What is Behind the Jihad in Nigeria? PDF Print E-mail

Nigeria is a country of contrasts and conflict. Nigeria has a Muslim north and a Christian south. However, unlike Sudan, in Nigeria it is the Christians who are the majority.

Nigeria is the largest nation in Africa (140 million people in 490 ethnic groups). In fact, Nigeria has more Christians, and more Muslims, than any other country in Africa.

Christians Persecuted

Christians have been severely persecuted in Nigeria's northern states. Literally hundreds of churches have been destroyed and thousands of Christians murdered in recent years with car bombs and suicide bombers targeting churches.

One popular book, which is widely circulated amongst the Muslims in Nigeria, declares: "Priests in their churches... should of course be killed without any exception… they should not build a church, nor leave one standing in an area controlled by the Muslims, if it is Muslim by force. Christians should not be allowed to hinder Muslims from being accommodated at their churches day or night. Gongs and bells should be hidden, no religious rights should be public. 

Christians should not display their religious convictions openly… we are absolutely certain about declaring a person to be a kafir who belies or denies any of the foundations of the Shari'a or anything that is known by certainty to have been a deed by The Messenger…" The Sign of the Sword (1984) by Shaykh Abdalqadir Al-Murabit.

The Islamic Agenda

Also well circulated in Nigeria is The Programme adopted by the World Islamic Organisation at a conference, in 1974, in Mecca:

  1. Muslim organisations should set up centres to resist Christian missionary activities.
  2. Islamic radio and TV stations should be established.
  3. All Christian activities, no matter the secular expression, should be stopped.
  4. Christian hospitals, orphanages, schools and universities should be taken over.
  5. Muslim organisations should set up Intelligence Centres about Christian activities.
  6. All Christian literature should be banned in Muslim countries.

In 1975, when General Murtala Muhammed overthrew General Yakubu Gowon, was the beginning of the implementation of this programme in Nigeria. Many streets bearing Christian names were changed to Muslim names. Christian schools and hospitals were taken over by the state. Arabic inscriptions and emblems began to appear on Nigeria's currency notes and on emblems of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

At the Islam in Africa Conference in Abuja (1989) the Resolution issued at the conclusion of the conference declared their determination: "to show the whole world that Nigeria is truly an Islamic nation… to support the establishment and application of the Shari'a… to ensure the appointment of only Muslims into strategic national and international posts of member nations. To eradicate in all its forms and ramifications all non-Muslim religions in member nations (such religions shall include Christianity…) to ensure that only Muslims are elected to political posts of all member nations. To ensure the declaration of Nigeria (the 24th African and 46th world member of the OIC) a Federal Islamic Sultanate. 

…to ensure the ultimate replacement of all Western forms of legal and judicial systems with the Shari'a in all member nations… to write the history of Islam in Africa and of Muslims and their institutions from authentic Islamic viewpoint… to propagate the knowledge of Islam throughout the continent… to call on Muslims to review the syllabi in the various educational institutions with a view to bringing them into conformity with Islamic ideals, goals and principles and to serve the needs of their community… to encourage the teaching of Arabic language, which is the language of the Qur'an as well as the lingua-franca of the continent and to strive for the restoration of the use of Arabic… to establish strong economic ties between African Islamic countries and other parts of the Muslim world in order to facilitate mutual assistance and co-operation… based on Islamic principles." Issued 28 November 1989 (1 Jumada al Awwal, 1410).

The Chairman of the Bureau for Islamic Propagation, Bashir Othman Tofa (a presidential candidate) declared: "…these dangerous devils calling themselves Christians… we Muslims cannot sacrifice our religion or our self-respect for any type of peaceful co-existence… it is time to begin the offensive… let us begin by proclaiming Friday as our Sabbath… do away with the Christian Red Cross symbol… let us found our own Islamic Jihad of Nigeria to counteract the evil machinations of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Let us act right now!!!"

