Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to government services, NGOs, media, academic, and other observers, the level of insecurity driven by rising criminality worsened during the year. Because issues of religion, ethnicity, land and resource competition, and criminality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely, or even primarily, based on religious identity. Numerous fatal clashes continued to occur throughout the year in the North Central region between predominantly Christian farmers from various ethnic groups and predominantly Muslim herders. There were also incidents of violence involving predominantly Muslim herders and Christian or Muslim farmers in the North West region. In addition, criminal groups continued to commit crimes of opportunity, including kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, and banditry in the North West, North Central, and South East regions. According to security experts, the criminal activity in these regions increased in volume, geographic scope, and attendant violence during the year. Media reported on at least six attacks by bandits or armed criminal gangs on religious sites, including mosques and churches. Multiple academic and media sources said banditry and ideologically neutral criminality, rather than religious differences, were the primary drivers of violence in the North West region. Christian organizations, however, said clergy were often targeted as victims of these crimes, because they were viewed as soft targets who often traveled conspicuously without security in the evenings, were typically unarmed, had access to money, and generated significant media attention. While many churches, including the Catholic Church, formally refused to pay ransom, some communities raised money to ensure the return of their religious leaders. Family members of kidnap victims also sometimes paid ransom. According to data ACLED cited on its website, there were 3,699 civilian deaths from the violence during the year, compared with 2,455 in 2020.
In May, Mercy Corps released a report entitled, Fear of the Unknown: Religion, Identity, and Conflict in Northern Nigeria, which reported on the religious attitudes of northerners it surveyed to gauge the perceived influence of religious actors, beliefs, and identities in violent conflict in the north. The report, based on in-depth interviews of 165 persons and a survey of 750 persons in 15 communities in Kano and Kaduna States, concluded only some violence in the north had been interreligious in nature and that Muslims and Christians were both perpetrators and victims. According to the report, “Since 2016, deaths from conflicts over religious issues have waned relative to the number of people killed by criminal violence and conflicts over land and cattle grazing. While deaths from inter-religious violence increased in 2020, they still paled in comparison to those caused by crime and resource conflicts. These trends were confirmed in interviews and surveys. Equally important, interreligious violence has been perpetrated by, and on, both Muslims and Christians.” The report stated, “Christians appear to have suffered more attacks on average, and likely as a result, they were more likely to report feeling victimized. Yet a majority of Muslim and Christian respondents said that members of both faiths are responsible for violence in their area, as opposed to pinning blame solely on one side.” The report stated that conflict data from multiple sources indicated that in the previous decade “only nine percent of attacks explicitly targeted or were carried out by religious groups, and only 10 percent of fatalities were ascribed to conflicts over a religious issue.” The report found that the more religious persons were, the less likely they were to support or engage in violence. It stated that, “rather than religious belief or animus, we find that intercommunal violence is largely driven by insecurity and a lack of trust between ethno-religious groups competing for political power and control over natural resources.” While religion, according to the report, was usually not a direct cause of conflict, political and religious leaders, as well as the public, appealed to religious identity and solidarity to motivate persons to take action and to garner support to advance political, economic, or personal objectives. In addition, the Mercy Corps report stated religious leaders were important in both fomenting violence, by politicizing and emphasizing religious identity, and preventing it, by resolving disputes and promoting peace. The report also stated that “for a minority of northern residents… religious freedom remains a concern,” if indirectly, because fear of attacks created a fear of, or reluctance about, gathering in religious communities and “exacerbates tensions and mistrust between religious groups – the primary pathway to intercommunal conflict in the north [emphasis in the original].”
Numerous fatal intercommunal clashes continued throughout the year in the North Central region between predominantly Christian farmers from various ethnic groups and predominantly Muslim herders. According to the ICG, the causes of the North West turmoil were complex and interrelated, saying that “Environmental degradation and rapid population growth have aggravated resource competition between herders and farmers. Disputes over land and water prompted both herders and farmers to form armed self-defense groups, fueling a cycle of retaliatory violence that has taken on a communal dimension.” Several international and domestic experts stated that armed conflicts in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin had altered grazing routes and brought foreign transhumance (movement of livestock) groups in contact with new communities, sometimes leading to conflict because they were unaware of preexisting agreements between the local herding and farming groups.
Citing witnesses, media and NGOs such as CSW reported that on September 26-27, Muslim herdsmen killed at least 49 persons and abducted 27 in attacks on communities in three Local Government Areas in Kaduna State. According to the reports, most of the victims were Christian. In Kacecere village in southern Kaduna, eight persons were killed and six injured on 27 September; in Gabachuwa community in southern Kaduna, one person died, an unknown number were injured, and 27 members of Evangelical Church Winning All were abducted on 26 September; and 40 persons were killed and eight injured and 20 homes burned down in an attack on Madamai and Abun villages on 26 September. A Catholic priest who witnessed the attack on Madamai and Abun described it as “well coordinated” and “a massacre against the natives.”
On June 2, Christian Post reported that Fulani herdsmen killed Pastor Leviticus Makpa and his three-year-old son in their home.
Morning Star News reported that individuals, which it described as “suspected Fulani herdsmen,” kidnapped and killed Reverend John Gbaakan Yaji, a Catholic priest of the Minna Diocese, on January 15, during a return journey from Benue State. His brother, who was travelling with him, was also kidnapped, and his whereabouts were unknown.
