Violence in Nigeria Threatens Religious Freedom of Christians and Muslims, USICRF Reports – Baptist News Global

Religious intolerance and deep partisan divisions have given rise to violence by non-state actors in Nigeria that increasingly threatens freedom of belief and practice in a nation once known for its great religious diversity, according to a new report by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom .

In “Violence and Religious Freedom in Nigeria,” USCIRF cited criminal, political, and religious factions as contributing to a 30% increase in deadly violence in Nigeria since 2020.

“Because of this insecurity, many Nigerians are daily threatened with violence. Some of this violence has important implications for the freedom of religion or belief of Nigerians. Violence that undermines freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria includes militant Islamist violence, identity-based violence at the intersection of religion, ethnicity and geographic heritage, mob violence against accused persons of blasphemy and violence impacting worship.

Militant Islamist groups regularly attack Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups in their quest for ideological and political domination.

USCIRF reported this Islamist militant groups regularly attack Muslim and non-Muslim religious groups in their quest for ideological and political domination. Their efforts have resulted in attacks on places of worship, killings, kidnappings and territorial expansion in the northern part of Nigeria.

“The Islamist State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) currently poses the greatest threat, although factions of Boko Haram and al-Qaeda affiliate Ansaru also operate in some regions. ISWAP, Boko Haram and Ansaru have all declared political goals to overthrow secular governance in Nigeria and impose a particular interpretation of Islam.

In response to rising Islamist terror, the Christian NGO Open Doors has declared Nigeria the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, Baptist News Global reported in August.

“I already told you, according to our research for the World Watch List, Nigeria is the deadliest country for Christians – on average, every two hours a Nigerian Christian dies for their faith,” an Open Doors official wrote after a Pentecost Sunday attack on a Catholic parish killed more than 50 worshippers. “A heinous attack like this reinforces that truth.”

But USCIRF noted that militant groups have also targeted Muslim worshipers who do not share the attackers’ fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.

The Islamists also seek to restrict the political freedom of Nigerians, regardless of their religion.

Islamists also seek to restrict the political freedom of Nigerians, regardless of their religion, USCIRF reported. “Ansaru’s disapproval of democratically elected government in Nigeria stems from its criticism of the secular nature of government, among other things, and attempts to limit Nigerians’ engagement in representative governance may also reflect the agenda of the group aiming to impose a governance based on a singular and political interpretation. of Islam”.

Identity-Driven Violence has also become more prevalent in Nigeria, according to the report.

“In some states, religion, ethnicity and geographic heritage intersect to create internal and external groups against which violent actors mobilize. Local leaders and inflammatory civil rhetoric often exacerbate the perceived role of religion in this violence, spreading unsubstantiated accounts of ideological or fundamentalist motivations on the part of perpetrators. As a result, religious communities have become increasingly suspicious of each other and fear being targeted on the basis of religion.

The report cites an August 2021 attack by armed youths on a bus convoy that killed 22 Muslims: “In April 2022, clashes in Chando Zerreci killed at least seven people, including Christians and Muslims, when gunmen attacked an annual cultural festival, allegedly in retaliation. for the attack on the August convoy.

Mob violence sparked by blasphemy allegations has also claimed the lives of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.

The mob violence triggered by Blasphemy allegations have also claimed the lives of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, USCIRF said.

“In May 2022, a violent mob of university students in Kano State stoned a Christian student to death and burned her body in response to a comment she made in a WhatsApp thread which they considered insulting to Islam. … In June, an angry mob in Abuja stoned and burned a Muslim man to death for alleged blasphemy, though investigations have implicated organized criminal activity as likely playing a major role in the incident.

During a visit to Nigeria in June 2022, USCIRF investigators found that the lack of government oversight allowed non-state actors to wage campaigns of violence across the country.

“Many of the basic pilots of violence in Nigeria are linked to poor governance. The failure of the state to provide services, security and justice equitably to its citizens erodes society’s ability to mitigate conflict without violence,” the commission said. “These drivers intersect with local, regional and global aggravating factors to entrench intractable cycles of violence. Low-level religious discrimination and the politicization of religion by elites collide with population growth and economic challenges to strain governance institutions and contribute to rising grievances.

As a result, USCIRF called the risk of atrocities in Nigeria “high” and noted that the US Holocaust Memorial Museum ranked the country eighth in risk of a massacre in the coming year.

“Nigerians also face abduction, torture, inhuman treatment, sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, and forced or coerced recruitment. Apparent territorial and tactical advances by powerful armed groups in 2022 further increase the risk of atrocities,” the report states. “These atrocities pose risks to religious liberty, among other rights and freedoms, for Nigerians.”

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