Violence against Christians is on the rise in Nigeria, one of the countries that most persecutes Christians worldwide, according to Open Doors.
Last Sunday (19), gunmen attacked a Catholic church and a Baptist church in the north-central state of Kaduna: three people were killed and more than 30 worshipers were kidnapped. Two weeks earlier, on Pentecost Sunday, 40 Christians were killed in an attack on a Catholic church in the southwestern Nigerian state of Ondo.
In its most recent ranking of the persecution of Christians around the world, Open Doors ranked Nigeria in seventh place.
The organization highlighted in the report that the situation is more critical in the north of the country, where “Christians live under the constant threat of attacks from extremist groups such as Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Fulani extremists”. Between January 2021 and March this year, 6,006 Christians were killed in Nigeria.
Before last Sunday’s attacks, the NGO Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled) had already counted at least 23 attacks on church facilities and people connected to them this year in Nigeria.
Counting the two attacks in Kaduna, the number of records for 2022, which has not yet completed six months, is already close to the number computed for the entire year of 2021, when 31 attacks had been recorded; in 2020, there were 18.
“It is becoming a desperate situation and it is reprehensible,” said Christian Association of Nigeria spokesman Adebayo Oladeji.
The growth of persecution of Christians in Nigeria at this time has some differences in relation to other times.
The first was the announcement of the “Battle for Revenge for the Two Sheiks” campaign by the new Islamic State spokesman, Abu Umar al Muhajir, on 17 April. He called on supporters to carry out attacks on “infidels” to “avenge” the deaths of leader Abu Ibrahim al Qurayshi and former IS spokesman Abu Hamza al Qurayshi that took place this year.
Since then, according to a survey by the Critical Threats project (“Critical Threats”), more terrorist attacks have been claimed by Islamic State affiliates in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, India, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia and Syria.
A recent BBC report highlighted that attacks on Christians have also been carried out by militias and gangs not affiliated with any terrorist group, in a scenario where the dispute over land has great weight.
Droughts and desertification in northern Nigeria have led Muslims to migrate further south, where they clash with Christian farming communities, targeting homes and places of worship. In this context, Muslim communities have also been targeted.
In addition to these factors, religious leaders denounce the historic neglect of the Nigerian state in protecting Christians and fighting terrorism.
“In Nigeria, unfortunately, this [perseguição religiosa] it is possible when the government does not provide security for the entire population, or selectively protects some people and ignores the security of others,” Nigerian priest Oseni Jude Osilama Ogunu said in an interview with the Catholic Information Agency (ACI).
Despite the fear in this moment of increasing violence, the priest said he was hopeful: “No cruelty or tyranny can prevent the Church from flourishing and growing in the Christian faith”.
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