On July 16, Religion News Service reported that bandits killed 33 persons and burned down four churches and hundreds of homes in Kaduna State.
On August 14, Christian ethnic Irigwes youths attacked a convoy of five buses carrying Muslims from Bauchi State to Ondo State as it passed north of the Plateau State capital, Jos, killing as many as 27 and injuring 14 people. According to local media, the attack heightened existing communal tensions and led to further clashes elsewhere in Jos and neighboring communities. Authorities subsequently arrested 20 suspects, but there was no further information on the status of the case at year’s end.
According to media reports, armed bandits killed 10 worshippers at a mosque in Yasore, Katsina State on the evening of October 5.
Also in October, bandits attacked a village in Kaduna, killing 17 and kidnapping 18 as they exited the mosque from early morning prayers. Police killed one suspected perpetrator.
On May 24, the newspaper Christian Post reported that bandits shot and killed eight Christians and burned down a church and several homes in Kaduna State.
On September 29, NGO International Christian Concern reported that Reverend Yohanna Shuaibu, the chair of CAN in Kano State, died from wounds he suffered during a mob attack. The mob, which also burned down the pastor’s church, school, and home, reportedly believed that Shuaibu had played a role in converting to Christianity from Islam a man who had recently killed his sister-in-law. According to CAN and media reports, authorities arrested and charged six persons in connection with the killing.
According to ICG, on October 25, gunmen killed at least 18 worshippers and reportedly abducted 11 during early morning prayers at a mosque in Mashegu Local Government Area in Niger State. ICG reported that on December 8 at a mosque in the same area, an armed group killed between nine and 16 persons and injured 12 others during early morning prayers.
On October 31, according to press reports and the ICG, suspected bandits occupied the Emmanuel Baptist Church, Kakau Daji in Chikun Local Government Area, Kaduna State during Sunday services, killing two parishioners, wounding several, and kidnapping 65. The abductors reportedly demanded 99 million naira ($244,000) for the kidnapped parishioners, whom they released on December 4.
There were numerous attacks against schools in which armed groups kidnapped schoolchildren for ransom, which religious leaders stated impacted the broader activities of their religious communities. According to analysts, these kidnappings generally had a financial motive.
For example, in July, armed kidnappers abducted more than 120 students from Bethel Baptist High School in Kaduna State. The kidnappers demanded 500,000 naira ($1,200) ransom for each student. Subsequently, some students were either released or escaped from the kidnappers. In May, according to press reports, armed kidnappers abducted 136 students from an Islamic school in the town of Tegina in Niger state, killing one person and demanding an unspecified ransom. In August, the school’s principal told Reuters the kidnappers had called him and said six of the kidnapped students had died of illness.
On November 29, authorities in Zamfara State announced that the state’s Christian community had received a letter from a group of bandits threatening “ferocious attacks” unless all churches in the state were permanently closed. In response, CAN directed its constituent churches to hold services only during daylight hours as an interim measure from December to end of February, while calling on the Buhari administration to ensure the protection of Christians in Zamfara and their religious freedom. Media reported some Zamfara Christians were contemplating relocating to other parts of the country. Police authorities in Zamfara said they created a special squad to patrol and protect Christian worshippers, especially on Sundays, and had deployed plain-clothes personnel for intelligence gathering to find those behind the letter.
CSW stated in November that Christian families in states that have implemented sharia continued to face abuses, including the abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage of underage girls and reported it was assisting seven families whose underage daughters were abducted by members of their local communities. In three cases, the local authorities in Rogo in Kano State were reportedly collecting dowries on behalf of prospective suitors and offering them marriage “at no cost” by January 2022. Local media reported three Muslim men abducted and forcibly converted to Islam three Christian girls from Nariya village in Garko Local Government Area, Kano State. The girls were in Hisbah protective custody at year’s end, while the Kano State chapter of CAN took the matter to the Kano State High Court for the girls’ return to their families.
On August 23, CAN President Ayokunle decried the violence and the government’s lack of adequate response by saying, “Stopping killing of the innocent by the criminals cannot be done by merely issuing press statements and holding periodical meetings with the security chiefs by the president. Until the government shows the political will by arresting and bringing the culprits to book, the shedding of innocent blood will not cease. We charge the Federal Government to fix the security challenges or throw in the towel.” On December 9, the Sultan of Sokoto cautioned assembled religious leaders about the reach of their influence at the quarterly NIREC meeting, stating, “We have to be careful in the way we handle, say and do things as religious leaders. We are not political leaders. Therefore, we have to be wary of what we say, where and how we say such things, because our followers will definitely believe in what we say. They will believe and feel that it is from the Holy Koran or the Holy Bible. We cannot go on telling things to people without thinking that they will believe. We cannot go on saying things that we know we don’t have full knowledge of.”
In June, local media reported Tiv and Jukun communities, both of which are Christian, clashed over land and water resources, often razing churches in Benue and Taraba States. After a pastor and his wife were killed in predominantly Jukun Tunga village, Taraba State, the predominantly Tiv neighboring village of Maigoge was attacked and its church burned.
The Enugu State government completed the rebuilding of two mosques that were destroyed during protests in 2020 in the state, and the mosques reopened.
A Pew Research Center study from 2018 found that more than 80 percent of self-identified Christians in the country said they attended worship services at least once per week. According to both Christian and Muslim religious organizations such as CAN and the Society for the Support of Islam, Nigerians attended prayers and services regularly, even in areas of conflict.