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Comoros

Executive Summary

The constitution specifies Islam is the state religion and defines the national identity as being based on a single religion – Sunni Islam – but proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all, regardless of religious belief.  The constitution also specifies that the principles and rules that regulate worship and social life be based on Sunni Islam under the Shafi’i doctrine.  Proselytizing for any religion except Sunni Islam is illegal, and the law provides for deportation of foreigners who do so.  The law prohibits the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places on the basis of “affronting society’s cohesion and endangering national unity.”  There were no reports of arrests for Comorians engaging in other religious practices, but members of non-Sunni groups reported broad self-censorship and stated they practiced or spoke about their beliefs only in private.  Shia Muslims continued to report government surveillance during religious observances important to their community.  For the second consecutive year, there were no reports of national leaders making public statements against religious minorities.  One religious minority group leader said that 2021 had been “generally quiet and peaceful” and attributed the government’s relative restraint to international engagement related to this issue.  Shia commemorations of all Eids, Ramadan, and Ashura proceeded peacefully on all three islands.  Shia Muslims on Anjouan said that local authorities prevented them from practicing in the Shia mosque that had existed on the island for more than a year; they were forced to worship in a Shia community center instead.

There continued to be reports that local communities unofficially shunned individuals who were suspected of converting from Islam to Christianity or from Sunni to Shia Islam.

Representatives from the U.S. embassy in Antananarivo, Madagascar engaged on issues of religious freedom with government officials, including President Azali Assoumani and officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Justice, focusing on the importance of individuals having the ability to practice their religion freely and of government officials refraining from statements criticizing religious minorities.  Embassy representatives also discussed religious freedom with religious and civil society leaders and others, including members of minority religious groups.

On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State again placed Comoros on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 864,000 (midyear 2021), of which 98 percent is Sunni Muslim.  Roman Catholics, Shia Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, and Protestants together make up less than 2 percent of the population.  Non-Muslims are mainly foreign residents and are concentrated in the country’s capital, Moroni, and the capital of Anjouan, Mutsamudu.  Shia and Ahmadi Muslims mostly live on the island of Anjouan.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states Islam is the state religion and citizens shall draw principles and rules to regulate worship and social life from the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam.  The preamble “affirms the will of the Comorian people” to cultivate a national identity based on a single religion, Sunni Islam.  It proclaims equality of rights and obligations for all individuals regardless of religion or belief.  A law establishes the Sunni Shafi’i doctrine as the “official religious reference” and provides sanctions of five months’ to one year’s imprisonment, a fine of 100,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs ($230-$1,200), or both, for campaigns, propaganda, or religious practices or customs in public places that could cause social unrest or undermine national cohesion.

The law prohibits anyone from insulting a minister of religion in the exercise of his functions, punishable by a fine of 50,000 to 150,000 francs ($120-$350), and anyone who strikes or assaults a minister of religion in the exercise of his function will be punished with imprisonment of one to five years.

Proselytizing for any religion except Sunni Islam is illegal, and the law provides for the deportation of foreigners who do so.  The penal code states, “Whoever discloses, spreads, and teaches Muslims a religion other than Islam will be punished with imprisonment of three months to one year and a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 Comorian francs” ($120-$1,200).  The law also states, “The sale [or] the free distribution to Muslims of books, brochures, magazines, records and cassettes or any other media teaching a religion other that Islam” will be punished with the same penalties.

There is no official registration process for religious groups.  The law allows Sunni religious groups to establish places of worship, train clergy, and assemble for peaceful religious activities.  It does not allow non-Sunni religious groups to assemble for peaceful religious activities in public places, although foreigners are permitted to worship at three Christian churches in Moroni, Mutsamudu, and Moheli, and foreign Shia Muslims are permitted to worship at a Shia mosque in Moroni.

The law prohibits proselytizing or the performance of non-Sunni religious rituals in public places, to avoid “affronting society’s cohesion and endangering national unity.”  Without specifying religion, the penal code provides penalties for the profaning of any spaces designated for worship, for interfering with religious leaders in the performance of their duties, or in cases where the practice of sorcery, magic, or charlatanism interferes with public order.  The new penal code, adopted in February, provides a penalty from one to six months imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 to 750,000 francs ($350-$1,700) for those offenses.

According to the constitution, the Grand Mufti is the highest religious authority in the country.  The President appoints the Grand Mufti, who manages issues concerning religion and religious administration.  The Grand Mufti heads an independent government institution called the Supreme National Institution in Charge of Religious Practices in the Union of the Comoros.  The Grand Mufti counsels the government on matters concerning the practice of Islam and Islamic law.

The law provides that before the month of Ramadan, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Council of Ulema publish a ministerial decree providing instructions to the population for events that month.

The government uses the Quran in public primary schools for Arabic reading instruction.  There are more than 200 fee-based schools with Quranic instruction that also receive some support from the government.  The tenets of Islam are sometimes taught in conjunction with Arabic in public and private schools at the middle and high school levels.  A new education law adopted in May provides that “pre-elementary education (for ages three to five years) aims at acquiring the first elements of the Muslim religion,” including initiation into reading the Quran.

The country is a signatory but not a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

A Shia leader said in July that 2021 had been “generally quiet and peaceful” for Shia Muslims in Moroni and that private Shia commemorations of all Eids, Ramadan, and Ashura were allowed to proceed and did so peacefully on all three islands.  Shia Muslims continued to report government surveillance during religious holidays important to their community.  For the second consecutive year, the President and other political leaders refrained from making public statements against religious minorities.  One religious minority group leader attributed the government’s relative restraint to international engagement related to this issue.

There were no reports of arrests for Comorians engaging in other religious practices, but members of non-Sunni groups reported broad self-censorship and stated they practiced or spoke about their beliefs only in private.  Shia and Ahmadi Muslims stated that they were not able to worship publicly and that government authorities sometimes attended religious gatherings held in private homes to observe their practices but did not interfere.

Ahmadi Muslims stated the tract of land on the island of Anjouan that was the site of an Ahmadi mosque seized and destroyed by local authorities in 2017 had not been returned to them.  Shia Muslims on Anjouan stated that local authorities prevented them from practicing in the Shia mosque that has existed on the island for more than a year.  Instead, they were forced to worship in a Shia community center that only has a rooftop space for prayer, exposing them to the elements.  Ahmadi and Shia Muslims on Anjouan stated they did not live in fear of violence but needed to exercise caution and self-censorship to avoid attracting unwanted attention from local authorities.

Expatriate Christian community members reported they had been waiting for more than four years for a government response to their application for a license to build a new nondenominational church.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were continued reports that local communities unofficially shunned individuals suspected of converting from Islam to Christianity.  Societal abuse and discrimination against non-Muslim citizens persisted, particularly against Christians or those who were converts from Islam.  Non-Muslim foreigners reported little to no discrimination.

Most non-Sunni Muslim citizens reportedly did not openly practice their faith for fear of societal rejection, and some Shia Muslims reported being harassed by Sunni Muslims.  Societal pressure and intimidation continued to restrict the use of the country’s three churches to noncitizens.  Christians reported they would not eat publicly during Ramadan so as not to draw attention to their faith.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

There is no permanent U.S. diplomatic presence in the country.  The ambassador and representatives from the U.S. embassy in Madagascar visited the country and engaged with government officials on issues of religious freedom, including with President Assoumani and officials from the Foreign Ministry, Interior Ministry, and Justice Ministry, focusing on the importance of individuals being able to practice their religion freely and ending government statements criticizing religious minorities.

Embassy representatives met with a diverse group of Muslim and Christian religious and civil society leaders, including Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadi Muslims, on issues of religious freedom.  The embassy also used social media posts to highlight the importance of religious freedom and diversity and to engage with civil society and the general populace.

On November 15, 2021, in accordance with the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, the Secretary of State placed Comoros on the Special Watch List for having engaged in or tolerated severe violations of religious freedom.

