Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Providence Magazine on April 1, 2022.
In today’s unsettled world, breathless headlines turn our eyes from one dangerous site to another—from Russia to Ukraine, from North Korea to China. And we hardly have time to focus on hotspots that flash, flare, and fade in the Middle East.
Against this alarming backdrop, all too often Western news reports overlook increasing bloodshed in Africa, even as radical Islamist violence is escalating across the continent. In Nigeria—Africa’s most populous country—violence and bloodshed continue to surge, week after week, month after month. Tragically, our Christian brothers and sisters are the primary targets of Islamist terrorism—murders, rapes, kidnapping, and never-ending threats of more.
This week we learn from Morning Star News that on March 24, in Nigeria’s Kaduna State, at least 50 Christians were murdered and a Catholic priest was abducted. Meanwhile, in another shocking attack, 100 kidnapped believers were taken captive in Giwa County, seized in the middle of the night. At the same time, radical Fulani terrorists burned houses and a church, and slaughtered animals.
Christian Post recently reported that at least 4,650 Nigerian Christians were killed between Oct. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021, up from 3,530 the previous year. Meanwhile, more than 2,500 Christians were kidnapped, up from 990 a year earlier.
Open Doors World Watch List explains the dangers in more detail:
Persecution in Nigeria is, simply put, brutally violent. In much of northern Nigeria, Christians live their lives under the constant threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani militants and criminals who kidnap and murder with few consequences. While all citizens of northern Nigeria are subject to threats and violence, Christians are often specifically targeted because of their faith—ISWAP and Boko Haram want to eliminate the Christian presence in Nigeria, and Muslim Fulani militants attack Christian villages specifically.
Just last week, on March 20, “Suspected Fulani herdsmen on Thursday (March 17) kidnapped 46 Christians and a number of their children in an attack in Kaduna state.” The heavily armed terrorists attacked a predominantly Christian town, Agunu Dutse, shortly after midnight. “They trooped into our village in large numbers and began shooting indiscriminately at anyone on sight,” a local resident explained.
The following Sunday night, March 21, a church service in a different Kaduna city was just ending when well-armed insurgents arrived. “Agban Kagoro is under heavy attack with sporadic gunshots, burning down of houses in Adan, Mararaba, and Tsonje,” a terrified witness told International Christian Concern. Another later recounted, “Twenty-five people were killed, and over 100 houses burnt.”
Nigeria’s killings and kidnappings of Christians continue to increase while Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari—a Fulani tribesman himself—and his government do worse than nothing in the face of the ongoing religious violence and destruction. The face of Nigeria’s victims is often depicted by the image of Leah Sharibu—a beautiful young schoolgirl who was abducted at fourteen years of age. She was not released with her other kidnapped classmates because she refused to deny her Christian faith. She has now been imprisoned for four years, as of February 19, 2022.
US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Tony Perkins has adopted Leah as a prisoner of conscience, personally advocating for her, recalling how bravely she has refused to renounce her faith for the sake of her personal freedom. But while Leah’s present condition remains unknown and increasingly worrisome, she represents the plight of her fellow Christians in Nigeria—the sixth-largest Christian population in the world. Their future has only darkened, their dangers have only worsened, while multiple deaths of Nigerian Christians are reported nearly every week.
It is difficult for us to imagine in our mostly safe and comfortable American towns and cities the emotional, physical, and spiritual struggle Nigeria’s followers of Jesus are suffering. On their behalf, let’s ask our church leaders to remember pray with us for them. And as we pray, let’s inform our political leaders about our concerns, requesting that they also speak out on their behalf. Let’s do whatever we can to seek protection, hope, and encouragement for Nigeria’s severely persecuted Christians.