Nigeria has topped the list of countries where Christian persecution looks set to rise in 2023.
In its annual Persecution Trends report, UK charity Release International cited growing violence and demands to divide the nation as reasons why Nigeria is a country of key concern this year.
The report details pressure from extremists in northern Nigeria to create an independent Islamic state. Some southern region ethnic groups have also been backing the calls to break away, as they desire independence from “what is increasingly looking like a failed state”.
There are worries that following Nigeria’s presidential election next month, political Islamists in the north of the country will undermine the new president and force minority tribes, who are mostly Christian, to live as second class citizens.
A Nigerian partner of Release International said in the report: “Every indication suggests Nigeria is at a pivotal point in its history. The election in 2023 will determine whether the nation grows as an entity or disintegrates.”
Meanwhile, violent attacks against largely Christian communities by terror groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa and Fulani militants continues to blight Nigeria’s Middle Belt region, and is starting to spread to southern regions.
On 19th December 2022, gunmen killed at least 38 villagers in northwestern Nigeria's Kaduna state, according to residents and a local community group.
The attack started at night and continued into the early hours of the morning. Armed men shot people and burned at least 100 houses, said Luka Binniyat, spokesperson for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SKPU).
Resident Jasen Joseph said the attackers had killed some people with machetes. "I lost many friends, uncles, parents and mentors in this place," he told Reuters. "If you go down there, the two streets, you will see corpses everywhere."
According to Release International, Fulani militants killed more than 6,000 Christians and destroyed 17 villages in 2022. It’s forced more than 2 million people to flee their homes.
A Release International partner said in the report: “Kidnapping for ransom has now become the major money earner for terrorist groups, while the numbers of victims of rape and people living with disabilities due to attacks continue to grow among the Christian communities.
“Hundreds of thousands of children in these Christian villages are unable to go to school or access good education.”
Release International’s CEO Paul Robinson has encouraged Christians to pray for a miracle.
“Please pray for peace for the elections in 2023 and political developments that would help bring an end to the violence against Christians. Pray also for protection for Christian communities across Nigeria.”
China, Iran, India, Afghanistan and Malaysia are also listed as countries where Christian persecution is expected to grow this year, leaving an increasing number of Christians as refugees.
Click here to read the Persecution Trends report.