Madagascar

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace.  Other laws protect individual religious beliefs against abuses by government or private actors.  Muslims born in the country continued to report that despite generations of residence, some members of their community were unable to acquire citizenship.  Muslim leaders again reported that some Muslims continued to encounter difficulty obtaining official documents and services from government offices because of their non-Malagasy-sounding names.  On multiple occasions the government consulted with the leadership of different religious communities regarding COVID-19 response measures and helped facilitate access for Protestant clergy to visit COVID-19 patients in public hospitals.  Representatives of some evangelical Christian churches, however, expressed disappointment that they were not invited to such consultations.  Religious leaders also cited discrepancies between the number of individuals permitted to attend religious services and the number permitted to take part in other public gatherings.  The government addressed these issues following consultations with religious groups.  One Muslim leader criticized the government for not consulting with that religious community when rescheduling COVID-delayed national secondary school exams to overlap with the Eid al-Adha holiday.  Members of some Muslim groups denounced political interference in their internal affairs by current and former political leaders.

Members of some evangelical Protestant churches continued to report they experienced discrimination in employment practices due to their religious affiliation, especially those who observed a Saturday Sabbath.

U.S. embassy officials engaged with Ministry of the Interior officials responsible for registration of religious groups.  Embassy officials also discussed Muslim citizenship issues with ministry officials and legislators.  Embassy officials engaged with religious leaders throughout the year and met with human rights organizations to discuss issues affecting some religious communities, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties some Muslims encountered in acquiring citizenship.  At embassy-sponsored events, senior embassy officials discussed with religious leaders the impact of national developments such as COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination efforts on religious communities, as well as other issues affecting religious life in the country.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 27.0 million (midyear 2021).  According to Pew Research Center data for 2021, 85.3 percent of the population is Christian, 3 percent is Muslim, 4.5 percent adhere to traditional beliefs, and 6.9 percent have no affiliation.  It is common to alternate between religious identities or to mix traditions, and many individuals hold a combination of indigenous and Christian or Muslim beliefs.

Muslim leaders and some local scholars estimate Muslims constitute between 15 and 25 percent of the population.  Muslims predominate in the northwestern coastal areas, and Christians predominate in the highlands.  According to local Muslim religious leaders and secular academics, the majority of Muslims are Sunni.  Citizens of ethnic Indian and Pakistani descent and Comorian immigrants compose a significant portion of the Muslim community, although ethnic Malagasy converts to Islam have now reached 65 percent of the total Muslim community, according to a Muslim leader who spoke during a TV debate in January.

Local religious groups state that 70 percent of the population is Christian, comprised as follows:  Roman Catholics (34 percent of the population), Presbyterian Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM Church, 18 percent), Lutherans (14 percent), and Anglicans (4.5 percent).  Smaller Christian groups include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventists, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and a growing number of local evangelical Protestant denominations.

There are small numbers of Hindus and Jews.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution provides for freedom of religious thought and expression and prohibits religious discrimination in the workplace.  Other laws protect individual religious beliefs against abuses by government or private actors.  The constitution states that such rights may be limited by the need to protect the rights of others or to preserve public order, national dignity, or state security.  The labor code prohibits religious discrimination in labor unions and professional associations.

The law requires religious groups to register with the Ministry of the Interior.  By registering, a religious group attains the legal status necessary to receive direct bequests and other donations.  Once registered, the group may apply for a tax exemption each time it receives a donation, including from abroad.  Registered religious groups also have the right to acquire land from individuals to build places of worship; however, the law states landowners should first cede the land back to the state, after which the state will then transfer it to the religious group.  To qualify for registration, a group must have at least 100 members and an elected administrative council of no more than nine members, all of whom must be citizens.

Groups failing to meet registration requirements may instead register as “simple associations.”  Simple associations may not receive tax-free donations or hold religious services, but the law allows them to conduct various types of community and social projects.  Associations engaging in dangerous or destabilizing activities may be disbanded or have their registration withdrawn.  Simple associations must apply for a tax exemption each time they receive a donation from abroad.  If an association has foreign leadership and/or members of the board, it may form an association “reputed to be foreign.”  An association is reputed to be foreign only if the leader or members of the board include foreign nationals.  Such foreign associations may only obtain temporary authorizations, subject to periodic renewal and other conditions.  The law does not prohibit national associations from having foreign nationals as members.

Public schools do not offer religious education.  There is no law prohibiting or limiting religious education in public or private schools.

The government requires a permit for all public demonstrations, including religious events such as outdoor worship services.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

The government continued to include Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha in the list of national holidays and consulted the Muslim community when setting the appropriate dates.  The dates of the official exam for students completing secondary school had to be rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, causing it to overlap with the Eid al-Adha holiday.  The leader of a Muslim organization made a statement in local media criticizing the government for its failure to consult all entities, including the religious community, in setting the dates for official exams.

On January 12, authorities in Sambava rejected the local Muslim community’s request for a construction permit to build a new mosque, citing as grounds for its rejection the presence of another religious building in the same area, the absence of an appropriate parking lot, and concerns about excessive noise.  Members of the Sambava Muslim community said they believed the rejection of the construction permit was discriminatory, given the presence of a Christian church in the same area that regularly rang its church bells.  Later, the authorities issued the construction permit stating their decision was made to ensure social peace, and the new mosque was inaugurated in September.

In February, local authorities closed one of the churches of the local Jesosy Mamonjy (Jesus the Savior) evangelical Christian group in the Ankorondrano area of Antananarivo after an internal disagreement concerning the election of new leaders of the group devolved into a physical altercation that injured two persons.  Due in part to its inability to resolve the internal conflicts, the church in Ankorondrano remained closed while other Jesosy Mamonjy churches throughout the country continued to operate normally, according to media reports.  The Prefect of Antananarivo announced on December 14 the reopening of the church after the members had reached a compromise.

According to leaders of different groups within the Muslim community, current and former political leaders interfered “excessively” in their internal affairs as they sought to capture Muslim political support.  The Muslim leaders stated this political interference hindered resolution of an internal leadership dispute dating from 2016, which resulted in two different groups in the Muslim community, each with its own political party leader sponsor, establishing their own leadership boards and nominating their own candidates to lead the national Malagasy Muslim Association.  The Ministry of Interior recognized both new boards officially in 2016, leaving two competing sets of Muslim leadership in place since then.

In June, parliament voted to postpone consideration of an amendment to the 2017 nationality law that would provide as many as 15,000 Muslim residents citizenship in the country, according to one of the amendment’s sponsors in 2020.  Muslim leaders continued to state that the existing nationality law affected the Muslim community disproportionately, since it prevented descendants of immigrants, many of whom were Muslim, from acquiring citizenship, even after generations of residence in the country.  The leaders said that Muslim children of ethnic Indian, Pakistani, and Comorian descent had the most difficulty obtaining citizenship.  Members of the Muslim community continued to face challenges in the country because of their statelessness.  Under the law, for example, only Malagasy citizens could own land or property.  In addition, they faced difficulties with access to education, healthcare, and employment.

Religious groups stated the government did not always enforce registration requirements and did not deny requests for registration.  All the large religious groups were registered.  As of the end of 2020, (the most recent information available) the Ministry of Interior reported 383 officially registered religious groups, compared with 373 at the end of 2019.  The government acknowledged that some registered groups may have become inactive or dissolved without informing the government.

Religious leaders, including representatives of the evangelical Vahao ny Oloko (Release my People) Christian Church, continued to state that inadequate government enforcement of labor laws resulted in some employers requiring their employees to work during regular days of worship.

The leadership of the Muslim Malagasy Association again reported that some Muslims continued to encounter difficulty obtaining official documents, such as national identity cards and passports and services, from public administration offices because of their non-Malagasy-sounding names.  The leaders again said that government officials harassed and mocked Muslims and considered them to be foreigners even when they possessed national identity cards.  In one example, the Ministry of Commerce denied assistance to a Muslim entrepreneur with a halal certification who sought the ministry’s support to combat counterfeit halal products and protect Muslim consumers.  According to the Muslim leaders, instead of offering their assistance, the ministry’s officials stated the Muslims were the wrongdoers and were committing the fraud themselves.

State-run Malagasy National Television continued to provide free broadcasting to Seventh-day Adventists, Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Presbyterians on weekends, and to the Muslim community on Fridays.  During Ramadan, it provided additional broadcast time to the Muslim community.  Members of the Federation of Evangelical Churches received daily free airtime to broadcast religious services every morning on public radio and television.

