Persecution of Christians in Nigeria

1.0 PRE-COLONIAL ERA

The richly endowed sub-Saharan African nation, Nigeria, was an amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates by the British in 1914. The North is composed of a larger Muslim population while the South is predominantly Christian. Prior to the arrival of the Colonialists and the Missionaries, the indigenous people on the two sides were majorly animists or practised what could be described as African traditional religion although there was a claim of quiet presence of Islam around the northern area bordering the Republic of Cameroon. In terms of political ideology, the North practised despotic Oligarchy while the South was Republican. All these heterogenous first nations tribes co-existed peaceably with traces of conflicts.

Earlier before colonialism, *history tells that a group of Nomads, believed to have come from a mountainous region around the present Republics of Guinea Conakry and Senegal had struck and invaded some Northern areas in a Jihad and imposed Islamic rule on the indigenous tribes existing there. Curiously, the number of the invaders were very few compared to the population of these original inhabitants. The invaders soon established a caliphate in Sokoto from where their Sultan appointed his relatives to head most of the forcefully occupied first-nation towns and villages. This successful Jihad would fortunately or unfortunately define the political game of future Nigeria.

2.0 COLONIAL ERA-INDIRECT RULE

During colonialism, the British found it very convenient to indirectly administer the Northern Protectorate as they relied on the governance structure already on ground and supervised the Emirs who collected taxes from their subjects. On the contrary, the colonialists encountered much resistance in the Southern Protectorate, given the fact that, under their leadership structure, authority was not concentrated on one individual.  The pre-colonial South Easterners, for instance, had various levels of communal leadership and payment of tax was strange to them.

The British then went ahead to depose most of the Southern first-nations’ leaders and appointed warrant Chiefs to whom powers were delegated to divide, rule and impose taxes. For the colonialists, the North was obedient and cooperative even as the South was labelled stubborn and rebellious to imperialist occupation. With this indelible impression on the minds of the British, the North became the preferred bride.

3.0 INDEPENDENCE:

Following the unyielding demand for ‘self-rule’ by most anglophone and francophone colonies in sub-Saharan Africa, the British conducted the controversial population census and supervised the elections that produced a Muslim Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, at Independence in 1960.

All the agitations bothering on the ethno-religious diversity of the huge population that were lumped together were ignored.

The North intrinsically began to consolidate power by holding most of the juicy appointments, created local councils and later managed the rich oil wells in the South-South. In all these, education and health of their people were not given priority.

Soon merit, professionalism and accountability were sacrificed on the altar of religion and ethnicity. Corruption became the order of the day especially with the coming of the Military into the polity.  Some politicians at the corridor of power, both from the North and South ravaged the public coffers as funds meant for Infrastructural development got siphoned into private bank accounts.

Mutual suspicion, social discontentment and deeper ethno-religious divisions preceded the bloody civil war that lasted from 1967-1970. At the end of the war, criminality and unemployment soared. A little percentage became super rich while the other millions could barely afford decent meals.

With the return to democratic rule in 1999, the South got gifted with the election of an ex-military General, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The eventful but short-lived tenure of defunct President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, prompted the ascension of Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as President of Nigeria and like a bolt from the blues, Boko Haram terrorists emerged to this day.

4.0 REMOTE CAUSES OF PERSECUTION:

4.0.1 RELIGIOUS SPREAD

Nigeria is a strangely unique country, in fact, most people have argued that no country on planet earth has her resemblance. It is expedient to mention that even in the Muslim-dominated North, one could find millions of Christians just as a good number of Muslims can be found in the Christian South. Men and women of goodwill from both religions have continued to sue for peaceful co-existence between the followers of the two dominant religions.

The above could have motivated the writers of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution to state expressly that, “The Government of the Federation or State shall not adopt any religion as a State religion “.   However, upon President Obasanjo’s coming into office, some States of the North adopted ‘Sharia ‘.

Wikipedia encyclopaedia gave an estimated percentage of Christian to Muslim population in Nigeria as 50.8% to 47.9%. The Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] World Fact Book, gave a similar ratio. Also, most Independent Surveys estimate the population difference between the two religions to be  +-2%. Some political observers further argued that if there were serious margin between the two religious groups, there would not have been any fears from any quarters occasioning persecution.

One can rightly conclude that population demography is at the root of Christian persecution in Africa’s most populous country.

