Are Christians In Danger of Becoming Extinct in Nigeria?

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While Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has declared the war with Boko Haram over, the radical terrorist group is still mounting deadly attacks across the countryside. The displaced have been encouraged to return home, but they are fearful there is little to no security. And Fulani herder attacks, which began in 2009, have spiraled since 2015 in central Nigeria. Church leaders, activists, journalists and traditional rulers seeking to raise awareness about the violence from Fulani militants are being accused of committing hate speech, incitement and attempting to secure foreign funding. A consequence of the devastation wrought by both terrorist groups is famine in northern and central Nigeria.


A prominent advocate for Nigerians suffering from discrimination, persecution and famine is Reverend Samson Olasupo Adeniyi Ayokunle, Ph.D., President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Founded in 1977, this association of Christian Churches is the largest ecumenical organization not only in Nigeria, but all of Africa. Members meet regularly to focus on issues that affect the Christian faith and the welfare and development of Nigerians. A few days ago, I met with CAN President Rev. Ayokunie to talk about the crisis in Nigeria.


Sabatier: Is the Christian church in danger of extinction in the North?

Ayokunle: It could be in all of Nigeria. Consider what has happened in other Christian areas of the world like Turkey and the nations in the northern coast of Africa. What happened to them can happen to any nation if care is not taken. This is the reason that we are crying out for the authorities to not allow radical Islam to overrun Nigeria. God has given each of us the willpower to choose. That willpower to choose religion is part of what makes us human. Anyone believing opposite of that is dehumanizing us. We have been watching this happen in the northern part of Nigeria. If our military and law enforcement do not rise to the occasion, then we will succumb to extinction.


Sabatier: What is the situation with dialogue with Muslims?

Ayokunle: Since President Buhari has been in power, Christians and Muslims have not really dialogued. Nigerian Christians have their eyes out that no one takes away their freedom to worship God. We must be united with Muslims to extinguish the destruction that Boko Haram has caused in the Northeast …. They must speak out against it and join hands with all the organizations fighting terrorism. I learned today that a meeting the government was to host between Christians and Muslims was cancelled. There is (also) a program called THINK NIGERIA that calls on Muslim leaders who believe in dialogue to join hands with Christian leaders. This is not actively working right now, but we are hopeful it will start again.


Sabatier: Can you explain your comment in a recent interview that no one has a monopoly on violence?

Ayokunle: When we see that the government is not paying attention and we point it out, that should not be interpreted politically. In the past, Christians trusted the government so that is why they did not defend themselves when attacked. But when they have an “absentee government,” then they believe they must use self-defense.


Sabatier: Do you have confidence in your plea to President Buhari to curb violence caused by Boko Haram and militant Fulani herdsmen?

Ayokunle: I do not condemn the government of my country. We have no other country.

We are pleading with Nigeria to pursue peace.


Sabatier: How is CAN working with the government in getting food and water to those suffering from the famine?

Ayokunle: The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) coordinates resources for disaster prevention and relief in Nigeria. NEMA does not have a representative from CAN or Muslims on the board distributing the aid. We need stakeholders to be involved in the distribution of the relief.


Sabatier: What is your message to the West about what is happening in northern and central Nigeria?

Ayokunle: We want to thank the U.S. government for helping the entire world.  We know that the West cares, but the West can care more.


Sabatier: How are people of faith in Nigeria responding to the ongoing crisis?

Ayokunle: They are more resolute now than ever before to stand for what they believe and to defend Christians.

