Why Nigeria is the most dangerous country in the world for Christians

Sean Nelson talks with Rhoda Jatau who faces persecution as a Christian in Nigeria.

Sharia law in the north, blasphemy laws, and the ongoing threat from Boko Haram enable the rampant persecution of Christians

Sean Nelson talks with Rhoda Jatau who faces persecution as a Christian in Nigeria.

The gospels tell us that Christians should expect to be persecuted for their faith. However, many people are surprised when they hear about the large amount of persecution facing Christians around the world today. Over 365 million Christians experienced “high levels of persecution and discrimination” worldwide in 2023.

But one country in particular, Nigeria, is the most dangerous country in the world for Christians. In 2022, roughly 5,000 Christians were murdered for their faith – more than the number killed in all other countries combined. For 2023, one estimate put the number of Christians targeted and killed in Nigeria at over 7,000.

The severe Christian persecution in Nigeria, particularly in the northern regions, makes it the most dangerous country in the world for Christians. I recently travelled to Nigeria and saw the effects of persecution firsthand. Let me share them with you:

Countering this Christian persecution

Thankfully, ADF International works to stop this relentless persecution of Christians in Nigeria. We work with local allied lawyers to oppose the country’s egregious blasphemy laws and get Christians out of Islamic Sharia courts. We help Christian converts escape from violence and threats and protect Christian ministries targeted for their work.

And we work at the highest levels of governments around the world to put pressure on Nigeria to stop persecuting Christians. For example, this includes advocating for Nigeria’s placement on the United States government watchlist of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom violations.

I’ve met with the victims of Christian persecution and religious freedom violations in Nigeria. They have great faith in the face of such hardship. I recently travelled to Nigeria and saw the effects of persecution firsthand.

The persecution of Christians in Nigeria is systemic

Because Nigeria is the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, the persecuted face targeted violence and death from terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani militias. Terrorist groups like these are responsible for thousands of killed Christians every year. Christian villages are burned, and villagers are left with mass graves, many orphaned children, and scars from attacks. I witnessed this destruction with my own eyes when I visited Nigeria.

Pastors and churches are particularly targeted, even on holy days like Christmas and Pentecost.

Northern Nigeria is also one of only seven places in the world where you can get the death penalty for alleged blasphemy. Northern Nigeria’s blasphemy laws are contained in its Islamic Sharia law, and they call for death for people who allegedly “insult” Islam. And so, these laws harm both Christians and minority Muslims and lead to horrifying instances of mob violence. Many Nigerian Christians have been killed by these mobs based on blasphemy accusations because they loved Christ.

Even those who condemn this mob violence face blasphemy trials, like Christian mother Rhoda Jatau. She was similarly accused of blasphemy, and a mob ransacked her neighborhood.

Sean Nelson experiencing why Nigeria is the most dangerous country in the world for Christians.

Why Nigeria is the most dangerous country for Christians

Christians in Nigeria, particularly in the northern half of the country, face some of the most difficult circumstances for Christians in the world. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim and increasing Islamic extremism from terrorist groups like Boko Haram and other militants like Muslim Fulani militias have led to greater Christian persecution. Boko Haram explicitly wants to murder, kidnap, and subjugate Christians in Nigeria.

Christian converts face an especially hard time because their family, friends, and community will often threaten and attack them for converting. I’ve met these converts who fled their homelands for safety.

Churches face discrimination, false accusations, and destruction. In fact, one evangelist named Daniel Kefee was charged with kidnapping for helping a young Christian convert woman find safety. With our support, local allied lawyers were able to free him and win his case.

The spread of Sharia Law throughout the North

Islamic Sharia law has also spread throughout the northern Nigerian states, leading to increasing persecution of Christians. Sharia law inspires hostility and mob violence against Christians in Nigeria. And even though Christians are not supposed to be subject to Sharia law, they are regularly hauled before Sharia courts on false accusations. Obtaining lawyers for these Christians in Nigeria is necessary for them to be saved from the application of Sharia law and its courts.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has long recommended that Nigeria be placed on the U.S. government’s watch list of the worst countries in the world for religious freedom. We strongly agree with this recommendation. But the U.S. State Department under the Biden administration removed Nigeria from the government watch list in 2021 without any clear reason.

The decision was outrageous. Certainly, the most dangerous country in the world for Christians should be recognized and designated that way by the U.S. government. These long-suffering Nigerian Christians deserve to have the international community on their side.

Play Video about Sean Nelson of ADF International meets persecuted Christians in the most dangerous country in the world.

Overturning blasphemy laws to remedy the persecution of Christians

The blasphemy laws in Nigeria especially contribute to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities. Here are two examples of which my Global Religious Freedom team works on today:

Yahaya Sharif-Aminu: Sufi Muslim musician

We’re supporting the case of one young man, Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, who is a Sufi Muslim musician charged with blasphemy for sharing song lyrics over WhatsApp. A mob burnt down his home, and he was convicted and sentenced to death in 2020 without a lawyer.

Thankfully, his conviction was overturned, but he was sent back to the Sharia Court to be retried under the same death penalty blasphemy law. We support his appeal to the Supreme Court of Nigeria to overturn the egregious blasphemy law. When I spoke to Yahaya in prison, one of his greatest pains was not being able to see his parents since his arrest.

Rhoda Jatau: Christian mother

Rhoda was put in prison for 19 months during a trial where she was charged with blasphemy for allegedly sending a WhatsApp message condemning mob violence against Christians. She could only occasionally speak with a lawyer and see her family while imprisoned.

Thankfully, with our support and international advocacy, she was released on bail. But her trial is still pending. I met and spoke with Rhoda, and the anguish of being separated from her family while imprisoned was very difficult. Remarkably, her faith in Christ has been strengthened.

Conclusion: Relieving the persecution of Christians in Nigeria takes a global effort

Christian persecution won’t stop in Nigeria unless we all take a stand against it. That’s why we raise the alarm over the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. We advocate at the highest levels of government for the recognition of this persecution. We support allied lawyers who take cases to protect these persecuted Christians and end blasphemy laws.

Because of the danger here facing Christians, the persecuted face targeted violence and death from terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani militias.

Victims living in the most dangerous country in the world for Christians have heartbreaking stories. But their faith is inspiring. So, we should make every effort to stand with them and stop the persecution of Christians in Nigeria.