"All the Christians Must be Shot"

The Muslim Brothers issued this statement which declared as their objective: "The establishment of the Shari'a of Allah and the destruction of Kafir from the face of the earth… it is this Kafir system which gives these slaves (Christians)… It puts them on same level, it even raised the Christians higher than the Muslims… it is also necessary that we rise and destroy oppressors and the Kafir system… Ulamas should rise up and take the lead for the annihilation of Kafir… oh we are tired of Kafir system of government, Jewish Laws and decrees, and the rest acts of worship of Christianity on us… all the Christians… must be brought out to public and be shot. From now on, Thursdays and Fridays must be work-free days… 'fight them until there remains no tumult (fitna) on the face of the earth and religion (way of life) becomes for Allah alone'. Qur'an"

Churches Burned, Christians Murdered

During recent ministry trips to Nigeria, I visited Lagos, Jos, Gboko and Abuja. I was shown numerous churches that had been damaged, vandalised or burned down by Muslim mobs. I received many heart-rending reports of Christians murdered by Muslims.

Many Christians bear the physical marks of bullet wounds, scars from machete wounds, cut off hands or feet, burns and deep slash marks on their necks and heads, inflicted by violent Muslim mobs.

Twelve northern states in Nigeria have proclaimed Shari'a law. Many hundreds of churches have been destroyed and thousands of believers murdered in Kaduna, Gombe, Sokoto, Kano and Bauchi. Central states, which are overwhelmingly Christian, have also borne the brunt of waves of Islamic Jihad. Thousands of Christians have been killed in Jos and Gboko, although the Christians in these areas have stood firm and resisted the Muslim offensives.

Africa's Largest Nation

Nigeria is a huge country (923 768 Km2). The geography varies from the lush mangrove and tropical rainforests in the south to the savannah and grasslands in the north. Two huge rivers flow across the country - the Niger and the Benue.

Nigeria has over 140 million people in 490 ethnic groups. The three largest tribes are: the Hausa/Fulani, the Yoruba and Igbo.

Literacy is officially 64%. The official language of Nigeria is English, although Hausa is widely used in the northern states.

Nigeria is potentially rich in agricultural land and mineral resources, with large oil reserves. The enormous oil wealth of Nigeria has been squandered and embezzled by a series of corrupt rulers. Over 34% of the population live below the poverty line and unemployment is officially 28%.

Missionary Heritage

Britain came to be involved in Nigeria primarily in order to crush the slave trade. Missionaries such as Mary Slessor and Samuel Crowther worked tirelessly to eradicate the slave trade, the killing of twins and other social evils. Samuel Crowther was a Yorubu who was captured by slave raiders and sold to Portuguese slave traders for transport across the Atlantic. Crowther was rescued by a British Naval squadron and received education in Sierra Leone and England. He was ordained by the Church of England and sent back to Yorubaland as a missionary. Crowther became the first African bishop of the Church of England.

Turbulent Times

There was great optimism for the future when Nigeria received its independence from Britain in 1960. However, the post-independence history has been turbulent, with a vicious civil war, during which millions of Christian Igbo's were starved or slaughtered by Federal forces. A succession of military coups, generally by Muslims, destroyed what was left of the post- independence optimism.

The sudden death of the brutal Muslim military dictator, Abacha, in 1998, brought General Olusegun Obasanjo, a committed Christian (converted while in prison in Jos), to the presidency. He has promised to eradicate corruption and bring about change, but there is great impatience and frustration at the pace and extent of the changes so far.

A concerted attempt by Muslim candidates to gain control in this first free election in the country's history ended with an overwhelming electoral victory for Obasanjo, and defeat for the Muslims.

Spectacular Church Growth

Amidst all the tensions, violence, coups and civil war, the churches in Nigeria have experienced spectacular growth. The Anglicans have grown from 900 000 in 1960 to over 12 million. SIM's work, which began at such great cost a century ago, has resulted in a dynamic church, ECWA (Evangelical Church of West Africa), with almost 5 million people. Evangelicals as a whole have grown from 2 million in 1960 to 28 million.

Massacres by Muslim Mobs

Christians in Jos told me how Muslims attacked and beat to death a pregnant Christian woman during their Friday prayer services. According to the Muslims, the woman had walked past the men during their Friday prayer time. So they beat her to death.

