IN-DEPTH: Persecution of Nigeria's Christians [Excerpts]
The publicly reported Christian casualties in Nigeria last year were greater than the Christian casualties of Pakistan, Syria, Kenya and Egypt combined. In fact, Nigeria alone accounted for almost 70 percent of Christians killed globally. This makes Nigeria the most lethal country for Christians by a huge margin.
Much of the violence in 2012 was attributed to the Jihadist terror group Boko Haram. With 3,000 casualties affecting citizens from a dozen countries in three years, Boko Haram has earned a dubious distinction as one of the top five lethal terrorist organizations in the world. In the last three years, however, the three most deadly incidents of anti-Christian persecution -- with triple-digit casualties -- in Nigeria were the March 7, 2010 massacre in Jos, Plateau state, the April 16, 2011 pogrom in the country's Sharia (Islamic law) states and the Jan. 20, 2012 onslaught in Kano. Two of these three incidents were not the handiwork of terrorists but of average northern Nigerian Muslims.
While Boko Haram's bloody terrorist tactics certainly merit serious concern, the focus on this group has overshadowed a pattern of systemic religious violence in Nigeria. It obfuscates the pervasive history of the killing of Christians by Muslims in northern Nigeria going back over a quarter century.
In 1999, after a pro-democracy movement successfully ended military dictatorship and a Christian was elected president, 12 Muslim-controlled states in northern Nigeria reacted by imposing Islamic sharia law in open violation of Nigeria's constitution. This resulted in horrific violence the following year that left thousands dead when Christians protested peacefully.
Such acts of violence continue to this day with virtual impunity. In November, for instance, the mispronunciation of a dress style by a non-Muslim tailor led to his death -- along with several other Christians -- and church burnings in spontaneous riots. This ultimately fatal fashion mistake was not the handiwork of terrorists but of average northern Nigerian Muslims.
Persecution in Nigeria is discernible in three widening concentric circles: sect, state and street levels. While much has been said regarding the smallest circle -- sect-level actors such as Boko Haram -- most analysts overlook the ongoing and serious persecution in the wider state and street circles, which provide an enabling environment for groups like Boko Haram.
Consider the street level. The most serious attack on the Christian community in Nigeria's recent history was not carried out by Boko Haram or any organized Islamic sect. Rather, it was an act of ordinary Muslims across most northern states. This anti-Christian pogrom, referred to as the "post-election violence," deserves examination as a bellwether of the real conditions in Nigeria's tottering political union.
In April 2011, in what was dubbed one of the "freest and fairest" elections in Nigeria's recent history, Goodluck Jonathan was elected president. Before his victory was announced, violence erupted in the 12 northern sharia states -- again.
The final toll for the Christian community was staggering. In a 48-hour period, 764 church buildings were burned, 204 Christians were confirmed killed, more than 3,100 Christian-operated businesses, schools, and shops were burned, and more than 3,400 Christian homes were destroyed. While there have been similar death tolls in certain incidents in terms of scope and coordinated scale of destruction, there has been no equivalent attack against the church in recent decades, with the possible exception of government-backed genocides in Sudan.
Yet this was not a government-backed endeavor. Instead, thousands of Muslim youths in 12 states gathered together with machetes, knives, matches and gasoline and carried out this pogrom. The "freest and fairest" elections resulted in some of the "fiercest and most ferocious" violence against innocent Christians that Nigeria has seen.