Nigeria is a country of 208 million people. While there are no official indicators of religious affiliation, most analysts conclude it is roughly evenly divided between Muslims (predominantly in the north and mainstream Sunni but also including Sufi and Shi’a sects) and Christians (mainly in the south, including Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other denominations), while approximately 2 per cent belong to other or no religious groups. Many individuals syncretize indigenous animism with Islam or Christianity. The remaining population is made up of small communities of Jews, Bahá’ís, atheists, and holders of indigenous beliefs.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2020
The 2020 APPG report NIGERIA: UNFOLDING GENOCIDE? highlighted the extent of the continuing violence in Nigeria, particularly aimed at Christians.
It recognises the continuing atrocities perpetrated by Islamist extremist groups claiming allegiance to Daesh/Islamic State – Boko Haram and other related splinter groups. According to International Committee of the Red Cross, at least 22,000 people, 60 per cent of them are children, are missing since the decade-long conflict with Boko Haram. Since 2009, two million people have been displaced due to Boko Haram violence.
In December 2019, ISIS-West Africa released a video of the killing of 11 Christians. Leah Sharibu, abducted by Boko Haram three years ago, remains in captivity. On 26 September 2020, at least 11 people were killed in an attack on a security convoy in north-eastern Nigeria.
The APPG report emphasises that inter-communal violence triggered largely by Fulani herders has exacted a higher death toll than Boko Haram and its linked groups, stressing that while there are multiple drivers of conflict, some Fulani herders have adopted a comparable strategy to Boko Haram and ISWAP and “demonstrated a clear intent to target Christians and symbols of Christian identity such as churches.”
The International Crisis Group (ICG) estimate that over 300,000 people have been displaced and that the violence has claimed the lives of six times more people than the conflict with Boko Haram. CSW estimates that between March 2020 to 6 August 2020, Fulani militia carried out 28 attacks in five local government areas, killing 185 people, burning 165 houses and leaving 50 people missing in different parts of the country.
Recent reports underline the extent of ongoing violence. USCIRF (February 2021) states “Violent Islamist groups based in northern Nigeria remain some of the deadliest and most formidable jihadist groups operating in the world today. Estimates suggest that conflict with groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa Province has resulted in the deaths of more than 37,500 people since 2011, and there is a reasonable basis to believe that these groups have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Open Doors World Watch List report 2021 states “Christians are more at risk of violent attack in Nigeria than in any other country. More than 3,000 were killed in 2020, the level of violence described as ‘unprecedented’.”
The Islamist groups also attack Muslims. Fulani Muslims have experienced retaliatory attacks. The Federal government continued its crackdown against Shi’as, particularly the Islamic Mission of Nigeria (IMN), proscribed in July 2019. The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions said that the government had not provided any concrete evidence to justify its ban on IMN.
The treatment of the non-religious in Nigeria is also severe. Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, was rescued in 2014 from a psychiatric ward where he was detained on the grounds that he was an atheist. He was detained again in April 2020, alleged to have insulted the Prophet in his Facebook posts. After continued obstruction by the Nigerian authorities, he was allowed to meet his legal representative in October 2020. His case has been repeatedly postponed.
The APPG report concludes with several recommendations for the UK government to pursue to reduce violence and protect FoRB.
APPG Report – Nigeria – Unfolding Genocide?
FCDO Human Rights Report 2020
Nigeria is currently not a Human Rights Priority Country for the UK government.
APPG Commentary on the current state of Freedom of Religion or Belief 2019
Nigeria is a country of 203 million people split almost evenly between Muslims (51.6% – predominantly mainstream Sunni but also including Sufi and Shia sects) and Christians (46.9% – including Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other denominations). The remaining population is made up of small communities of Jews, Baha’is, atheists, and holders of indigenous beliefs.
Nigeria’s federal constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief to all citizens. However, despite positive rhetoric, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government was unable to notably improve the FoRB situation in Nigeria during the reporting period. Although the government has claimed victory against Boko Haram, the organisation remains a significant threat to both Christians and Muslims. For example, in June 2018, twin suicide bomb attacks during a Muslim religious celebration in Damboa, Borno State, killed at least 31 people and injured more than 48 people.
