Islamist violence against Christians in Nigeria – a country estimated to be about half Christian – has reached catastrophic levels and places the country at risk of being home to a new Islamic State-style caliphate, David Curry, the CEO of the Christian Aid group Open Doors, told Breitbart News in an interview this week.
Open Doors released its annual World Watch List, an in-depth ranking of the most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian, on Wednesday. Nigeria earned the list’s number seven ranking, up two spots from the year before. Open Doors classifies persecution in Nigeria as “extreme.”
The increase in Christian persecution in Nigeria is particularly notable this year given the decision by the administration of President Joe Biden to remove the country from the State Department’s list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom in November. Supporters of the move make the case that the violence against Christians in the country occurs at the hands of two major jihadist groups, the Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram and Fulani Muslim terrorists, and not directly from the Nigerian government. In conversation on Wednesday, however, Curry observed that the Nigerian government has done “almost nothing” to protect Christians in the country.
“Northern Nigeria is really the epicenter of jihadi violence right now,” Curry told Breitbart News. “There’s a band across the African continent, it’s called the Sahel region. It includes northern Nigeria but it goes over into Cameroon, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger. All of these countries are seeing a giant jump [in anti-Christian violence] because of Boko Haram, which is an ISIS-affiliated group, and the Fulani.”
Curry’s assessment echoes what President Muhammadu Buhari has himself said of the country.
“Africa is the new frontline of global militancy,” Buhari wrote in a column for the Financial Times last year, proposing that the solution to the problem should come at the hands of the West.
Curry explained that the major increase in jihadist violence against Christians in the country began in 2014 – the year Boko Haram made international headlines by abducting nearly 300 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, a town in northern Nigeria’s Borno state. As of the seventh anniversary of the kidnappings last year, over 100 of the victims remain missing.
At the time, Boko Haram was a local jihadist group known for attacking schools and opposing the secular education of girls in particular. Boko Haram has since adopted the formal name “Islamic State West Africa Province” (ISWAP) and pledged allegiance to ISIS. The Nigerian government has used the name change to falsely claim victory over “Boko Haram” and blame all subsequent Boko Haram attacks on “ISWAP.”
In the years after the Chibok kidnappings, groups of Fulani herdsman terrorists have increased attacks on Christian communities in northern Nigeria, raiding known Christian communities and massacring their populations.
“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,” Open Doors’ World Watch List details. “In addition to the violence risks, Christians in some of Nigeria’s northern states also live under Shariah law, where they face discrimination and treatment as second-class citizens. Christians who convert from Islam also face rejection from their families, often pressured to recant their faith in Jesus; sometimes, they are even violently attacked.”
“The government, which is run by President Buhari who is himself historically from the Fulani tribe, have done almost nothing as nearly 5,000 people were killed for their faith this year alone, and millions of others displaced,” Curry explained. “You have thousands of kids who are kidnapped, young girls, out of school. Over a thousand kids this year alone. So you can imagine if we had 1000 young girls kidnapped out of American schools, people would be going nuts.”
Curry lamented that Buhari has offered no meaningful defense support to affected communities.
“They’re sending the Nigerian military into the north of the country without weapons, without bullets, without the sorts of things that a civil society needs to protect against major armed Islamic terrorists,” Curry asserted.
“In many cases, they’re unarmed or they send them with guns without the bullets to fight them. And these terrorists have weapons, they’ve been funded,” Curry said. The result, he concluded, is that the soldiers simply refuse to fight, giving the terrorists freedom to attack.
“That is how this has continued to grow and it will, if left unchecked, continue to become a caliphate much like ISIS had in Iraq and Syria a few years ago,” he predicted.
Curry described the State Department’s decision to delist Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern in light of the escalating violence as “puzzling.”
“It was a major mistake, it seems almost on its face entirely political, and it’s puzzling to everybody in the human rights world because the continued situation is that it’s getting worse,” Curry said. “More people are killed there than any other region that we can document, so you have to wonder what is going on there.”
Open Doors found this year that over 360 million Christians live in countries where they face high levels of persecution specifically for their faith, about 20 million more than the year before. The group documented the killing of 6,000 Christians because of their faith this year, a slightly higher number of Christians detained for their faith, and 3,829 Christians abducted.