By William Stark
With countries like North Korea, Pakistan and Somalia topping the list as some of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians, it’s hard to imagine that none of these countries hold the highest Christian death toll. In 2012, that shameful distinction went to Nigeria where almost 70% of Christians killed globally were murdered.
Because Nigeria’s federal government has proven unable to protect Christians in northern Nigeria, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a militant group from southern Nigeria, has pledged to protect Christians by attacking Muslims and Islamic institutions. The possibility of religious war, coupled with these overwhelming statistics makes Nigeria the deadliest place on earth to be a Christian.
According to various reports, over 900 Christians were killed in Nigeria in 2012 for no other reason than subscribing to the Christian faith. Many victims died at the hands of Islamic militants attached to the extremist group Boko Haram. To date, it is estimated that 128 people have been killed in 2013 so far. These staggering figures were released within days of the second anniversary of one of the worst assaults on Christians in modern history, which coincidentally, also took place in Nigeria.
Recent events have caused some analysts to wonder whether Nigeria is on the brink of a religious war. On April 16, MEND announced that it would start bombing mosques, assassinating clerics and destroying other Islamic institutions unless Boko Haram stops targeting Christians for its acts of terror.
Over the past three years, Boko Haram has terrorized Christians by bombing churches and murdering Christians in their own homes. It is estimated (that) over 3,000 people have been killed in the Boko Haram conflict. MEND has called its new initiative to “protect Christians” in northern Nigeria with violence “Operation Barbarossa.” MEND has also indicated it would call off its operation if the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) asked it to. So far, CAN has remained silent.
Nigeria’s federal government is attempting to head off this potential religious war by attempting to offer Boko Haram a total amnesty deal in exchange for peace in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram has responded by saying it will reject any amnesty deal offered because Boko Haram has done nothing it needs amnesty for.
In April 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, was elected President by a vote that divided Nigeria both geographically and religiously. After the president’s Muslim competitor claimed the election was rigged, Muslim youths across Nigeria’s north filled the streets and took their frustration out on any Christians they could find.
According to Morningstar News, the resulting violence against Christians in Nigeria was staggering. In less than 48 hours, 764 church buildings were torched, 204 Christians were murdered, more than 3,100 Christian-operated businesses, schools and shops were set ablaze and over 3,400 Christian homes were reduced to rubble.
Taxis were stopped by Muslims, and Christian passengers were forced into the streets and murdered. People cornered by Muslim mobs were required to recite the Quran accurately or they were killed on the spot. A lecturer at a college on the outskirts of Zaria, a city located in Nigeria’s northern state of Kaduna, described an attack on the college: “When you [saw] the mob, they were not in their senses. The [Christian] students ran away but the mob pursued them into the staff quarters where they had nowhere to go. The mob beat them to death and hit them with machetes. Four Christian students and a Christian lecturer were killed.”
The level of violence against Christians seen in the post-election violence of 2011 in Nigeria led Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian Christian activist, to dub Nigeria’s “freest and fairest” elections as one of the “fiercest and most ferocious” assaults on Christians Nigeria has ever seen.
In 2012, Nigeria was the deadliest place to be called a Christian. It seems like 2013 is shaping up to be more of the same. Will a religious war between Boko Haram and MEND break out in Nigeria or will Nigeria’s federal government be able to broker some sort of peace? For now, all anyone can do is pray for those persecuted and broken in Nigeria. — International Christian Concern