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What's Behind the Relentless Persecution of Christians in Nigeria

Violence against Christians increases in Nigeria, one of the countries that most persecutes Christians worldwide, according to Open Doors.

In the last Sunday (17), gunmen attacked a Catholic church and a Baptist church in the north-central state of Kaduna: three people were killed and more than 30 faithful were kidnapped. Two weeks earlier, on Pentecost Sunday, 40 Christians were killed in an attack on a Catholic church in Ondo state, in southwestern Nigeria.

In its most recent ranking on the persecution of Christians around the world, Open Doors placed Nigeria in seventh place.

The organization highlighted in the report that the situation is most 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 of this year, 6.006 Christians were killed in Nigeria.

Before the attacks last Sunday, the NGO Project for the Location of Armed Conflicts and Event Data (Acled) had already counted at least 23 attacks on church facilities and people connected with them this year in Nigeria.

Taking into account the two attacks in Kaduna, the number of records of 2022, which has not yet completed six months, it is already close to the computed in the entire year of 2021, when there had been recorded 31 attacks; in 2020, were 18.

“It is becoming a desperate situation and it is something reprehensible”, declared the spokesman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Adebayo Oladeji.

The growth of the persecution of Christians in Nigeria at the moment has some differences in relation to other times.

The first was the announcement of the campaign “Battle for Revenge for the Two Sheiks”, made by the new spokesman of the Islamic State, Abu Umar al Muhajir, in 17 Of april. He called on supporters to carry out attacks against “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 that the dispute for land carries great weight.

Droughts and desertification in northern Nigeria have led Muslims to migrate to locations further south, where they clash with Christian farming communities, targeting houses and places of worship. In this context, Muslim communities have also been targeted.

In addition to these factors, religious leaders denounce the historical neglect of the Nigerian State in protecting Christians and fighting terrorism.

“In Nigeria, unfortunately, thisit 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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