". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Remember to Pray for Nigeria’s Endangered Christians

January 30, 2024

Why are Nigeria’s Christians facing grave danger? Why have kidnappings and murders of pastors, priests, men, women, and children in Nigeria continued to increase in numbers? The fact is that more Christian believers are killed for their faith in Nigeria each year than in the rest of the countries of the world combined. Meanwhile, the international response to these tragedies has for too long been virtual silence.

Now, however, a few essential voices are beginning to speak up.

In December, the New York Post reported, “More than 52,000 Christians have been butchered or hacked to death for being Christians… since 2009 in Nigeria, according to Intersociety, a civil society group based in Onitsha.”

And on Christmas Eve 2023, Fox News announced that an estimated 200 Nigerian Christians had been killed by Islamist jihadists. Their report went on to explain:

“While much of the world this week has been celebrating a beginning — Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ — in Nigeria they are mourning the end of life —the deaths of more than 100 Christians — as the world remains virtually silent. Armed bandits ran amok, according to Amnesty International, in some 20 communities across central Nigeria, killing more than 140. In a country where accurate statistics are traditionally hard to come by, some sources have put the death toll closer to 200.”

Why is it that massacres in Nigeria’s churches, villages, and schools persist? And why does the rest of the world continue to remain mostly indifferent? 

For more than a decade, those of us in the United States and some in the United Kingdom who focus on international religious freedom have endeavored to raise awareness about this escalating carnage. We have repeatedly pleaded with the U.S. government to confront Nigeria’s rulers.

Briefly, during the Trump administration, there was a practical response. In December 2020, then-Secretary of State of Mike Pompeo designated Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern (CPC), thus providing legal opportunities for specific measures against President Muhammadu Buhari and his government. Religious freedom advocates and some U.S. lawmakers applauded the designation with relief, gratitude, and hope.

However, less than a year later, in November 2021, with no explanation whatsoever, the Biden administration abruptly removed Nigeria’s CPC designation. The delisting amounted to a license — if not an invitation — for ongoing violence to continue. It was an outrageous betrayal of Nigeria’s brutalized Christian community. In the months since, its removal has opened the door to multiplied death squads, murder, mutilation, torched villages and churches, and devastated surviving refugees.

Open Doors recently reported, “Violence by Islamic extremist groups such as Fulani militants, Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State in West African Province) increased during the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari, putting Nigeria at the epicenter of targeted violence against the Church. The Nigerian government’s failure to protect Christians and punish perpetrators has only strengthened the militants’ influence.”

Simultaneously, the horrific circumstances of Nigeria’s Christians continued to deteriorate dramatically during the Biden administration. Finally, in January 2024, concerned U.S. lawmakers wrote a letter to demand action. The authors included House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), Subcommittee on Africa Chairman John James (R-Mich.).

They sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding answers regarding the slaughter of Christians in Nigeria. Their letter requested that:

“… the State Department report to Congress on its plan to address concerns for the lives of Nigerian Christians and the tragic loss of life simply for practicing their faith. This report should include specific details on how the State Department plans to engage with the Government of Nigeria to eliminate further occurrence of these atrocities.

“Importantly, the Members of Congress are requesting specific details as to why the Biden administration removed Nigeria as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act in 2021 and why these recent events failed to meet the threshold of concern.”

Most importantly the letter spells out specifically the dangers inherent in the administration’s failure to designate Nigeria. “[It] falls short of the needs of the Christian communities throughout Nigeria that are facing constant threats from jihadists,” wrote the lawmakers. “Islamic State terror groups such as ISIS, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and al-Qaeda perpetuate this senseless violence across Africa. Throughout northern and central Nigeria, violent assaults on churches and their congregations are reportedly carried out on a near-weekly basis. It is clear that the Biden administration must make religiously motivated violence a top priority in its engagement with the Government of Nigeria.”

Nigeria amounts to the most egregious example of the death toll that has resulted due to the U.S. government’s neglect of Islamist terrorism against African Christians. And by now we know too well that what has begun in Nigeria will not stop there. 

In “Heroic Faith,” our Family Research Council book about international religious freedom, we reported that “Many if not most well-informed observers believe that we are seeing the beginning of an ever-worsening Africa-wide scenario. The Wall Street Journal has explained that ISIS is transforming itself into a different kind of enemy by “embracing an array of militant groups as if they were local franchises. … After its dreams of imposing draconian Islamist law in a self-declared Syrian and Iraqi state were crushed, ISIS successfully relocated and injected itself into localized conflicts in Nigeria, Libya, and across the Sahel.”

Our concern continues to grow on behalf of the Christians who are suffering in Nigeria — and, increasingly, across Africa. We are grateful for efforts that demand U.S. political action and international intervention. And we are encouraged to see factual news reports and positive political activities taking place.

However, our hearts and our prayers continue to focus on Nigeria’s beleaguered Christian communities. We remember and mourn the tens of thousands who have died for their faith. We also pray for the survivors of earlier massacres, many of whom have suffered grave and debilitating injuries, loss of beloved ones, and now struggle to survive in poverty-stricken refugee camps. And we plead for God’s protection over those who continue to faithfully worship in their churches despite the dangers, while living in dread of future attacks. May the Lord have mercy on Nigeria’s believers and on all those across Africa who are suffering for their faith.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom. She lived in Israel for over ten years, and is the author of "Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner."