take revenge. Christians not wishing to do that, may decide to keep quiet about it.
Other incidents go unreported for the following possible reasons:
- Some incidents never reach the public consciousness, because no one really knows about it; or the incident is simply not considered worth reporting; or media coverage is deliberately blocked or distorted; or media coverage is not deliberately blocked, but the information somehow gets lost; or the incidents are deliberately not reported widely for security reasons (e.g. for the protection of local church leaders).
- In situations where Christians have been discriminated against for many years, armed conflict can make them additionally vulnerable. Christians killed in areas where fighting regularly takes place are unlikely to be reported separately. Examples in recent years have been Sudan, Syria and Myanmar.
- Christians who die through the deprivation of basic necessities such as clean water and medical care (due to long-term discrimination) are unlikely to be reported separately. Christians are not always killed directly; they can be so squeezed by regulations and other oppressive factors that they die – not at once, but in the course of years. This often includes the deprivation of basic necessities such as clean water and medical care, or exclusion from government assisted socio-economic development projects. These numbers could be immense.
- The use of symbolic numbers: In cases where it has been impossible to count exactly, a symbolic round figure (10*, 100* etc.) is given and indicated with an asterisk. A symbolic number of 10* could in reality even be 100 or more but the real number is uncertain. A symbolic number of 100* could go well over 1000 but the real number is uncertain. A symbolic number of 1,000* could go well over 10,000 but, again, the real number is uncertain. The same applies for symbolic numbers 10,000*, 100,000* and 1,000,000*: Each could indicate much higher numbers, but WWR chooses to be cautious because the real number is uncertain.
|Nigeria: Violence Block question
|6.1 How many Christians have been killed for faith-related reasons (including state sanctioned executions)?
|6.2 How many churches or Christian buildings (schools, hospitals, cemeteries, etc.) have been attacked, damaged, bombed, looted, destroyed, burned down, closed or confiscated for faith-related reasons?
|6.3 How many Christians have been detained for faith-related reasons?
|6.4 How many Christians have been sentenced to jail, labor camp, sent to psychiatric hospital as punishment, or similar things for faith-related reasons?
|6.5 How many Christians have been abducted for faith-related reasons (including Christians missing in a persecution context)?
|6.6 How many Christians have been raped or otherwise sexually harassed for faith-related reasons?
|6.7 How many cases have there been of forced marriages of Christians to non- Christians?
Nigeria: Violence Block question
|6.8 How many Christians have been otherwise physically or mentally abused for faith-related reasons (including beatings and death threats)?
|6.9 How many houses of Christians or other property (excluding shops) have been attacked, damaged, bombed, looted, destroyed, burned down or confiscated for faith-related reasons?
|6.10 How many shops or businesses of Christians have been attacked, damaged, bombed, looted, destroyed, burned down, closed or confiscated for faith-related reasons?
|6.11 How many Christians have been forced to leave their homes or go into hiding in-country for faith-related reasons?
|6.12 How many Christians have been forced to leave the country for faith- related reasons?
The number of Christians killed has risen from 4,650 (in WWL 2022) to 5,014 in the WWL 2023 reporting period – an 8% increase. For abductions the rise is from 2510 (WWL 2022) to 4,726 (WWL 2023) – an 88% increase.
The number of churches attacked or closed was 470 (WWL 2022); for the WWL 2023 reporting period the symbolic number 100* has been used. This number must be understood to be a very low indication. Apart from direct acts of destruction against churches, the number also includes churches that stopped functioning after village communities were raided or occupied. A large number of Christian villages have been affected.
Behind the bare numbers for the different categories of violence, much more lies hidden from view. A husband or older son killed leaves the wife/mother and younger children behind in a state of great vulnerability. A wife or daughter abducted leaves a man only being able to imagine what might be happening to her – such thoughts torment the mind incessantly. When a (mainly) Christian community is attacked, some are killed, some are injured (often seriously) and others are abducted. The pattern is frequently that men and boys are killed, and women and girls are abducted. Many flee from their homes and fields. Their properties are robbed; their harvests destroyed or possession of their farmland is taken over. When the Christians dare to come back, there is always the fear that it will happen again. Fear reigns: When night falls, there is always the anxiety that another attack could come, and thoughts of what might happen to oneself and one’s family. Villagers in some areas often sleep in forest areas at night to avoid Fulani attacks. Some communities have been permanently abandoned by their Christian inhabitants and occupied by Fulani militants. The overlap between Fulani militants and so-called ‘armed bandits’ is considerable. Boko Haram and ISWAP operate slightly differently but the consequences are comparable.
As the February 2023 report by ORFA clearly shows in its key findings (pp.3-4), violence is acted out in different ways. It is not always that (mainly) Christian villages are attacked. But when that is the case, it is not that the assailants want to kill as many members of the villages as possible;
if so, they would operate differently. It seems that the creation of an atmosphere of terror is the main goal, along with the opportunity to rob other people’s possessions. Or the goal might be simply to take over everything those people have for a specific period of time, if not indefinitely. Abduction is also increasing. Some women and girls are abducted for sexual slavery or forced marriage. Others (men, women) are abducted for ransom often men. Church leaders are a common target, probably because they are expected to be able to raise large sums of money quickly from their congregations or church institutions. Abduction has become a successful ‘revenue model’.
Many Christians live as IDPs. Some find they can survive and carry on, while others suffer a long time lacking everything. Women and children are particularly vulnerable as IDPs: Children are vulnerable to health problems and women and girls to abuse and human trafficking.
A common denominator for the Nigerian Christians (and others) confronted with these different forms of violence, is trauma. Many live with traumatic experiences that have not been dealt with. Such experiences may be personal or when a loved-one has been killed or abducted or otherwise confronted with serious violence. Where such trauma receives no treatment, the resilience of victims and the ability to get on with their lives again is often undermined. This can be the case even where support is in place to take care of the material side of things (which is rare).
The following three charts show the levels of pressure and violence faced by Christians in the country over the last five WWL reporting periods.
5 Year trends: Average pressure
|Nigeria: WWL 2019 – WWL 2023 Persecution Pattern history
|Average pressure over 5 Spheres of life
The average pressure in Nigeria has been increasing over the last few years. In addition to the reporting periods listed above, the average pressure for WWL 2014 was 11.0 points; for WWL 2015: 12.2 points; for WWL 2016: 12.3 points; for WWL 2017: 12.3 points; for WWL 2018: 12.1 points.
The WWL 2015 reporting period covered the year before the elections that removed President Goodluck Jonathan from office. President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019. Before he came to power, Nigeria had already been heading towards chaos
for quite some time. Yet the ‘agitation’ President Buhari has allowed has caused further deterioration in the country’s situation for all Nigerians and especially for Christians. By the end of President Buhari’s second term, the situation was getting very precarious.
5 Year trends: Pressure in each sphere of life
There has been a distinct increase in the scores for pressure in the different spheres of life over the last five WWL reporting periods. The differences between the lowest and highest values is
1.6 points for Private life, 2.0 for Family life, 1.2 for Community life, 2.0 for National life and 1.5 for Church life. This pattern reflects the gradual process of Islamization taking place under Buhari’s presidency. In situations of high levels of jihadist activity, combined with almost total impunity, non-violent forms of hostility against Christians (and others) rise too.
5 Year trends: Violence against Christians
As can be seen in the diagram below: The score for violence has remained at maximum level for the past five reporting periods. In previous reporting periods, the score for violence in WWL 2014 was 15.6 points; in WWL 2015: 16.7 points; in WWL 2016: 16.7 points; in WWL 2017: 16.1
points; in WWL 2018: 16.5 points.
Over the last 10 years, the score for violence in Nigeria has 7 times been the maximum score (16.7 points). As described above in the Section on Violence, behind these scores a world of suffering is hidden. Indeed, the number of Christians killed in Nigeria has been the bulk of the global totals for Christians killed for many years. This is not only linked to the size of the Church
– the number of Christians even in the north of Nigeria is quite large – but above all to the dynamics of unceasing jihadist violence in the country.
|Female Pressure Points
|Discrimination/harassment via education; Economic harassment via business/job/work access
|Political and Legal
|Denied custody of children; Forced marriage
|Abduction; Forced to flee town/country; Incarceration by family (house arrest); Targeted Seduction; Trafficking; Violence – death; Violence – physical; Violence – sexual
|Social and Cultural
|Denied access to social community/networks; Enforced religious dress code; Violence – psychological; Violence – Verbal
In the North of Nigeria, and increasingly in the South, the situation of Christian women and girls continues to be dire. Raids by Boko Haram and the splinter group ISWAP, Fulani militants and armed ‘bandits’ have terrorized Christian communities. Women and girls have been raped, forced into sexual slavery, kidnapped for ransom and killed. There is a general practice of treating women as inferior to men, in rural regions especially, which makes their maltreatment easier. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence in IDP camps. An expert commented on their 2022 research: “The banditry, Fulani militia activity and herdsmen attacks have subjected a lot of Christian young women and girls to rape. In our interviews during our numerous visits to internally displaced persons camps, as high as fifty to sixty percent of the
women and girls in the camps have been either raped by bandits or kidnappers. Apart from what happened in the camps, about eighty percent of kidnapped victims that are women have been raped by their captors.”
Abduction is used regularly to impoverish Christian families. Christian girls are sometimes abducted to be trafficked by radical Islamic religious leaders for the purpose of forced conversion and forced marriage – even women who are already married. An expert comments: “Of late, emirs have provided a special covering for abductors of minors. They collect the minors from the abductors and convert them to Islam, then marry them off to willing Muslims, who often rape the minors to impregnate them. The emirs act like their parents, while their biological parents are denied access to them.” When parents try to rescue their child, they commonly face resistance from the community, police and judiciary, who argue that the marriage is legitimate under Islamic law and the girl has accepted Islam. In addition to being “married”, girls abducted by militants have reportedly been used as human shields or as leverage in negotiations with the government or their families.
The fear that something will happen with their Christian daughters causes many Christian parents to push for early marriage as a kind of protection. This, alongside laws permitting under- age marriage in some states, contributes to the high early marriage rate for girls (Girls Not Brides, accessed 21 November 2022). Some Christian parents also choose to keep their girls at home, due to the dangers girls face travelling to and at school; this compounds the dependency of women and girls on men and fosters illiteracy about their rights. School abductions have also led to parents sending their daughters to safer states for education. Those remaining in schools in northern states are forced to wear Islamic code uniforms; the wearing of hijab, for instance, is compulsory for all female students in Sharia-run states.
When women are raped, their husbands can sometimes struggle to move past the trauma – they may even view their wife as dirty or impure, particularly if pregnant. Many homes have broken up because of this. When girls are abducted, a deep sadness falls upon the family. Men often see it as their fault for not protecting their children adequately. The victims themselves, too, carry scars and trauma for a very long time, and can be stigmatized by communities. Christian communities therefore end up deeply fractured and there have been calls for a greater response to gender-based violence (Daily Trust, 23 October 2022). The high rate of killings of Christian men also causes many dependent wives and children to fall into poverty or flee for safety.
Particularly in the Hausa ethnic group, the general perception is that women are not supposed to work outside the home or fend for themselves. Generally, poverty can also make women and girls more vulnerable to pressure from perpetrators. In addition to the great emotional toll and social cost of violations, in some communities where widows are the main financial providers (possibly widowed due to persecution targeting their husbands), such violations also affect the community’s economic well-being.
|Male Pressure Points
|Denied inheritance or possessions; Discrimination/harassment via education; Economic harassment via business/job/work access
|Political and Legal
|Denied access to Christian religious materials, teachings and rites; Imprisonment by government
|Abduction; Forced out of home – expulsion; Forced to flee town/country; Military/militia conscription/service against conscience; Violence – death; Violence – physical
|Social and Cultural
|Violence – psychological
In the North of Nigeria, and increasingly in the South, Christian men and boys are often specifically targeted and killed by non-state actors including Boko Haram, ISWAP, Fulani militants and armed ‘bandits’. Much of this violence happens through attacks on Christian communities in rural areas and at roadblocks. These killings not only serve to eliminate the current generation of men and boys, but also guarantees a considerable fall in the birthrate of Christian families. A country expert comments: “A lot of [men and boys] are paying the supreme price for their faith on a daily basis.”
For those who survive such attacks, abduction and forced inclusion in militant ranks remain a threat. There are many reports of church leaders being abducted for ransom.
Christian men and boys have also been strategically marginalized in terms of education and employment. They are increasingly excluded from gaining admission to schools or universities, and are unlikely to gain employment within the Civil Service in Sharia states and sometimes even at federal level, even if highly qualified. They can also be fined or detained unlawfully. The ensuing combination of frustration and multiple dangers causes many young men to leave the country in search of safety and better opportunities.
The combination of violence and pressure has a devastating effect on the Church and Christian families. If a man is killed, loses his ability to work or has his property seized, his family can become impoverished. The vulnerability of the family is a living testimony of the overwhelming power of the perpetrators. This is particularly evident in how perpetrators are almost never brought to justice.
Violence against women is also used as a weapon to harm Christian men. Men and boys have been forced to watch their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters be raped in front of them, or abducted, causing deep trauma and feelings of helplessness, as they feel they should have been able to protect them.
all over Nigeria”. He then added that, ‘God willing, we will not stop the agitation for the total implementation of the Sharia in the country’.” (See above: Persecution engines.)
This country dossier shows that the level of ‘agitation’ has become very high. Other organizations have seen this too: The International Committee On Nigeria (ICON), together with the International Organization on Peace-building & Social Justice (PSJ), published a report in 2020 entitled “Nigeria’s Silent Slaughter“, claiming that genocide is taking place in Nigeria. Some agree with this terminology, others are slightly more cautious in how they frame the situation in the country. However, all are convinced that Nigeria is in the grip of an inhumane dynamic, that victimizes many civilians – and Christians in particular.