A Christian church leader reported the government was increasingly open to dialogue with religious leaders regarding important decisions related to the government’s COVID-19 response and religious practices.  For example, on March 30, President Andry Rajoelina convened the leaders of the Confederation of the Christian Churches of Madagascar, representing the four main Christian churches – Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican and Presbyterian – to discuss the safest way to celebrate Easter in the context of the pandemic.  In April, the Ministry of Public Health met with Protestant leaders and subsequently authorized Protestant clergy to visit COVID-19 patients in public hospitals under specified conditions.  The government provided personal protective equipment to religious leaders during such visits.

Representatives of some evangelical Christian churches, however, said that they felt marginalized in the government’s COVID-19 consultations and believed the authorities subjected them to more stringent requirements when requesting administrative services, such as using state-owned venues for public events.  Leaders of the Vahao ny Oloko Church said they were dismayed that the Minister of Public Health did not invite their leadership to April COVID-19 consultations, even though they were among the groups that advocated that the government should enable religious communities to help comfort COVID-19 patients.

In general, church leaders stated they believed that COVID-19 mitigation measures, which were lifted in September, were unevenly enforced and disadvantaged religious communities.  As an example, they noted that authorities would only allow up to 50 persons to attend Mass or other religious services under the restrictions, while more participants were allowed to participate in nonreligious events.  A Protestant church leader said, however, that after negotiations with the authorities, they were allowed to have more attendees in religious services as long as they observed health safety rules and social distancing.  All churches were given similar permission.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Leaders of the Muslim Malagasy Association continued to say some members of the public associated them with Islamists and extremists.  Other Muslim leaders, however, reported generally good relations between members of their community and other faiths across the country.  In November, a Muslim leader said there was fear within the Muslim community that the COVID-19 vaccine was a conspiracy on the part of the mainstream population to harm Muslims living in Madagascar.

Adherents of some evangelical Protestant churches, especially those celebrating their Sabbath on Saturdays, again stated that they were sometimes denied access to employment and believed it was due to their religious affiliation.

During the year, leaders of evangelical churches stated that some female members of their churches were victims of violence committed by their husbands because they did not agree with their wives’ religious beliefs.  The leaders said they believed such problems would continue until there is wider sensitization to and acceptance of evangelical beliefs.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy representatives periodically met with the Ministry of Interior officials and legislators to discuss concerns among different religious faiths, including Muslim statelessness issues and internal conflicts within some Christian churches.

Embassy officials interacted regularly with religious leaders, especially during the pandemic health emergency, to discuss the impact of COVID-19-related restrictions on religious activities.  Embassy officials also met with human rights groups and international organizations, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, concerning religious freedom and other human rights issues, such as statelessness.

On September 22, a senior embassy official hosted a number of religious, political, and economic leaders to discuss various topics affecting public life, including human rights and religious freedom.

 

Mozambique

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the right to practice freely or not to practice religion and prohibits discrimination based on religion.  These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency.  The constitution prohibits political parties from using names or symbols associated with religious groups.  Religious groups have the right to organize, worship, and operate schools.  According to local organizations, as an Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group, ISIS-Mozambique (ISIS-M) intensified attacks in Cabo Delgado Province, residents in the province who because of their appearance were identified as Muslim continued to face risk of sometimes arbitrary detention by police and armed forces.  Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), news media outlets, and human rights organizations continued to strongly criticize the government’s response as exacerbating existing grievances among historically marginalized majority-Muslim populations.  The government’s COVID-19 preventive measures limited religious services for significant parts of the year, restricted the size of gatherings, and at times prohibited services.  Government officials reported that numerous religious leaders contravened the restrictions, including seven evangelical Christian religious leaders who were detained in June for holding in-person services.

As in previous years, conflict in Cabo Delgado continued, with ISIS-M occupying entire communities and burning religious and government structures.  Regional forces deployed to Cabo Delgado in August conducted joint operations with Mozambican forces that resecured significant towns and roads by the end of the year with a marked decrease in violence.  Media reports indicated that ISIS-M targeted both Muslim and Christian communities.  Muslim and Christian leaders condemned violence as a means of political change, and Muslim leaders emphasized that religious-based violence that invoked Islam was inconsistent with tenets of the faith.

The U.S. Ambassador discussed the continuing attacks in Cabo Delgado with President Filipe Nyusi, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of the Interior, and other high-level officials.  Among other messages, he noted the continued need to engage partners from the religious community to effectively address the ongoing violence.  The Ambassador and embassy officers discussed the importance of religious tolerance to promote peace and security with leaders and representatives of religious groups and local civil society organizations.  The U.S. government continued to implement and fund activities in Cabo Delgado to improve faith-based community resilience and work with religious leaders to counter extremist messaging related to religion.  The Ambassador and a senior embassy official hosted virtual iftars with religious and community leaders in Maputo and Cabo Delgado as part of the embassy’s outreach to the Muslim community.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 30.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to 2020 data from the National Statistics Institute, 27 percent of citizens are Catholic, 19 percent Muslim, 17 percent evangelical or Pentecostal Christian, 16 percent Zionist Christian, 2 percent Anglican, and less than 5 percent Jewish, Hindu, and Baha’i.  The remaining 14 percent claim no religious affiliation.  A significant portion of the population adheres to syncretic indigenous religious beliefs, a category not included in government census figures, characterized by a combination of African traditional practices and aspects of either Christianity or Islam.  Because of the unreliability of census data, Muslim leaders continued to state that their community accounts for 25-30 percent of the total population, a statistic frequently reported in the press.  The Muslim population is concentrated in the northern part of the country.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution defines the country as a secular state.  It prohibits religious discrimination, provides for the right of citizens to practice or not practice a religion, and stipulates that no individual may be deprived of his or her rights because of religious faith or practice.  Political parties are constitutionally prohibited from using names or symbols associated with religious groups.  The constitution protects places of worship and the right of religious groups to organize, worship, and pursue their religious objectives freely and to acquire assets in pursuit of those objectives.  The constitution recognizes the right of conscientious objection to military service for religious reasons.  These and other rights may temporarily be suspended or restricted only in the event of a declaration of a state of war, siege, or emergency, in accordance with the terms of the constitution.

The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs.  Under the law, “religious organizations” are charities or humanitarian organizations, while “religious groups” refer to particular denominations.  Religious groups register at the denominational level or congregational level if they are unaffiliated.  Religious groups and organizations register by submitting an application, providing identity documents of their local leaders, and presenting documentation of declared ties to any international religious group or organization.  There are no penalties for failure to register; however, religious groups and organizations must show evidence of registration to open bank accounts, file for exemption of customs duties for imported goods, or submit visa applications for visiting foreign members.

An accord between the national government and the Holy See governs the Catholic Church’s rights and responsibilities in the country.  The agreement recognizes the Catholic Church as a legal personality and recognizes the Church’s exclusive right “to regulate ecclesiastical life and to nominate people for ecclesiastical posts.”  The agreement requires Catholic Church representatives to register with the government to benefit from the Church’s status.  The accord also gives the Catholic Church the exclusive right to create, modify, or eliminate ecclesiastical boundaries; however, it stipulates that ecclesiastical territories must report to a Church authority in the country.

The law permits religious organizations to own and operate schools.  The law forbids religious instruction in public schools.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

During the year, violent attacks against government forces and civilian populations that began in 2017 continued in the northeastern districts of Cabo Delgado Province, primarily perpetrated by the terrorist group ISIS-M.  In an attempt to control the situation and stem the tide of violence, police continued the practice of arbitrarily arresting some individuals because they appeared to be Muslim by their clothing or facial hair, according to national Islamic organizations and other media reports.  Some government officials, observers, and administrators at camps for internally displaced persons noted that because the attacks occurred in a Muslim-majority area, many civilian victims were Muslim as well.

Some NGOs, news media outlets, and human rights organizations continued to strongly criticize the government’s response, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, as exacerbating existing grievances of the historically marginalized Muslim-majority populations.  During the year, the provincial and district affiliates of the Islamic Council in Cabo Delgado engaged with government counterparts and Catholic counterparts to improve understanding and limit the detention of Muslim individuals unconnected to the insurgency.  This engagement included acting as a mediator between families and government or law enforcement officers.

ISIS-M publicly pledged allegiance to ISIS in June 2019 and claimed responsibility for more than 30 attacks since then.  According to analysts, young men returning from studying Islamic teachings abroad following a more “austere” form of Islam than historically practiced in the country helped contribute to the radicalization of youth.