Lou Ann Sabatier, Director of Strategy and Communications


  1. View this short video message from CAN President Ayokunle.
  2. Attend or livestream the event “Nigeria: Fractured and Forgotten” on March 21st that 21CWI and The Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute are co-hosting.
  3. Visit to learn more.
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Nigeria Blood Politics: The Dilemma of Polyzygotic Conception

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StoryIllo Illustration: J. Crosemann

Nigeria was colonized by Britain in 1885, and later became a British protectorate in 1901. Colonization lasted up until 1960, when an independence movement succeeded in gaining Nigeria its independence.
[History of Africa, Kevin Shilington]

Like the legend of ancient Rome when two brothers Romulus and Remus fiercely contested where the city would be located and who will rule the city, Romulus killed his brother Remus and named the city after himself. In the case of Nigeria, Sir Frederick Lugard, the Colonial Governor, was responsible for unification of the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria joined with Northern Nigeria Protectorate to form the Single colony of Nigeria in 1914. Just like in Polyzygotic conception– many multiple fetuses produced by this zygotic unification are congenitally fused that many specialists have had nightmares prescribing antidotes.

Unlike the ancient Rome that eventually birthed Pax Romana [Roman Peace], Nigeria unification was done for economic rather than political reasons-Northern protectorate had a budget deficit and the colonial administration sought to use the budget surpluses in Southern Nigeria to offset this deficit. The struggle for community identity and self-definition of the zygotic fetuses was that of horse-trading, blackmail, tribal supremacists, and economic plundering which led to stagnation and stunted growth. The complexity of managing over 500 ethnic nationalities scattered across Nigeria and beyond to other countries like Chad, Cameroun, Niger and Benin by parochial leaders became an enigma. Every ethnic group like American Robin or Asian Koel has been singing marginalization and self-determination ever since.

The ideological political underpinnings of the colonial era were indirect rule of governing and brutally foisted on British colony Nigeria-it is a system of control through pre-existing local power structures for taxation, communications and other matters. This has put Nigeria perennially on a steeped gully steered many times by egomaniac captains good at drumming ethnic lyrics to the noisy passengers on board. The heartbreaking paradox is that Nigeria is a country of unimaginable abundance—blessed with natural resources, the richness of her people and the incredible growth in the population currently put at 183 million is her potential. Her human and natural resources make her one of the wealthiest countries in Africa. Nigeria represents one of the richest tapestries of culture in Africa. Yet, despite these countless blessings and riches, Nigeria remains undeniably poverty stricken, a broken country fractured by many conflicts stained with blood.

Like in the movie “The Bad” where Zoil reveals that he’s been Paul’s man on the inside all along and then takes a bullet in the shoulder from the Big Guy for his troubles, many state actors in Nigeria had claimed victimhood. Standing before the Oputa Panel, also known as the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission, formed on June 14,1999 by President Obasanjo as a Truth Commission to heal the wounds of the past and move beyond through reconciliation, was just talking to a brick wall.

Political issues are violently discussed across ethnic and regional lines. Hegemonic ambitions of different regions fragmented any sense of true federalism and patriotism took to flight. National discourse was dotted with religious and tribal colors and henceforth many religious crises and ultimately civil war was fought. This has etched almost irredeemable memories on the victims. This is the political tipping point where if one region produces the President, other region [s] undermines it. There is no consensus to nation building. There have been two sets of rules: one for the Muslim north, the other for the rest of the country. This has affected our criminal justice system. Nigeria has experienced ethnic differences in the processing of criminal cases. There is disproportionality and this occurs when groups are represented unequally relative to their numbers in the general population. We have disparity and this occurs when two offenders who are similarly situated are treated unequally.

Manipulation of national data has destroyed our effort for adequate national planning and budgeting. We have had population census where animals are enlisted in the head count or figures approximated for political advantage. A typical example of 2006 census conducted in Lagos State clearly implicates the state actors. The federal government listed Lagos state figure a at little above nine million. This figure was disputed by Lagos state government consecutive head count, which later released its own population data, putting the population of Lagos Metropolitan Area at approximately 16 million.

The criminality is morbid. We have never included religion in the head count in our population census and therefore, it is dangerous to divide Nigeria into religious fault lines. The Muslim north and the Christian South is a Pandora box that the world needs to discard fast. The fault lines in Nigeria extend to many homes comprising of Christians, Muslims, Atheists, African Traditional Worshippers, Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic faiths. If there is overtly ethnic or religious domination in any region, it is because one has used state powers for self-preservation to the exclusion of other groups.


