or Christians living in the Middle Belt and North of Nigeria persecution is rife and life precarious. Christian communities are targeted in deadly “religious cleansing” assaults by jihadi Boko Haram, and “your land or your blood” attacks by armed militant Fulani herdsmen.
From 2018, extremist violence has escalated and it is estimated that over 1,000 Christians were killed in 2019 alone. Thousands of others have been maimed, burned and kidnapped or forced to flee to refugee camps. “Persecution is real here. We are targeted because of our faith,” said one distraught Christian leader in Borno State.
Since 2015, a surge of extremist violence has killed more than 6,000 Christians and displaced almost two million. “I saw my brother-in-law’s body on the ground, hacked to pieces by a machete. Our home was destroyed. The hospital was burnt. They tried to burn the roof of the church by piling up the chairs, like a bonfire,” said one distressed Christian.
A Christian leader in Bauchi State identified extremist groups as Boko Haram, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Maitatsine, the Kala Kato and Fulani militants. All are heavily armed and even target villages by helicopter.
Boko Haram are aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate in the north-east and seem to be seeking to “cleanse” their territory of any Christian presence. In August 2016, they declared they would “blow up every church and kill all citizens of the cross”. The carnage has gone largely unchallenged by the government and security forces have failed to halt the violence.
Nigeria is roughly 50% Muslim and 50% Christian. The majority of Muslims live in the north and the south is mainly Christian, while the Middle Belt is more diverse. Becoming independent from the UK in 1960, it has a secular constitution, but twelve northern states instituted elements of sharia law between 1999 and 2001.