Reporting on the attacks in Cabo Delgado remained limited and was often characterized as unreliable due to a strong security force presence, electricity and cell network blackouts, and government restrictions on independent journalists’ access to affected areas.

On September 7 and 12, the national police detained two groups belonging to an unidentified religious group in Tete Province.  Police, who initially detained the individuals for violating COVID-19 prevention measures, said they were investigating whether the groups were linked to the insurgency in Cabo Delgado.

Muslim leaders also expressed concern regarding the growing humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado, with conflict and natural disasters displacing nearly 800,000 persons since 2017.

For significant periods of the year, the government suspended all religious services, among other public and private gatherings, pursuant to a state of public calamity (SOPC) order issued to prevent the spread of COVID-19, although restrictions relaxed intermittently to permit small gatherings.  Officials from the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs reported working with religious leaders on adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures but said that many groups contravened measures throughout the year.  Observers stated that SOPC religious enforcement was not targeted against a particular religion but was enforced across all religious groups.  Local media reported that several religious leaders were arrested and fined for violating the SOPC, including seven evangelical leaders who were detained on June 25 for holding in-person services in Nampula.

Parliament continued to consider a draft law on religious practices first proposed by the Ministry of Justice, Constitutional, and Religious Affairs in 2019 to update a preindependence law.  Religious leaders noted that they had an opportunity to discuss and provide input into the draft law.

On February 11, the Vatican announced the transfer to Brazil of Bishop Luis Fernando Lisboa, then the Bishop of Pemba in Cabo Delgado Province.  Media reported that Lisboa was an outspoken advocate for the people of Cabo Delgado, including persons displaced by terrorist attacks.  After his transfer, Lisboa stated that he received threats after criticizing the Mozambican government’s response to the terrorist attacks.  The new Bishop of Pemba, Antonio Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo, also spoke publicly regarding the lack of security in Cabo Delgado.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Although ISIS-M fighters said they targeted Christians and Christian villages, reporters and local aid workers stated that in practice they made little distinction among their victims.  Media reports also indicated that ISIS-M targeted both Muslim and Christian communities.  They occupied entire communities and burned religious and government structures, including during a multiday attack on the town of Palma in March.  Regional forces deployed to Cabo Delgado in August 2021 conducted joint operations with government forces that resecured significant towns and roads by the end of the year with a marked decrease in violence, according to government officials.  The number of persons displaced by the conflict numbered nearly 800,000 by the end of the year, an approximately tenfold increase over 2020.

Prominent Muslim leaders continued to condemn the attacks in the northern part of the country, stating that the strict version of Islam preached by those allegedly responsible was not in line with the country’s traditional Islamic culture and practice.  For example, Provincial Delegate of the Islamic Council in Nampula Sheikh Abdulmagid Antonio told local media in June that religion should promote lasting and effective peace and that “no religion incites violence and intolerance.”

Civil society and religious organizations conducted outreach to promote religious tolerance during the year.  An interfaith group of leaders continued efforts to provide food to needy families during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Through an interfaith network established in November 2020, a coalition of religious groups from the northern provinces of Cabo Delgado, Nampula, and Niassa, including the Islamic Council of Mozambique and the Catholic Church, continued coordinating assistance to support displaced civilian populations affected by the violence and to discuss resolution of the crisis.

During a May 7 interfaith gathering, religious leaders said that terrorism in Cabo Delgado was linked to politics of exclusion, poverty, injustice, and oppression, rather than religion.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The Ambassador engaged President Nyusi, Minister of Defense Jaime Neto, Minister of Justice Helena Kida, Minister of Interior Amade Miquidade, counterparts in other diplomatic missions and multilateral organizations, and other senior officials on the escalating violence in the northern region.  Among other messages, he noted the continued need to engage partners from the religious community to effectively address the violence.  Embassy officers engaged parliamentarians and ministry officials to ensure the draft law on religious practices, pending since 2019, permitted religious groups with few members to register and continue practicing legally.

Through a series of outreach initiatives, the Ambassador and embassy officers discussed the importance of religious tolerance to promote peace and security with leaders and representatives of religious groups and local civil society organizations.

The embassy concluded its support of a faith-based project in Cabo Delgado led by the Islamic Council of Mozambique designed to strengthen community ties, foster resilience, and develop locally based strategies to combat violent extremism.

Throughout the year, the embassy partnered with religious leaders to provide youth vulnerable to violent extremism in coastal Nampula Province with messages from credible and influential religious voices to counter violent extremism.  The embassy and its partners disseminated the videos and audio recordings through social media and local and provincial radio stations and hosted youth listener clubs.

The embassy again engaged in digital outreach on social media during Ramadan and Eid al-Adha, welcoming continued engagement to achieve shared goals and commending the resilience of Muslims in the country in finding creative ways to celebrate during the pandemic.  In addition, the Ambassador and a senior embassy official hosted virtual iftars with religious and community leaders in Maputo and Cabo Delgado during Ramadan to engage religious and young community leaders and discuss the impact of the Cabo Delgado crisis on the Muslim community.

The embassy discussed LGBTQI+ inclusion, among other topics, with the Christian Council of Mozambique, which represents 24 church denominations and promotes tolerance and inclusivity.  In November, the embassy nominated council president Felicidade Chirinda for the International Women of Courage Award.

Nigeria

Executive Summary

The constitution bars the federal and state governments from adopting a state religion, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for individuals’ freedom to choose, practice, propagate, or change their religion.  The constitution provides for states to establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law in addition to common law civil courts, although civil courts have preeminence over all other courts.  Sentences may be appealed from sharia and customary courts to civil courts.  In addition to civil courts, sharia courts function in 12 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory, and customary courts in most of the 36 states.  Religiously affiliated state schools must admit students of all faiths or no faith; Christian-owned state schools must allow students to wear the hijab, while Muslim-owned state schools require all female students to wear it.  Civil society organizations and media stated that general insecurity again increased and was prevalent throughout the country, particularly in the North West region.  There were kidnapping and armed robbery rings in the South as well as the North West, criminal groups in the South South, and criminal groups and separatists in the South East, but there was a significant reduction in the number of violent incidents and deaths in the North East linked to the terrorist insurgency there.  There were numerous violent incidents between predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Christian, but also Muslim, farmers in the North Central and South West regions and between predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Muslim, but also Christian, farmers in the North West.  According to the Council on Foreign Relations, there were an estimated 1,112 deaths during the year from violence among ethnic groups, herdsmen, and farmers.  The government continued security operations and launched operations that authorities stated were meant to stem the insecurity and violence throughout the country.  Some observers, such as the nongovernmental organization (NGO) International Crisis Group (ICG), said the government’s efforts were inadequate.  The Kaduna State Court released Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a Shia political organization, and his wife in July.  On several occasions, security forces clashed with IMN marchers, resulting in reports of casualties, including at least one death on each side, which both sides disputed.  After detaining him for more than a year, the Kano State government in June charged Mubarak Bala, President of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, with deliberately “posting blasphemous statement(s)…insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam” and Muslims in Kano State calculated to “cause a breach of public peace,” among other charges.  In January, the Kano State High Court vacated a sharia court’s conviction and death sentence of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu for blasphemy and remanded the case to the sharia court for retrial.  The same high court acquitted a man convicted of blasphemy as a minor by the same sharia court and vacated his 10-year prison sentence.  Kano State authorities banned Muslim cleric Sheikh Abduljabbar Nasiru-Kabara from preaching and charged him with blasphemy for comments he made during a television debate.

Terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), attacked population centers and religious targets, including churches and mosques, and maintained an ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the North East, according to observers.  ISIS-WA increased its use of improvised explosive devices, which resulted in dozens of military deaths.  Observers also reported that ISIS-WA expanded efforts to implement shadow governance structures in large swaths of the region.