4.0.2 POLITICS OF ISLAMIC SUBJUGATION

This describes the deliberate and conscious efforts by Northern Muslim leaders to perpetuate illiteracy and poverty on their followers, with a view to exercising absolute control over them.  It is also the use of religious sentiments and gimmicks to win elections by the political class.

For most northern politicians, achieving victory at the polls is not a matter of good manifestos, but by brainwashing the electorates into voting along religious lines. A vote for a non-Muslim is ‘haram’ and should be strongly resisted by their subjects.

The ordinary Northern child is encouraged to acquire Islamic education while his or her peer from a wealthy background would study at reputable universities at home and abroad. Upon graduation, high flying jobs are reserved for him or her, both in public and private sectors of the economy. They would later take up the leadership baton from their parents and continue with the subjugation policy.

With no basic education or trade, they sleep in Mosques and Market places and since their livelihoods inevitably depend on these super wealthy Masters, they simply would become tools for thuggery.

In a 2016 World Bank Report captioned, *Advancing social protection in a dynamic Nigeria, the financial institution observed that, “87% of poor Nigerians are in the North, poverty in the Northern region has been increasing especially in the North- west zone”.

Corroborating the World Bank’s statement, former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and former Emir of Kano, North West Nigeria, Muhammadu Sanusi II posited, ”9 States in the North are responsible for 50% of the entire malnutrition burden in Nigeria, besides the problem of drug, ‘Almajiri’ and Boko Haram in the Region. The Emir further warned that if the Northern elites do not change their old ways, the real change would come from mad people.

In the same vein, the highly intellectual Human Right activist and Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese in the North West Nigeria, His Lordship, Matthew Hassan Kukah, has become a thorn in the flesh of Nigerian political leaders for his stance on bad leadership and nepotism by the present administration. Nevertheless, Kukah has continued to express his disapproval over the spate of insecurity, persecution of Christians as well as discrimination in key government appointments in favour of the Muslims.

Unfortunately, any advice to the political class is misconstrued as an attack on government and the adviser would sooner or later be punished such that the Emir of Kano was dethroned while Bishop Kukah, was recently accused of attempt to destabilise the country.

4.0.3 DIVISION AMONG CHRISTIANS/DENOMINATIONALISM:

Contrary to Christ’s injunction on Unity, Christians in Nigeria can be best described as a divided house. Denominationalism is on the increase in Nigeria operating under a largely urban market liberal ideology. It is estimated that over 16,000 churches exist in Nigeria and more are emerging everyday with strong emphasis on wealth acquisition as against spirituality.

Conversely, all sorts of criminalities and misconducts viz bribery, envy, selfishness, greed, 419, Yahoo plus, kidnappings are common among Southern Christians.  There are also increased fears of the power of darkness despite the innumerable number of churches and pastors. It is commonplace to see big auditoriums, rich and ‘beautiful’ men of God competing for attention on costly billboards scattered in big cities only.

It is believed in some quarters that unemployment would have given rise to their unchristian practices because while someone is quick to claim to have embraced Christ, the character leaves much to be desired before non-Christians especially when money is involved.

The absence of love and unity makes it difficult for the churches to pray with one Spirit in the face of persecution and the enemy knows about the crack in the fold and capitalises on it regularly.  Of course, the Northern Christians are of a different brand as they do not practise ‘cash-Christianity’ but are known for their humility, generosity, classless fraternity, contentment. which could explain why they endured continued persecution. With the uncertainty of each day that passes in the country, Christians should strive to be doers of the Word and not teachers or hearers only.

Be that as it may, the Catholic Church with her 30 million population and through the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria [CBCN], has over the years spoken fearlessly against social injustices and outright persecution of Christians like no other for all the oppressed Nigerians irrespective of creed.

5.0 PRESENT SPIKE IN PERSECUTION

History has recorded that while Christianity employs evangelisation to win followership, violence, denials, and war are acceptable means of conversion in Islam. Ideologically, Islam makes no distinction between politics and religion and this explains why Northern leaders could command Islamic terrorists to kill Christians and set churches ablaze with no dissenting voices.

A survey conducted by the USA Open Door’s World Watch List (WWL) on Countries where Christians are most persecuted in 2021 revealed that, “Nigeria entered the Top 10 for the first time maxing out Open Door’s metric for violence, the nation with Africa’s largest Christian population ranks No 9 overall but is 2nd only to Pakistan in terms of violence and ranks No.1 in the number of Christians killed for reasons of their faith”.  Open Door further calculated that 7,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed in the past 3 years including 1,350 martyrs in 2019.