Nigeria is deeply divided along religious, ethnic and regional lines and one of the aftereffects of the division is the civil war fought in 1967-1970. Many regions have come up with resistant groups for self-preservation; some benign and others virulent amongst which are boko haram terrorism, Fulani militia, Biafra agitators, Niger Delta Avengers and OPC etc. These hostilities have claimed over 6 million lives since Independence.


The solution to this logjam that has held the polyzygotic fetuses from maturing is the call for restructuring where fiscal federalism or inter-governmental fiscal relations takes over the current arrangement. Our problem enumerated above has emanated from historical, economic, political, geographical, cultural and social factors. The panacea comes from restructuring, and by this term the majority of Nigerians are saying what functions and instruments are best centralized and which are best placed in the sphere of decentralized levels of government.

Stephen S. Enada
Advocate for Justice

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Let’s Rebuild Society in Nigeria

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These remarks were delivered in part at the National Christian Center Abuja on the occasion of Prayer for Agatu on May 7, 2016. Photo: Hon. Rt. Ademu Entonu (center) and Agatu massacre survivors.

“Recently, residents of virtually all the villages in Agatu local government area of the state came under severe attacks from the herders who took over Okokolo, Akwu, Ocholonya, Adagbo, Ugboku, Odugbeho and Aila in a military fashion and chased out the locals from their ancestral homes. The siege by the Fulani militia left no fewer than 300 persons killed within the interval of one week just as all structures and economic trees in the ‘captured territories’ were also razed.”


We must leave here today with a firm and decisive position and resolve not to entertain or accept one more massacre of our communities or individuals by external aggressors, whoever they may be and whatever their thrust of attack, be it political, ethnic, economic or religious. EVERYTHING BEGINS WITH A DECISION TO TAKE A POSITION on any matter, to establish purpose and objective. Nigeria is a greatly blessed country. Let’s unite as one people against all threats to our corporate, peaceful co-existence and progress.

Nigerians must take proactive and creative initiatives to constrain the leadership and governments of the day (local, state, national, global) through multiple advocacies – political, legal, social, economic and spiritual – to address the blatant lapse of security.

This issue must be raised now in all small and large gatherings of all political parties, public and private. Legal action must be taken for these acts of murder of genocidal proportions in our local courts as well as the International Criminal Court.

Social action of peaceful demonstrations and Town Hall meetings should be convened all over the land to move the arms of state to assume their sworn duties to protect the citizens of the nation against the now persistent carnage. Policies on aggressive economic and educational initiatives should be given priority to complement the now foremost priority of physical security.
The electronic, print and live media should be fully deployed to good and positive use and purpose.

A spiritual campaign, armed with direct biblical counsel, instruction, promises and cover as above and below, should be mounted and implemented individually and corporately in all our groups, assemblies and organizations with the resolute objective of addressing these onslaughts.

I encourage fellow citizens to stand for the four demands of God to every society: truth, righteousness, justice and equity.

We must have in place a structure for accurate and detailed documentation, information and intelligence that informs a sound strategy and setting in place of viable operational structures that are clear and simple to implement. No project can be driven sustainably without definite structures in place.

Measures, structures and systems of temporary self-defense must be in place in all our local communities with an effective interface, where possible, with the existing structures such as the Civil Defense Corps, police or other local official structures of recognized security.

An early warning communications system should be put in place in all communities by the communities themselves, as a first line of defense. Be watchful, vigilant and pray. Take responsibility; go beyond talk, rehashing and analyzing problems. Do something; start today!

Every community should use all means possible to access strategies, structures, partnerships and equipment to defend itself against external invading forces that are resolved to kill and destroy its people, property and land. Economic growth through productive initiatives, structures and practices of the community must become a definite culture of continuous innovations, improvements and excellence for every community in the medium and long term.

Let’s rebuild our society in Nigeria based on the pillars of truth, justice, and equality.

Polycarp Gbaj, CEO
Strategic Development Initiative

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