MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Twelve Christians, including three pastors, were killed and 20 churches were demolished in Nigeria amid escalating religiously motivated violence, prompting a call for government intervention.
Conflicts between Christians and Muslims have gone largely unchecked by the Nigerian government, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) this year placed the African nation on its list of “countries of particular concern.”
International Christian Concern (ICC), a U.S.-based human rights group, is asking people to sign a petition calling on Nigerian officials to bring perpetrators to justice and work to prevent further attacks. The petition is accessible at persecution.org/suffering/petitions. ICC also is asking concerned citizens to contact the Nigerian Embassy in Washington at (202) 986-8400.
In a report Aug. 6, ICC said the attacks that occurred July 26 in Maiduguri were instigated by Boko Haram, a group that opposes Western education and fights to impose sharia law throughout Nigeria, including areas that are largely Christian.
Sabo Yakubu, a husband, father of seven and pastor of a Church of Christ congregation, was hacked to death by a machete, ICC said. Also killed were Sylvester Akpan, pastor of National Evangelical Mission, and George Orji, pastor of Good News of Christ Church.
“Mohammed Yusuf, the Islamic sect leader who initially said their targets were government property and security agencies, later changed and started setting ablaze churches and killing pastors who had nothing to do with their activities,” Yuguda Zubagai Ndurvuwa, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said in a statement reported by ICC.
In the fighting, 700 people including police, Islamic militants and civilians were killed. In the city of Potiskum, Islamists attacked First Baptist Church and Church of the Brethren, burning musical instruments and sound systems before being chased away by police, ICC said.
Since 2002, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has been on USCIRF’s watch list because of a significant pattern of restrictions on religious freedom. Since 1999, more than 10,000 Nigerians reportedly have been killed in “sectarian and communal attacks and reprisals between Muslims and Christians,” USCIRF said. Local groups have clashed over issues steeped in tribal identity, religion and land.
“The response of the government to such violence, particularly bringing perpetrators to justice, continues to remain inadequate,” the commission said.
Last fall, at least 12 Nigerian Baptists were killed and five Baptist churches were burned during riots sparked by local election results in Jos. Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) workers in the area worked alongside several Nigerian Baptist congregations to comfort and house victims of the violence.
More than 300 people were reported killed and thousands were injured in the riots while dozens of churches, mosques, businesses and homes were burned. At least 10,000 people were displaced because of several days of violence in Jos, which is located between Nigeria’s largely Christian south and Muslim north, USCIRF said.
“One Baptist church lost five members and one deacon. At least one pastor’s home was burned down. It was a very, very sad day,” a local Baptist pastor said in a report released by the IMB in December.
In March and April, a USCIRF delegation traveled to Nigeria to assess religious freedom conditions and expressed concern over the expansion of sharia law into the criminal codes of several northern Nigeria states.
Since October 1999, 12 northern Nigerian states have expanded or announced plans to expand the application of sharia law in their states’ criminal law, USCIRF said. Punishments include amputation, flogging or death by stoning, often after trials that fall short of basic international legal standards.
Women have faced particular discrimination under the sharia codes, USCIRF said, and Christians in the northern states have complained of being viewed as second-class citizens.
“In addition, there continue to be reports of foreign sources of funding and support for Islamist extremist activities in northern Nigeria, activities that threaten to fracture the already fragile relations between the two main religious groups,” USCIRF said.
Despite evidence of mistreatment, the Nigerian government has done little to address sectarian and communal violence, including no serious efforts to investigate or prosecute perpetrators.
“There are reports of specific instances of failures to heed warning signs of violence on the part of various government leaders, and failures on the part of federal police to respond effectively and appropriately — at times, if at all — to violence once it has erupted,” USCIRF said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.)