According to NGOs such as ICG, the level of insecurity and violence increased, including in the predominantly Muslim North West, where expanded numbers of criminal groups carried out thousands of killings, kidnappings, and armed robberies.  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 principally, based on religious identity.  According to information on its website, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), an NGO, reported 3,699 civilian deaths from the violence during the year, compared with 2,455 in 2020.  According to a survey conducted by NGO Mercy Corps, a minority of the violence in the north of the country was interreligious, and both Christians and Muslims were perpetrators and victims.  The NGO 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.”  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 gathering in religious communities and “exacerbates tensions and mistrust between religious groups – the primary pathway to intercommunal conflict in the north.”  There were instances of mob violence against clergy and members of religious groups and mass killings of Muslims and Christians that press reports and observers described as planned and carried out by organized groups.  For example, in May, criminals shot and killed eight Christians and burned down a church and several homes in Kaduna State.  In August, Christian youths killed 27 Muslims on a bus in Plateau State.  On September 26-27, according to international NGO CSW and subsequent reports by other NGOs and press, Muslim herders killed at least 49 persons and abducted 27, most of whom were Christian, in several attacks on communities in religiously mixed southern Kaduna State.  In June, the Tiv and Jukun communities, both of which are Christian, clashed over land and water resources, often razing churches.  On October 25, gunmen killed at least 18 worshippers and abducted 11 during early morning prayers at a mosque in Mashegu Local Government Area in Niger State.  On December 8, at a mosque in the same area, ICG reported an armed group killed between nine and 16 persons and injured 12 others during early morning prayers.  CSW reported several cases during the year of Muslim men kidnapping young Christian girls and forcing them into marriage and conversion to Islam.

The U.S. embassy, consulate general in Lagos, and visiting U.S. government officials – including the Secretary of State – raised freedom of religion issues such as the resolution of widely publicized blasphemy cases, the role of religious leaders in peacebuilding and social trust, and reports of societal abuses and discrimination against individuals based on religion during the year.  These included meetings with government officials such as President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Presidential Chief of Staff Ibrahim Gambari, cabinet ministers – including Attorney General Abubakar Malami, Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, and Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola – and National Assembly members.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials regularly met with interfaith and religious groups across the country, including the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Society for the Support of Islam, the Islamic Society of Removal of Innovation and Reestablishment of the Sunna (JIBWIS), and the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC).  They met with religious leaders in Plateau and Taraba States to discuss and encourage efforts to promote peace and religious tolerance in those states.  The embassy continued to fund peacebuilding programs in conflict-prone states such as Kaduna and Plateau, and interfaith dialogue training for leaders in six North West and North Central states.  The embassy awarded five small grants to faith-based and community organizations to support reconciliation in communities, primarily in the North Central region, experiencing ethnoreligious violence.

The Secretary of State determined that Nigeria did not meet the criteria to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom or as a Special Watch List country for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 when such designations were announced on November 15, 2021.  Nigeria had previously been designated as a Country of Particular Concern in 2020 and a Special Watch List country in 2019.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 219.5 million (midyear 2021).  The Pew Global Religious Futures project estimates the country is roughly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, while approximately 2 percent belong to other or no religious groups.  Many individuals syncretize indigenous animism with Islam or Christianity.

A 2010 Pew report found 38 percent of the Muslim population self-identifies as Sunni, the vast majority of whom belong to the Maliki school of jurisprudence, although a sizable minority follows the Shafi’i school of fiqh.  The same study found 12 percent of Muslims in the country self-identify as Shia, with the remainder declining to answer or identifying as “something else” (5 percent) or “just a Muslim” (42 percent).  Included among the Sunnis are several Sufi brotherhoods, including Tijaniyyah, Qadiriyyah, and Mouride.  A 2012 Pew Research Center survey found 37 percent of Nigerians identify with Sufi orders (19 percent identified specifically as Tijaniyyah and 9 percent as Qadiriyyah).  There are also Izala and Salafist minorities and small numbers of Ahmadiyya and Kala Kato (Quraniyoon) Muslims.  A 2011 Pew report found roughly one quarter of Christians are Roman Catholic and three quarters Protestant, with small numbers of Orthodox or other Christian denominations.  Among Protestant groups, the Anglican, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches maintain the largest populations, while evangelicals, Pentecostals, Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, New Apostolics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah’s Witnesses report tens of thousands of adherents each.  Other communities include Baha’is, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, animists, and individuals who do not follow any religion.

Although accounting for far less than 1 percent of the population, there are also two distinct Jewish communities.  The smallest of these are mostly foreigners, whom Israel and the diaspora recognize.  A larger group of several thousand indigenous Nigerian Jews are not recognized internationally.  There are also significant numbers of Sabbatarian groups, variously self-identifying as Christian, non-Christian, or neither.  These groups include some that have adopted Jewish customs.

Islam is the dominant religion in the North West and North East regions, although significant Christian populations reside there as well.  Christians and Muslims reside in approximately equal numbers in the North Central region.  Christianity is the dominant religion in the South West, including Lagos, which is also home to significant Muslim populations.

In the South East region, Christian groups, including Catholics, Anglicans, and Methodists, constitute the majority.  In the South South, Christians form a substantial majority.  There are small but growing numbers of Muslims in the South South and South East.

Evangelical Christian denominations are growing rapidly in the North Central and South East, South South, and South West regions.  Ahmadi Muslims maintain a small presence in several cities, including Lagos and Abuja.  The Shia Muslim presence is heavily concentrated in the North West region, while Nigerian Jews and Judaic-oriented groups are prevalent in the South East.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution stipulates neither the federal nor the state governments shall establish a state religion and prohibits discrimination on religious grounds.  It provides for freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change one’s religion and to manifest and propagate religion “in worship, teaching, practice, and observance,” provided these rights are consistent with the interests of defense, public safety, order, morality, or health, and protecting the rights of others.  The constitution also states it shall be the duty of the state to encourage interfaith marriages and to promote the formation of associations that cut across religious lines and promote “national integration.”  It prohibits political parties that limit membership based on religion or have names that have a religious connotation.  The constitution highlights religious tolerance, among other qualities, as a distinct component of the “national ethic.”

The constitution provides for states to establish courts based on sharia or customary (traditional) law, in addition to common law civil (i.e., secular) courts, although civil courts have preeminence over all other courts.  Sentences may be appealed from sharia and customary courts to civil courts.  In addition to civil courts, sharia courts function in 12 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory.  Customary courts function in most of the 36 states.  The nature of a case and the consent of the parties usually determine what type of court has jurisdiction.  The constitution specifically recognizes sharia courts for noncriminal proceedings, but state laws do not compel participation in sharia courts in noncriminal cases.  Non-Muslims, as well as Muslims, have the option to have their civil cases tried in secular or sharia courts.  In addition to noncriminal matters, sharia courts also hear criminal cases if both the complainant and defendant are Muslim and agree to the venue.  Zamfara State law makes it mandatory for all Muslims to utilize sharia courts in such cases, but not in noncriminal cases.  Criminal cases with possible sentences of death or life in prison may be heard by secular courts, usually at the preference of police.

Sharia courts may pass sentences based on the sharia penal code, including for serious criminal offenses for which the Quran and Islamic law provide hudud punishments such as caning, amputation, and stoning.  Sharia penal code offenses and charges are only applicable to Muslims.  Sharia courts operate under similar rules as common law courts, including requirements for mens rea and other due process considerations.  According to the Chief Registrar of the Kano Sharia Court, by law defendants have the right to legal representation in all cases, and certain high crimes require the testimonies of four witnesses to be considered as admissible, corroborative evidence.  Defendants have the right to challenge the constitutionality of sharia criminal sentences through common law appellate courts, and these courts have sometimes found for the plaintiff in cases where they have sued individual states for assault for penalties, such as flogging, imposed by sharia courts.  The highest appellate court for sharia-based decisions is the sharia panel of the Supreme Court, staffed by common law judges who, while not required to have any formal training in the sharia penal code, often do and may seek advice from sharia experts.  In some states with sharia penal codes, blasphemy or religious insult is a crime that may incur a fine, imprisonment, or in some cases the death penalty.  The various states’ sharia penal codes do not prohibit apostasy or heresy.

According to the federal penal code, any person who carries out an act “which any class of persons consider as a public insult on their religion, with the intention that they should consider the act such an insult, and any person who does an unlawful act with the knowledge that any class of persons will consider it such an insult, is guilty of a misdemeanor” and may be subject to imprisonment for two years.

The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) authorizes the federal government to intervene in the management of private entities and gives it broad and discretionary powers to withdraw, cancel, or revoke the certificate of any business or association; suspend and remove trustees (and appoint any one of their choice to manage the organization “in the public interest”); take control of finances of any association; and merge two associations without the consent and approval of their members.

Both federal and state governments have the authority to regulate mandatory religious instruction in public schools.  The constitution prohibits schools from requiring students to receive religious instruction or to participate in or attend any religious ceremony or observance pertaining to any religion other than their own.  State officials and many religious leaders stated that students have the right to request a teacher of their own religious beliefs to provide an alternative to any instruction offered in a religion other than their own.  The constitution also states that no religious community or denomination shall be prevented from providing religious instruction to students of that community in any place of education maintained wholly by that community.  The law requires schools that receive state funding (state schools) to admit and accommodate students of all faiths or no faith, regardless of the student’s or school’s religious affiliation.  Christian state schools are required to allow Muslim students to wear a hijab.  In Muslim state schools, the hijab is required of all female students, regardless of religion, as part of the uniform.

Katsina and Kaduna States have laws requiring licenses for preachers, places of worship, and religious schools.  In Katsina State, the law establishes a board with the authority to regulate Islamic schools, preachers, and mosques, including by issuing permits, suspending operations, and imprisoning or fining violators.  The Katsina law stipulates a punishment of one to five years in prison, a fine of up to 500,000 naira ($1,200), or both for operating without a license.  In Kaduna State, the Interfaith Preaching Council issues permits to those who wish to preach in public and regulates against the use of foul, demeaning, or derogatory language against individuals or other religions based on recommendations from the Local Government Interfaith Committee.  Violators of the law are subject to fines and/or two to five years’ imprisonment.  Local government areas and states establish their own modalities for licensing public preachers, but do not license religious organizations.

In the states of Kano, Zamfara, and Sokoto, legally established Hisbah Boards regulate Islamic religious affairs and preaching, license imams, attempt to resolve interpersonal and family disputes between Muslims in those states, and work with police to enforce the respective states’ sharia penal code.  The states of Bauchi, Borno, Katsina, Kano, and Yobe maintain state-level Christian and Muslim religious affairs commissions, ministries, or bureaus with varying mandates and authorities, while many other state governors appoint interfaith special advisers on religious affairs.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Civil society organizations and media stated that insecurity was pervasive throughout the country and increased nationwide, particularly in the North West region.  There were kidnapping and armed robbery rings in the South as well as the North West, criminal gangs in the South South, and criminal groups and separatists in the South East, but a significant reduction in the number of violent incidents and deaths in the North East.  There was pervasive violence involving predominantly Muslim herders and mostly Christian, but also Muslim, farmers, particularly in the North Central, but also in the North West (where most farmers were Muslim), and South West regions.  There were thousands of killings, kidnappings, and armed robberies.  According to the Nigeria security tracker maintained by the Council on Foreign Relations, there were an estimated 10,399 deaths from violent conflict during the year, compared with 9,694 in 2020.  Of the deaths in 2021, the council estimated 1,112 resulted from violence among ethnic groups, herdsmen, and farmers, some of which had implications for religion and religious freedom, according to multiple observers or, in the words of the council, “sometimes acquires religious overtones.”  Other violent deaths were carried out by militants, Boko Haram, or government security forces.  The council said the estimates were conservative and based on press reports.

During the year, the government undertook 20 targeted military operations, the stated aim of which was to root out criminals and armed gangs and to arrest perpetrators of communal and criminal violence.  In May, the government launched Operation Whirl Strike, a security operation that it said sought to deter and minimize intercommunal violence in Benue and Nasarawa States.  In October, the army launched Operation Golden Dawn with the stated intent of helping it confront security challenges that included armed criminal gangs, kidnapping, land disputes and communal clashes, chieftaincy disputes, assassinations, youth restiveness, and secessionist activities by the Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, the Indigenous People of Biafra, and Eastern Security Network.  In addition, in November, the Police Service Commission announced it would recruit 30,000 constables over the next three years to meet manpower requirements for the fight against insurgencies, armed criminal gangs, and kidnapping.

In response to increased criminality in the North West and South East regions, the Nigerian Police Force deployed more personnel and equipment on major road networks.  State governors across the regions ran local “community policing” operations to combat kidnappings, primarily through state-supported vigilante groups such as neighborhood watch groups, the Nasarawa/Benue Agro Rangers and Livestock Guard, the Enugu Forest Guard, the Amotekun that worked across six South West states, and the Abia State and Anambra State Vigilante Services.  According to observers, local media and officials, particularly in the South West region, often initially said Fulani herdsmen were responsible for criminal attacks, but, upon further investigation, stated local armed criminal groups of various ethnicities perpetrated most incidents.  In January, Chief Gani Adams, a traditional leader in Yorubaland, said, “The security threat we are having in the South West now, our people (Yoruba) constituted about 25-30 percent of the security threat.”

The government further implemented substantial reforms in the cattle-rearing industry with input from state and local stakeholders to facilitate and incentivize ranching over herding, with the stated aim of “combatting violence” between farmers and herders.  To implement the National Livestock Transformation Policy (NLTP), in November, the federal government began to receive applications from states for allocated funds for herding-to-ranching projects, and disbursed funds to Nasarawa and Plateau States.  According to NLTP Coordinator Andrew Kwasari, the work of constructing the first NLTP model farm for training the pastoralists began “in earnest” in Awe Local Government Area, Nasarawa State in December, adding that communities within the project site were “very happy with the initiative and committed to its success.  The dialogue between the cropping and herding communities is most encouraging.”

Multiple sources, however, stated that the government measures were largely reactive and insufficient to address the scale of the violence.  For example, in an update on the country issued in May, the ICG stated that, although the government had repeatedly pledged to curb violence, it lacked sufficient personnel and resources, and its military response had been inadequate.  The ICG also said the government had made little progress toward resolving the farmer-herder conflict.  The report cited the proliferation and evolution of the criminal gangs popularly known as bandits, stating the gangs spread from Zamfara to all neighboring states, including Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Niger, Kebbi, and Sokoto, and were expanding in number and size, acquiring more sophisticated weaponry, and carrying out an increasing number of abductions of students and others.  The ICG said the insecurity could create more opportunities for jihadists in the region.  According to the report, attempted peace deals (including offers of unconditional amnesties) with the gangs by state governors had been unsuccessful, and all the governors, except for Zamfara’s, had abandoned the deals.  Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom also said the government’s efforts to combat the violence were inadequate.

During his Easter homily, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Matthew Kukah said about conditions in the country, “The nation has since become a massive killing field, as both government and the governed look on helplessly.”  He continued to criticize what he said was a lack of response from the government to violence in the country.  President Buhari’s spokesperson Garba Shehu reacted to the Bishop’s statements by saying, “Some of the comments are no more than a sample of the unrestrained rhetoric Father Kukah trades in, which he often does in the guise of a homily… We urge well-meaning citizens to continue to support the ongoing efforts by the administration to secure the country and move it forward.”

The military remained engaged in a decade-long war against terrorist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-WA, both of which killed or kidnapped Muslims and Christians.  Boko Haram’s Leader Abubakar Shekau was killed or killed himself in May, and Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara died in August.

On October 19, the military announced it killed 24 suspected Islamist insurgents and recovered two gun trucks and destroyed another during an encounter with insurgents a few kilometers from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.  On October 25, Air Force spokesman Air Commodore Edward Gabkwet said the military carried out air operations targeting terrorist camps in the Lake Chad basin and stated several terrorists were killed.  On October 28, the army announced it had taken delivery of 60 new armored personnel carriers to boost the war against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East and banditry in the North West.  Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Faruk Yahaya said the deployment of new platforms to the battlefield underscored the government’s commitment to ensure that a state of normalcy was achieved across the country.

CAN stated Christians faced persecution from ISIS-WA and Boko Haram but that the problem also affected other groups.  On November 20, CAN President Reverend Samson Ayokunle said the terrorist groups, “have joined other militant Islamic groups to be ferociously attacking churches, killing worshippers, and kidnapping for ransom.  Though the madness has grown now and those who are not Christians are being attacked, killed, and kidnapped, this is because these criminal acts have become a lucrative business and it is whoever you can kidnap for money!  If the government had responded appropriately when this criminal madness began and subdued these evil groups immediately, we wouldn’t be where we are now!”

The government’s proscription of the Shia group IMN as an illegal political organization remained in place, and the government continued to state that the proscription was not directed against Shia Muslims.  On July 28, the Kaduna State Court acquitted IMN head Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky and his wife, who had been imprisoned since 2015 on charges of “aiding and abetting homicide, unlawful assembly, and disruption of public peace” and released them.

In January, March, and May, protesters marching for the release of Sheikh El Zakzaky, calling themselves the Free Zakzaky movement, clashed with security forces.  The NGO Shia Rights Watch stated that government security forces opened fire on Free Zakzaky protestors on May 7.  IMN said some protesters were injured when police fired on them.  According to press reports, police arrested 49 persons and stated that IMN protesters killed police officer Ezekiel Adama – which the IMN denied – and destroyed public property during the protest.  On September 28, IMN members and security forces clashed again in Abuja during IMN’s annual march coinciding with the Shia Muslim Arbaeen religious observance.  IMN spokesperson Ibrahim Musa stated security forces killed eight marchers but later lowered the number to one.  According to press reports, the government arrested 57 persons and denied any marchers were killed.

Several Shia religious leaders, including Sheikh Salle Sani Zaria, Secretary General of the Rasulul A’azam Foundation of Nigeria, criticized IMN as a political group that was not representative of the majority of Shia Muslims in the country.  In Kano in June, Zaria stated that Shia Muslims throughout the country “make their religious processions unimpeded every Friday.”

NGOs and others criticized the continuing lack of accountability for soldiers involved in the 2015 clash between the army and IMN members in Zaria in which, according to a Kaduna State government report, 348 IMN members and one soldier were killed.

In July, authorities detained for 20 days three visiting Israeli filmmakers making a documentary about Nigerian Jews in South East region on suspicion they were supporting the Indigenous People of Biafra, a group the government outlawed for its stated aims of seeking the separation of the South East region from the country, the leaders of which professed a connection to Judaism.  Authorities released them without charge, and they left the country.  The filmmakers were allowed to retain their recordings.

In January, President Buhari expanded his policy of directing senior government officials to convene meetings with local traditional and religious leaders throughout the country.  According to the President, the meetings aimed to reinforce community-based early warning programs and thereby help prevent religiously motivated violence and property destruction.  Such meetings included those between Presidential Chief of Staff Ibrahium Gambari and Ministers of Interior Rauf Aregbesola, Works and Housing Babatunde Fasola, and Trade and Industry Niyi Adebayo with the Oba of Lagos, Relwanu Akiolu, the Ooni of Ife, Adayeye Oniton II, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Obasaliu Adetunji, several bishops from different Christian denominations, and local imams.  Media reported Buhari also chaired several National Security Council meetings to consider solutions to insecurity, some of which included enhanced grassroots peacebuilding and increased security presence in certain areas.

The government also said it promoted interfaith dialogue at the state and local level to address violence.  For example, the Plateau Peacebuilding Agency incorporated an interreligious council into its operations throughout Plateau State.  The Kaduna Peace Commission sought out national religious leaders to convene a meeting within the state to condemn the chronic violence there.  Taraba State enlisted the help of the Taraba Interreligious Council to draw up plans to initiate a state government agency to promote reconciliation and peacebuilding.  According to several local NGOs, various early warning systems operating throughout the North Central and North West were also responsible for preventing attacks from occurring.  One NGO, the Para-Mallam Peace Foundation, said that, since law enforcement was often exclusively reactionary, citizen peacebuilding committees in local communities fearing violence or noting the seeds of conflict alerted police and other authorities in Plateau and Kaduna States in order to thwart plans of attacks or to calm brewing disputes.

In June, authorities filed 10 criminal charges against Humanist Association of Nigeria president and former Muslim Mubarak Bala on counts of making statements calculated to cause a breach of public peace by insulting religion, which carry a sentence of up to two or three years in prison per charge.  The government charged Bala with deliberately posting “blasphemous statement(s)” to his social media account, thus “insulting the Holy Prophet of Islam, … [and] the entire followers of Islamic religion in Kano State, calculated to cause breach of public peace.”  The Kano State prosecutor said the government feared Bala’s statements would incite mob violence.  After Bala posted statements on Facebook that state officials in Kano called “inflammatory and disparaging” towards Islam, police arrested him at his home in Kaduna State in April 2020 and transferred him to Kano State, where authorities imprisoned him without charge.  Bala’s attorneys, NGOs, secular humanist groups, and others stated they believed he was arrested for his comments on Islam.  According to Kano State Attorney General M.A. Lawan, when prosecutors indicted him in June, Bala was not charged with blasphemy under sharia because authorities did not consider him to be a Muslim.  In December 2020, a Federal Capital Territory High Court ordered Bala’s release, but Kano State authorities did not release him because of what the authorities said was confusion over the federal court’s jurisdiction in ruling on Bala’s detention.  Bala remained in detention at year’s end.

In January, the Kano State High Court acquitted 17-year-old Omar Farouq, whom a Kano sharia court had convicted of blasphemy in 2020 and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.  The High Court ruled that Farouq lacked adequate legal representation during his sharia court trial.

Also in January, the Kano High Court remanded to the same Kano sharia court the case of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, whom the sharia court had convicted of blasphemy against Islam and sentenced to death in 2020.  The High Court remanded this case to the sharia court for retrial, citing a lack of evidence presented.  At year’s end, an appeal by Sharif-Aminu against the order for a new trial and seeking dismissal of the case was pending.

In February, Kano State authorities banned well known Muslim cleric Sheikh Abduljabbar Nasiru-Kabara from preaching following complaints from the Kano Ulama Council that his sermons would disturb the peace.  In July, after he participated in a televised, three-hour debate in which he expounded on his religious views, Kano State authorities detained Nasiru-Kabara and charged him with blasphemy, saying statements he made during the broadcast insulted Islam.  Authorities also ordered the closure of his mosque and affiliated religious schools and prevented his followers from protesting and carrying out the community’s annual Mauqibi religious festival procession.  At year’s end, Nasiru-Kabara remained in detention, and his trial had not yet been scheduled.

At year’s end, Muslim cleric Abdul Inyass remained imprisoned pending an appeal of the death sentence he received following his blasphemy conviction in 2016.  The Kano Sharia Court barred the public from his trial after a mob razed the courthouse following Inyass’ arraignment in September 2015.

According to the Chief Judge of the Kano High Court as well as the Chief Registrar of the Sharia Court in Kano, the secular court system has always vacated death sentences for blasphemy in that state on appeal.  The Chief Judge said that a death sentence for blasphemy helps to assuage mobs who might seek to lynch the offending individual, keeping public peace while enabling the individual to quietly move out of the state.

There were reports that Hisbah Boards detained, abused, harassed, or intimidated individuals while enforcing their respective state’s sharia penal code.  In January, Hisbah officials in Kano State reportedly arrested barber Elija Ode for giving a customer a “blasphemous” haircut before later releasing him, stating the accusation had been a “misunderstanding.”  In July, a Kano Hisbah group arrested five Muslim men on “suspicion of homosexuality,” a crime punishable by caning, imprisonment, or death by stoning.  The accused were tried, convicted, caned, and released within two weeks.

During the year, the Kano State Films and Censors Board (KSFCB), a government organization responsible for regulating music and film, began requiring poets and singers to obtain a license to perform all new materials.  It also took into account the views of Kano’s Ulama Council, an informal gathering of respected Muslim clerics representing each of Kano’s various Muslim groups, to which the state government often defers on matters that could affect public peace.  In June, Kano State authorities arrested Ahmad Abdul for allegedly insulting Allah in a song he released without vetting it with the KSFCB.  Authorities subsequently released him after he apologized for circumventing the KSFCB.

In May, after an internal dispute among members of the local Muslim community over the installation of a new imam, the Osun State government closed the Inisha Central Mosque to forestall, according to the state government, a religious sectarian crisis from which the government feared violence.  The government reopened the mosque in July.

CSW reported that in October, the Kaduna State government demolished 263 buildings in the predominantly Christian Gracelands community in Zaria, including six churches, a school complex, and homes.  According to CSW, state authorities said the land belonged to an aviation college, but community members said state authorities had granted them certificates of ownership for the land more than 20 years earlier in most cases and that they had been paying all required taxes.