The Muslims then went on the rampage down the main road in Jos, burning Christian businesses, churches and homes. The next day the Christians rallied together and stood firm to resist the Muslim attacks.

"Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses." Nehemiah 4:14

Slaughter Under Shari'a

Of greatest concern to the Nigerian Christians that I had fellowship with, was the threat of Shari'a Law from the Muslims.

In Jos, on 7th September 2001, during Friday afternoon prayers, a Muslim mob beat a pregnant Christian woman to death. They claimed that she had walked past them while they were bowed in prayer, outside the Mosque. In rage, they got up from their prayer mats and savagely beat her, killing both the woman and her pre-born child.

Not satisfied with this innocent blood, the Muslims then went on the rampage down the main street in Jos, burning churches, shops and homes. Many hundreds of Christians were beaten, shot or hacked to death by these Muslim mobs.

Resistance in Jos

The next day, the Christians rallied and stood firm together, resisting the Islamic attacks. More Christians poured in from the surrounding villages, some wearing traditional warrior regalia and brandishing spears, axes and machetes. Vicious hand-to-hand fighting took place on the streets, and many firearms were captured from the Muslims. Some Christians counter-attacked and by the end of the week, over 6000 people had been killed. The Muslims were completely defeated and many were fleeing north. Throughout this conflict the police and army were unseen - barricaded in their barracks.

Upon investigation, it was revealed that the Muslim community had been planning this attack for many months, stockpiling weapons and ammunition. They were looking for a pretext to trigger their assault. The Christian woman walking past the Mosque was seized as an ideal opportunity for them to initiate their attack. What they had not expected was such fierce resistance from the Christians. Many Muslims said that they had never expected the Christians to fight back.

The Christians in Jos related to me numerous examples of the Lord's protection, in answer to prayer. A truck carrying weapons for Muslims crashed outside Jos, spilling and revealing a weapons cache. There have been numerous other Muslim plots which have been exposed.

Christian Courage in Gboko

In Gboko, the Tiv people related to me testimonies of how the Muslim Hausa and Fulani people attacked their homes and churches, burning down entire communities. When the Federal forces were sent in to restore order, they burned even more farms and houses. The units sent were predominantly Muslim and under Muslim control, so rather than restoring order, they joined in the assaults against the Christians, massacring whole villages. In Vaase, 1 200 civilians were killed by these Muslim Federal forces.

In Taraba state, up to 100 churches were destroyed by Muslim mobs. The long-suffering Tiv people also rose up and resisted, fighting back. All this happened in August and September 2002.

Over 80% of the schools in Tivland are owned by the churches. However, none have a Christian curriculum. There is a desperate need for Christian textbooks.

Between Cross and Crescent

Despite the stresses of continual Islamic pressure and persecution, the mature and dynamic Church in Nigeria is standing firm and reaching out vigorously to its Muslim neighbours.

The conflict between the Cross and the Crescent in Nigeria is intensifying. Muslim nations are pouring in vast millions to fund the construction of Mosques, Madressas, Muslim schools and to promote Shari'a Law throughout Nigeria.

The Christians are responding by establishing more churches, and Christian schools and through literature and radio ministry. They need our encouragement, prayers and support. We have the opportunity in Nigeria to not only help the Christians stand firm and resist the Southern encroachments of Islam, but also to roll back the Islamic offensive, winning their enemies to Christ.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the Harvest therefore to send out workers into His harvest field." Matthew 9:37

Dr. Peter Hammond

Frontline Fellowship
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Tel: 021-689-4480
Fax: 021-685-5884
Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Website: www.frontline.org.za

This article is adapted from a chapter in Slavery, Terrorism and Islam – The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat (300 pages, 200 pictures) available from: Christian Liberty Books, PO Box 358, Howard Place 7450, Cape Town, South Africa, tel: 021-689-7478, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and website: www.christianlibertybooks.co.za.

See also:

Pray for Christians Under Fire in Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia


The Church Under Attack in Nigeria

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