The constitution establishes the state as secular, prohibits religious harassment, and provides for freedom of religion and worship. During the year, the government implemented a series of measures, which it stated it took to preserve order within religious groups undergoing internal disputes. These included instances where internal disputes within Christian communities over the creation of new ecclesiastical districts and church leadership prompted the government to close the churches temporarily. The government encouraged religious groups to find concerted solutions to their problems and held a senior divisional officer responsible for harassing a cleric. Authorities initiated a survey of religious groups operating in the country and anticipated that the outcome could lead to the authorization of new religious organizations and the closure of previously authorized groups. Authorities did not officially lift the ban on full-face Islamic veil implemented in the Far North Region after July 2015 terrorist attacks but the government did not enforce the ban.
Boko Haram carried out a series of violent attacks, including suicide bombings, against civilians, government officials, and military forces, and threatened populations in the Far North Region. The attacks against civilians were indiscriminate and included killings and kidnappings of Muslims and Christians. The insurgents attacked places of worship. Reports suggest Boko Haram killed at least 400 civilians, police, military, and gendarmes as of the end of the year. On March 17, local media reported a military court sentenced 89 members of Boko Haram to death under the 2014 antiterror law for terrorist attacks committed in the Far North Region.
The quest for autonomy by some ecclesiastical districts often prevented the holding of worship services and, in at least one instance, led to the expulsion of members from a Christian community. Many individuals continued to associate Boko Haram with Islam and/or a specific ethnic group, which further increased stigmatization of some Muslims. Many prominent religious leaders, including imams and leaders of faith-based organizations, spoke out against actions of Boko Haram, especially its attacks against security forces and civilians. These leaders also highlighted Boko Haram’s efforts to elicit support from local Muslim and Christian populations.
U.S. embassy officers discussed religious freedom issues with government officials and advocated for greater transparency and efficiency in approving the registration of religious groups. Embassy officers met with leading figures from the principal religious groups to discuss challenges to religious freedom, such as the rise of religious stigmatization. In addition, the embassy preemptively discussed the dangers of inter- and intrareligious intolerance by conducting outreach programs among religious groups to promote religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue through one-on-one meetings.