Members of both Christian and Muslim groups continued to report some state and federal government laws discriminated against them.  For example, they stated the Kaduna State Town and Urban Planning Law only allowed the construction of houses of worship in authorized nonresidential areas to prevent the conversion of private homes into houses of worship.  Representatives of both religions complained the law is implemented unevenly and in a biased manner.

In April, CAN President Ayokunle accused President Buhari of “Islamizing” the country through judicial appointments to courts of appeal, stating that out of 20 judges recommended, 13 were from the north and seven from the south.  In a statement, the CAN leadership called for “serious adjustments” on already executed appointments, stating that “Under the watch of President Buhari, especially throughout his first term, the judiciary was literally an appendage of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [NSCIA] because its members were in charge of its affairs.”  The NSCIA called CAN’s statement “scurrilous propaganda.”  According to the NSCIA, there were 70 appeals courts justices (JCAs) – 34 from the north and 36 from the south – and that the three geopolitical zones of the south had two Muslim JCAs, while the zones of the north had 15 Christians.

In August, the Anglican Church spoke against a newly enacted Anambra State law on burials that dictated the type, manner, and time of the religious service or rites and how they would be performed.  The law was passed originally at the urging of the Catholic and Anglican churches to curtail what they saw as a trend of extravagant funerals.  The Anglican Church later stated the final text of the law had been enacted without the Church’s input, which it said violated the country’s constitution.

Violence erupted in March when the Kwara State Governor confirmed all female Muslim students could wear the hijab in Christian-owned but state-run “grant aid” schools, per a Court of Appeal decision.  Following the announcement – which came after some Christian schools in the state had said the hijab violated their uniform policies – 10 state Christian schools closed for a week in protest.  When they reopened on March 17, five persons were injured in Christian-Muslim clashes when the Baptist Secondary School and Cherubim and Seraphim College prevented Muslim students wearing the hijab from entering.  According to local press reports, Muslims attacked these schools and their collocated churches in the Sabo Oke area of the state capital, Illorin, in retaliation, breaking windows and causing minor damage.

The Judaism Fellowship Initiative of Nigeria, representing more than 50 Nigerian Jewish and Judaic-oriented congregations, requested the government organize and facilitate pilgrimages for Jews to Jerusalem as the National Hajj Commission does for Muslims to travel to Mecca and state and federal government Christian Pilgrims Welfare Boards do for Christians to Jerusalem, parts of Jordan, and Rome.

While the CAMA law enacted in 2020 allowing the government to intervene in the management of private entities neither specifically addresses nor exempts nonprofit, nongovernmental, or religious organizations, nor contains language about religion, some NGOs and religious organizations continued to express concern about the law.  CAN and the NIREC continued to state that the law might allow the government to exert administrative control over smaller religious organizations that are organized as NGOs or as small religious schools with high tuition costs that are not legally considered charities.  They said such state control would infringe on constitutional rights of association and freedom of religion, although no such cases were reported during the year.  According to some legal scholars, the law was enacted to counter fraudulent NGOs that have served as fronts for money laundering or other criminal behaviors.  CAN sued the federal government over the law in February, and the case remained in litigation at year’s end.

State-level actors, including government, traditional, religious, and civil society organizations, regularly negotiated resolution of disputes.  In February and March, prominent Muslim and Christian leaders organized by the Kaduna State Peacebuilding Commission led peacebuilding efforts following ethnic clashes in Kaduna State.

The community in Yelwan Shandam in Plateau State completed rebuilding the JIBWIS mosque that had been demolished during sectarian riots in 2004, and the mosque began operation in February.

In April, Akwa Ibom State authorities banned the use of state schools for church services after school authorities complained church attendees did not clean up following their services.  Smaller Christian churches had often used the schools for worship services on Sundays but reverted to gathering in private homes or outdoors in compliance with the ban.

In April, the Bauchi State Interfaith Preaching Council indefinitely suspended Muslim cleric Malam Abubakar Idriss for preaching what it deemed incitement against rival ethnic groups.

President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo regularly condemned attacks on places of worship and those attempting to exploit religious differences.  Buhari regularly consulted with key Muslim and Christian leaders and celebrated both official Christian and Muslim holidays.  In a statement on February 15, Buhari appealed to religious and traditional leaders as well as governors and other elected leaders across the country to “join hands with the Federal Government to ensure that communities in their domain are not splintered along ethnic and other primordial lines.”  Reacting to intercommunal violence stemming from conflict over resources in the South West region, in a statement on February 15, Buhari stated that his “government will protect all religious … groups, whether majority or minority, in line with its responsibility under the constitution.”  Buhari again directed his Chief of Staff Gambari to lead a dialogue in each of the country’s geopolitical zones with state, local, traditional, religious, and security leaders.  According to media reports, Gambari stated that he met with senior Christian and Muslim leaders, for example, CAN in September and NIREC in October, to address what the reports described as infringements on religious freedom and demonstrate the country’s high level of interreligious collaboration.  In a meeting with supporters on June 30, Buhari said about the country’s rising insecurity, “Our problem is not ethnicity or religion.  It is ourselves.”

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.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

The U.S. Secretary of State raised religious freedom issues with government officials in a visit in November, as did embassy and consulate general officials throughout the year.  Issues included the resolution of widely publicized blasphemy cases and the role of religious leaders in peacebuilding and social trust, and societal abuses affecting religion.  They met with officials including President Buhari, Vice President Osinbajo, Presidential Chief of Staff Gambari, cabinet secretaries – including Attorney General Malami, Foreign Minister Onyeama, Minister of Interior Aregbesola – and National Assembly members.  U.S. officials also addressed religious tensions and efforts to bring religious groups together with several state governors – including the governors of Kaduna, Kano, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Borno, Plateau, Akwa Ibom, Enugu, and Abia States – and other government officials throughout the country.  They discussed government and government-supported grassroots efforts to reduce violence, combat insecurity, and promote religious freedom and interreligious tolerance.

Embassy and consulate general officials continued to promote religious tolerance and interfaith relationship-building with a wide range of religious leaders and civil society organizations.  On November 19, the Ambassador and the Secretary of State engaged with religious leaders on societal and religious issues surrounding the country’s insecurity.  The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials engaged with various religious groups, including CAN, the Society for the Support of Islam, the Islamic Society of Removal of Innovation and Reestablishment of the Sunna, and others throughout the year.  In January, the Ambassador met with the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, the most senior Muslim leader in the country and head of NIREC, and other prominent religious leaders at an interfaith dialogue.  In March, the Ambassador met with Muslim, Christian, and International Society of Krishna Consciousness leaders in Plateau State to discuss ongoing peacebuilding efforts in that region.  In April, the Ambassador spoke at the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace, a Catholic civil society organization, on the role of women and religion.  In August and September, senior embassy officials talked to the Taraba State Interreligious Council about its efforts to promote peace and understanding within religious communities in ethnically diverse Taraba State.  Interfaith discussions sought to identify areas of consensus and narrow the gap between competing narratives regarding the main drivers of conflict in the country.

The embassy continued to fund peacebuilding programs in conflict-prone states such as Kaduna and Plateau.  The programs trained leaders in farming and herding communities, including traditional, youth, religious, and female leaders, to build mechanisms to resolve tensions before they became violent conflicts, such as the development of early warning systems that could alert law enforcement and other authorities in advance of communal attacks.  “Peace ambassadors” from embassy-funded projects continued to work to bridge the gap between victims, traditional/religious leaders, and the security apparatus in Kaduna State.

The embassy addressed conflict among targeted at-risk communities by facilitating dialogues between aggrieved parties, promoting respect for religious freedom, and training community and religious leaders to peacefully resolve disputes.  Nine embassy-funded activities strengthened engagement and reduced tensions related to farmer-herders and other conflicts in Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Benue, Delta, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Plateau, and Taraba States.

The embassy continued to fund interfaith dialogue training for leaders in six North West and North Central states.  The embassy awarded five small grants to faith-based and community organizations to support reconciliation in communities, primarily in the North Central region, experiencing ethnoreligious violence.

The Secretary of State determined that Nigeria did not meet the criteria to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in or tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom or as a Special Watch List country for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 when such designations were announced on November 15, 2021.  Nigeria had previously been designated as a Country of Particular Concern in 2020 and a Special Watch List country in 2019.

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