Editors’ note: 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has today launched a global campaign, entitled Sing For Freedom, calling for action to stem the scourge of abductions targeting educational establishments in northern and central Nigeria, that have resulted in over 1,100 students kidnapped for ransom and at least seven killed since December 2020. Learn more.

What just happened?

More than 3,400 Christians have been murdered in the past 200 days by Nigerian jihadists, according to a report by a Nigerian human-rights group. This is an average of 17 Christians in Nigeria being killed every day this year.

The International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (Intersociety) claims that in the first 200 days of 2021 (from January 1 to July 18), an estimated 3,462 Christians were killed by jihadist groups, including Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen. An additional 3,000 Christians are also estimated to have been kidnapped by these groups in the past seven months. Intersociety says that about 300 churches have been threatened, attacked, or closed by the jihadists in this same period.

Earlier this month, jihadists attacked Bethel Baptist High School and kidnapped more than 100 children. The kidnappers released 28 students, but 81 remain captive. This was the tenth mass school kidnapping in northwest Nigeria since December. In response, Nigerian authorities in the northwestern state of Kaduna have closed more than a dozen schools because of security threats. Nigerian authorities say that such kidnappings were previously carried out by Boko Haram, and later its offshoot Islamic State West Africa Province, but the tactic has now been adopted by other criminal gangs.

How many Christians are in Nigeria?

Nigeria is the seventh most-populous country in the world, with 206 million people, almost half of whom (48.1 percent) identify as Christian. With approximately 86 million believers, Nigeria has the largest Christian population in Africa and the sixth-largest Christian population in the world. About 4 percent of the world’s total Christian population lives in Nigeria.

What is Boko Haram?

Boko Haram is the Hausa language nickname for Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad). The nickname, which translates to “Western education is sinful,” grew from the group’s initial focus on opposing Western education in African countries.

Founded in 2002, the terrorist group comprises radical Islamists who oppose both Westerners and “apostate” Muslims. Based in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger, the organization seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by Shariah law, putting a stop to what it deems “Westernization.” Its followers are said to be influenced by a Quranic phrase that says, “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors.”

Despite the group’s nickname, Boko Haram’s agenda is much broader than just education. The group promotes a version of radical Islam that makes it “haram,” or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers, or receiving a non-Muslim education.

(For more on this group, see 9 Things You Should Know About Boko Haram.)

Who are Jihadist Fulani herdsmen?

The Fulani are the world’s largest nomadic group, consisting of about 25 million people across 21 African countries. Because traditional Fulani regard any occupation other than herding as socially inferior, livestock herding is one of the group’s primary occupations. For over 100 years, they have also been involved in jihadi activities across the continent of Africa.

Despite having a shared mission and animosity toward Christians, these Fulani herdsmen are likely not coordinating with Boko Haram.

What is being done?

Last December, the U.S. State Department declared Nigeria a country of particular concern under the International Religious Freedom Act. But the international community has not taken adequate action to stop the persecution of Christians in the country.

“More Christians have been targeted and slaughtered by extremists in Nigeria than in the entire Mideast in recent years,” says Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. “These vulnerable Christian communities, who are being attacked on two fronts by Islamic terrorists and jihadis, need help.”

Eric Patterson, vice president of the Religious Freedom Institute, fears Nigeria could be heading toward a genocidal civil war. “Imagine a Bosnian or Rwandan meltdown in a country with 10 times their populations,” says Patterson. “In other words, consider a genocidal civil war, fought in a population that is about two-thirds the U.S. population, squeezed within the borders of Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.”

Former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf shares that concern. “I believe . . . that Nigeria will implode,” Wolf said in a recent hearing of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “If this were happening in Scandinavia, if this were happening in Eastern Europe, do you think the world would be silent? The world would be engaged, and right now the world is not engaged.”