Religious persecution in northern Nigeria is rising rapidly, with a 62 per cent increase in the violent killings of Christians recorded in the past year, according to a new report.
The report, released by Open Doors, a charity that monitors religiously motivated violence and discrimination, shows that in 2015 there were 4,028 killings and 198 church attacks, nearly double those of the previous year.
In the five years between 2009 and 2014, 11,500 Christians were killed and 13,000 churches destroyed, forcing 1.3 million Christians to flee to safer areas of the country or risk smuggling routes to Europe, says the report.
The persecution of Christians is carried out by three groups: Islamist terror group, Boko Haram; Muslim Fulani herdsmen; and the Muslim religious and political elite that dominates government in northern Nigeria.
Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said that even though Nigeria is officially a secular federal state with a constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion, the reality in northern Nigeria is very different.
“For decades, Christians in the region have suffered marginalisation and discrimination as well as targeted violence,” she added. “This is happening not only in the Sharia states of the far north where the pressure of Islam is hard felt, but also in the non-Sharia middle belt states where Sharia has not been formally implemented.
“Several areas of Northern Nigeria have seen Christianity virtually wiped out,” she said.
Last month, Open Doors, released its annual league table of the worst countries in which to be a Christian.
North Korea topped the list for overall persecution in 2015, while Nigeria had the largest number of Christians killed for their faith; recording more than half of the 7000-plus killings around the globe.