Over 8,000 Christians killed in Nigeria in 2023, watchdog estimates

(Photo: Getty/iStock)

(CP) Over 8,000 Christians were reportedly killed in Nigeria in 2023 amid a rise in attacks, abductions and killings in recent years, according to estimates included in a report released this week by a civil society organization.

The Anambra-based International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety), an organization headed by Christian criminologist Emeka Umeagbalasi that has been very critical of the Nigerian government, reports that at least 8,222 Christians were killed across Nigeria from January 2023 to January 2024.

The organization relies on what it deems to be credible media reports, government accounts, reports from international rights groups and eyewitness accounts to compile statistical data.

Intersociety attributes the deaths to various extremist groups, including radicalized Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram and others, with a notable number of victims also resulting from actions by Nigerian security forces. 

States like Benue, Plateau, Kaduna and Niger bore the brunt of these attacks, with thousands of Christians abducted and hundreds of churches destroyed or attacked, Intersociety says.

"Through the deceitful and camouflaged 'internal military operations,' the Fulani Jihadists were militarily protected to invade southern and middle belt farmlands, bushes and forests," the NGO charges. "This is to the extent that, today, the highest concentration of the Fulani Herdsmen's jihadist terror activities in the South and the Middle-Belt and other Christian-held areas in the North are found near military or other security formations."

Intersociety reports that Benue state experienced the most Christian deaths, with 1,450 fatalities, followed closely by Plateau state with 1,400. Kaduna and Niger states also saw significant losses, with 822 and 730 Christians killed, respectively. In addition to the loss of life, the report highlights the abduction of over 8,400 Christians nationwide, with a distressing number of these individuals never returning alive.

The violence has led to attacks on 500 churches in 2023 alone, contributing to a total of 18,500 churches attacked since 2009.

The report also notes the abduction of 70 Christian clerics within the year, with at least 25 killed. These attacks have not only targeted individuals but have also devastated communities, with over 300 Christian communities reportedly sacked in 2023.

The scale of displacement is alarming, with millions of internally displaced persons generated, particularly in states like Benue.

The number of deaths provided by Intersociety is doubled the number suggested by other watchdogs also raising the warning flag about religious freedom conditions in Nigeria who use more conservative estimates. Still, the more conservative figures suggest an alarming rate of violence happening in Nigeria.

In its World Watch List 2024 report, Open Doors says at least 4,998 Christians were killed for their faith in 2023 worldwide. Of that number, Open Doors reports that around 90% of those were in Nigeria, where more than 4,000 were killed. Open Doors ranks Nigeria as the sixth-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.

"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," Open Doors states in a fact sheet. "The government's failure to protect Christians and punish perpetrators has only strengthened the militants' influence."

From Dec. 23 through Christmas, terrorists believed to be extremists among Fulani Muslim herdsmen killed nearly 200 people and injured 300 in a coordinated attack on multiple villages in predominantly Christian areas in the Plateau State, according to that report.

Intersociety, in its report, calls for international attention and action, urging the appointment of a United Nations secretary-general's special emergency envoy on Nigeria and a UN Security Council resolution to authorize a comprehensive investigation into the systematic attacks against Christians.

The report reveals that in January 2024 alone, at least 200 Christians were killed across Nigeria, including more than 50 deaths recorded in Plateau State.

The group emphasizes the need for a global response to address what it describes as a "Jihadist Genocide of Christians" in Nigeria.

The Nigerian government has long pushed back on claims that the violence occurring in the Middle Belt states between herders and farmers constitutes religious violence. Christian human rights advocates have accused the government of overlooking religious elements and not doing enough to protect Nigerian citizens.

The U.S. State Department left Nigeria off its "countries of particular concern" list for 2024 despite the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to do so. Secretary of State Antony Blinken removed Nigeria from the CPC list in 2021 after Nigeria was added to the list by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo under the Trump administration in December 2020.

In January, USCRIRF Chair Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair Frederick Davie called for a congressional hearing on the State Department's failure to designate Nigeria and India as CPCs.

The USCIRF leaders argue that "there is no justification as to why the State Department did not designate Nigeria ... as a Country of Particular Concern, despite its own reporting and statements."

© The Christian Post