The February 2023 report of the newly established Observatory of Religious Freedom in Africa has a slightly different approach in that it has tried to be comprehensive in its registration of incidents involving killings and abductions. It counted killings and abductions of civilians and their religious backgrounds, of the security forces and of ‘Terror Groups’). ORFA states (pp. 6- 7): “The report distinguishes between the religious background of the civilian victims because a variety of contradictory analyses exists concerning the causes of violence in Nigeria. Some analyses blame everything on a ‘classical’ herder-farmer conflict made worse by environmental degradation in the wider region. Other analyses see as the exclusive guiding theme the vision of Usman Dan Fodio, a Fulani radical Islamic scholar who began an Islamic jihad in Gobir in 1804, and by 1808 had established the Sokoto Caliphate. He had vowed to enforce Islam through the power of the sword from the Sahara Desert in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the south. ORFA is not taking sides. The Observatory wants to let the data speak for itself”.
Desert encroachment is also a factor impacting Nigeria. While climate change and environ- mental degradation have been used as excuses for violations of freedoms in Nigeria (‘persecution eclipse’), its continuous effects will further complicate the turbulent situation in the country.
If the current situation continues its cascading spiral effect, an all-out chaos may be inevitable. Out of this chaos a new Nigeria might emerge, but one built on the foundation of violent jihadism and other sources of violence that accompany it. Such a scenario would not only be disastrous for the Church in Nigeria and for the country itself, but also for the entire region.
In 2021 some suggested that major changes might occur in Nigeria before (or around) the end of President Buhari’s second term. One of them was the former Head of Naval Intelligence, Professor of Global Security Studies, Commodore Kunle Olawunmi. In a revealing interview with Channels Television he described the situation in Nigeria as a strategy of ‘Talibanization’, in which state actors and tribal groups are also complicit (YouTube, 25 August 2021). At the time of writing of this dossier (April 2023) it has turned out that the APC (the party of outgoing President Buhari) with its Muslim-Muslim ticket won the elections (see above: Drivers of persecution). Although Commodore Kunle Olawunmi’s fears did not materialize, the election results seem to hold little promise for change from the pathway laid out during the Presidency of Buhari. That is why many Christians were heavily disappointed by the 2023 election results.
- Drivers of persecution description: persecution eclipse – https://opendoorsanalytical.org/wp- content/uploads/2022/11/Distinctive-elements-of-WWL-methodology.pdf
- Drivers of persecution description: RLPB 678 – https://rlprayerbulletin.blogspot.com/2023/01/rlpb-678- nigerian-elections-1-candidates.html
- Block 2.10: Christian spouses and/or children of Christians have been subject to separation for prolonged periods of time by circumstances relating to persecution. (4.00 points): Leah Sharibu – https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/december/nigeria-katsina-boys-freed-boko-haram-chibok- leah-sharibu.html
- Block 3.4: Christians been hindered in sharing community resources because of their faith (e.g. clean drinking water). (3.50 points): grossly inadequate – https://opendoorsanalytical.org/wp- content/uploads/2018/05/Nigeria-Assessment-of-Christian-situation-in-4-north-eastern-states-June-2017.pdf
- Block 4.13: Christians have been accused of blasphemy or insulting the majority religion, either by state authorities or by pressure groups. (3.75 points): killing of Christian student – https://opendoorsanalytical.org/nigeria-blasphemy-killing-mere-public-disturbance/
- Block 5.11: Pastors or other Christian leaders (or their family members) have been special targets of harassment for faith-related reasons. (3.75 points): Vanguard, 19 June 2022 – https://www.vanguardngr.com/2022/06/attack-on-churches-35-pastors-abducted-killed-in-17-months/
- Block 5.11: Pastors or other Christian leaders (or their family members) have been special targets of harassment for faith-related reasons. (3.75 points): Leadership NG, June 2022 – https://leadership.ng/editorial-kidnappers-taste-for-the-clergy/
- Violence / Block 6 – commentary: February 2023 report – https://orfa.africa/wp/wp- content/uploads/2023/02/Nigeria-Killings-and-Abduction-10-2019%E2%80%939-2021%E2%80%93final.pdf
- Gender-specific religious persecution Female description: Girls Not Brides, accessed 21 November 2022 – https://atlas.girlsnotbrides.org/map/nigeria
- Gender-specific religious persecution Female description: calls for a greater response – https://dailytrust.com/borno-adamawa-yobe-recorded-5623-sexual-violence-in-four-years-report/
- Persecution of other religious minorities: ORFA, Killings and Abductions in Nigeria 2019-2022 – https://orfa.africa/wp/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/230217-ORFA-Killings-and-Abductions-in-Nigeria-2019- 2022.pdf
- Future outlook: Nigeria’s Silent Slaughter – https://iconhelp.org/silent-slaughter/
- Future outlook: February 2023 report – https://orfa.africa/wp/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/230217-ORFA- Killings-and-Abductions-in-Nigeria-2019-2022.pdf