According to the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, North West Nigeria, Bishop Hassan Mathew Kukah, “The present global persecution is unparalleled since the days before Saints Constantine and Helen, adding that Islamic terrorist groups causing havoc in Northern Nigeria are set on killing Christians and destroying Christianity”.

In a statement on the persecution of the Faithful’s, the Catholic Bishop of Gboko, North Central Nigeria, Rev. William Avenya, wondered why no one has ever been arrested, prosecuted, or convicted since the killings began, meanwhile a day hardly passes without a Christian being killed in one part of the region or the other.

The US State Department had in December 2020 added Nigeria to her Special Watch List for countries who have engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

The silence by former colonial power, Britain could be translated as a green light to the persecutors as the Queen being the Head of the Church of England and the Commonwealth, has never made any visible attempt to reconcile the peoples in her former empire.

The world is not oblivious of the fact that the current Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, has been distracted from his presidential duties due to health issues. The brave spouse of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, has at different fora told journalists that a ‘group of cabals’ has usurped President’s duties as against the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

It is also unclear why the elected Vice President of Nigeria, who is a renowned Professor of Law, was side lined in the strange political game. Most patriotic citizens, Christians, and moderate Muslims alike, including foreign political watchers have unfortunately described Nigeria under ‘Buhari Presidency’ as a failed State.

 The agents of destruction, Boko Haram and the Fulani herds men share anti-West and anti-Christian ideologies and have continued to ruthlessly decimate the population of Christians in Northern Nigeria. The truth is that they understand the script they are playing very well and are gaining grounds rapidly with their nefarious agenda. While Seminarian Michael Nnadi received the bullets for announcing the gospel to his captors in 2020, Rev Lawan Andim got beheaded for not denouncing his faith in 2021, Leah Sharibu who was abducted alongside other Dapchi schoolgirls in 2018. and UNICEF worker, Alice Ngaddeh, captured among other Aid workers are still in terrorists captivity for not abandoning Christ.

Although, it is often said that they can outsmart the soldiers due to their expertise in Guerrilla warfare, most Nigerians have continued to accuse the present government and the Army of complicity.

AK 47 rifles-carrying Fulani herdsmen from neighbouring West African countries forcefully occupy farmlands belonging to rural Christian communities in the North East, North Central, South East and South West of the country. They rape, maim, and kill at will.  Farmers can no longer go to their farms resulting in the unprecedented level hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria today.

CONCLUSION

The conspicuous absence of leadership as is the case in Nigeria today has culminated in the spike in persecution of Nigerian believers. Fortunately, moderate Muslims condemn these attacks by foreigners against their Christian neighbours.

 It would be in the interest of both Christians and Muslims if Illiteracy and poverty were eradicated in Northern Nigeria because Education broadens the mind and makes one aware of the diverse in which one lives.

 Most importantly, Christians in Nigeria should sincerely lay more emphasis on love and unity as in seeking the Kingdom of God above all. Any Christian could face persecution today in Nigeria and when Christians are in good standing with God, they would cry out and the Lord will feel it as was the case with Saul. Miracles as of old could still happen.

7.0 COMMENTARY AND CONSOLATION

Persecution is as old as Christianity (Acts 5v16-18, Acts 8v1-3, Acts12v1-3) and may likely continue until Christ’s glorious return. The sad truth is that the persecutor oftentimes cannot pinpoint the offence of his victims except for jealousy and fear of losing relevance as in the case of Herod (Mt2v13) and the Chief priests (Jn12v10).

 Earlier in the Old Testament, the sons of Israel were persecuted by the latter Pharaoh for no faults of theirs until God remembered and despatched Moses (Ex 35v7-10). 

Emperor Nero’s Rome recorded the greatest persecution of early Christians but could not terminate Christianity.

Despite repeated persecutions, Christians still exist in Iraq and Syria which should encourage Nigerian Christians to drag the Cross along. With sincere prayer to God as in the case of Esther and Mordecai (Esther4:12-14); Ezra and Nehemiah (Ez1:3, Neh1:3-4), godly help will come.

 God’s intervention could be in the form of raising a God-fearing leader like Kings Cyrus and Artaxerxes for Nigeria or prompting other nations to speak up and defend the persecuted people around the world.  At times like these, Christianity is a choice.

Vengeance or Hatred might not be possible options because they are in opposition to Christ’s teaching on Love for Enemy (Mt5:43-46).

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