Despite the findings of the commission which declared the Nigerian security forces responsible for the horrific mass killing of 347 Shias in Zaria in 2015, Shias of Nigeria still wait for justice. Instead of accountability, the Nigerian military has accelerated its crackdown on the group. Despite the court order to release Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, the leader of the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Nigeria’s Department of Security Services (DSS) did not only refuse, but it intensified its clampdown. In April 2018, around 115 Shia IMN members were arrested in Abuja during a protest for the release of Sheikh Zakzaky. Later that year in October, Nigerian soldiers killed at least 42 unarmed civilians when they were holding a peaceful demonstration with the military using machine guns at point-blank range on protestors.
At both federal and provincial levels, activities of IMN, which is a non-violent organisation which advocates for the establishment of Nigeria as an Islamic State, are banned, including religious processions on Ashura and Arbaen which are commemorations central to the Shia Muslim faith. States like Kano, Katsina, Plateau, and Sokoto have either denied or restricted Shia religious gatherings.
Communal violence between predominantly Christian farmers and predominantly Muslim nomadic herder communities in Nigeria is a matter of grave concern. A process of worsening drought and desertification – a result of climate change – which have been ongoing for several decades have forced large numbers of these herders to migrate south in search of water and land for grazing.
This migration has led to clashes between herders and farmers over land. What were once spontaneous clashes have become planned and well-armed attacks – including nocturnal attacks – particularly in Benue, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa and Taraba states.
Across the country, at least 2,000 people died in this violence in 2018. For example, in April 2018, in Benue State, Fulani herders attacked a church, killing 19 people including priests, and destroyed nearly 50 homes. In response, an angry mob attacked two different mosques and killed 11 Muslims.
While the roots of the conflict lie in resource competition and other related issues, religion seems to be a factor in more recent violence. According to the Christian Association of Nigeria, 500 churches have been destroyed since 2011. The precise motivating factors, and ultimate intentions, of the herders will continue to be debated by commentators, but Church attacks do seem to illustrate that there is a religious dimension to the violence which must be taken in to account.
Discrimination based on one’s faith is still a regular feature of life in Nigeria, particularly in the States which have adopted Shari’a where Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that non-Muslims have been denied employment, education and been ridiculed ‘on the basis of their religion’. In those same states, there has also been restriction on construction of churches simply by denying Christians the right to buy land or by creating significant bureaucratic hurdles.
FCO Human Rights Report 2019
Nigeria is currently not a Human Rights Priority Country for the UK government.
In the UK Parliament, 2020
Florence Eshalom 17 March; David Linden 17 March; Sir Desmond Swayne 6 February;
Baroness Whitaker 28 July; Lord Alton 28 July; Lord Alton 28 July; Lord Alton 28 July; Lord Alton 28 July; Lord Curry 27 July; Lord Curry 27 July; David Linden 13 July; Ruth Jones 19 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Lord Alton 17 June; Lord Alton 17 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Ruth Jones 19 June; Lord Alton 17 June; Lord Alton 17 June; Lord Alton 17 June; Lord Alton 17 June; Baroness Cox 17 June; Baroness Cox 17 June; Baroness Cox 17 June; Andrew Rosindell 17 June; Andrew Rosindell 17 June; Andrew Rosindell 17 June; Dr Lisa Cameron 9 June; Jim Shannon 8 June; Daisy Cooper 8 June; Lord Alton 2 June; Baroness Cox 2 June; Lord Dubs 3 June; Baroness Cox 2 June; Stephen Doughty 20 May; Baroness Cox 14 May; Baroness Anelay 13 May; Lord Alton 6 May; Lord Alton 21 April; Baroness Cox 2 March; Baroness Cox 2 March; Fiona Bruce 25 February; Andrew Rosindell 3 February; Sir Desmond Swayne 29 January; Lord Alton 28 January; Lisa Cameron 28 January; Lord Alton 27 January; Lord Alton 28 January; Janet Daby 20 January; Baroness Cox 19 December;
US State Department International Religious Freedom report 2020