Nigeria is designated as a Tier 1 country by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, but is not designated as such by the State Department. The USCIRF has recommended that Nigeria be added to the Tier 1 countries because it meets all the requirements to be designated so.
In a population of 158 million, 40% are Christian (63 million), 40% are Muslim and 20% are local religions.
The threats to Christians in Nigeria do not come directly from the government, but from Islamists in the country. The most notorious of these groups, and most violent, is Boko Haram. In June 2012, a Boko Haram spokesman said “The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus as well as churches until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state.” This statement followed Boko Haram’s declaration of war on Christians.
Because Boko Haram wants the whole country of Nigeria to be under Sharia law, not just 12 out of the 36 states, they continuously attack Christians. These militants also attack government assets as they view the government as the enemy as well.
However, the lack of proper prosecution of religious based violence has made the government an accessory to Christian persecution. According to USCIRF, “the government continued to fail to prosecute religiously motivated violence.”
There are a few areas of Nigeria that are under extreme persecution from Boko Haram.
Despite the fact that its name loosely means “The Home of Peace,” Borno State is one of the hardest hit areas of Nigeria. It averages 10,550 deaths per week (data goes back to May 2011) according to Council on Foreign Relations. This number includes both political and religious targets as Boko Haram attacks religious targets and the Nigerian security services respond with a heavy hand, killing many innocents.
Recently, the abduction of 300 schoolgirls has made this area hit the mainstream media. There have been numerous church burnings, murders of Christians, and kidnappings.
Plateau and Yobe states follow Borno, averaging over 1,200 deaths per week.
In general, Northeastern Nigeria is a hotbed of violence. This is not to say that the rest of Nigeria is safe. Boko Haram spreads its violence all over the country.
US POLICY TOWARD NIGERIA
Under the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission, the two countries hold talks on five key areas: good governance, transparency, and integrity; energy and investment; regional security; Niger Delta; and agriculture and food security.
The US supplies economic aid in a variety of areas in order to promote democracy, health and education services, and better security forces.
Nigeria is the US’s largest sub-Sahara African trading partner. U.S. imports from Nigeria include oil, cocoa, rubber, returns, and food waste. U.S. exports to Nigeria include wheat, vehicles, machinery, oil, and plastic.
The US designated Boko Haram a terrorist organization and placed a $7 million reward for the leader of the group. However, because of the violence, the amount of assistance from USAID has been scaled back.
Due to the ever-increasing violence in Nigeria, many are calling for a better US policy toward terrorism in Nigeria.
Council of Foreign Relations. http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/nigeria-security-tracker/p29483 and http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/does-nigerias-boko-haram-affect-us-foreign-policy-region/p31934
Borno State Official Website. http://www.bornostate.gov.ng/borno_state_overview_name_&_origin.html
Aid to the Church in Need. “Persecuted and Forgotten: Report on Christians Oppressed for Their Faith 2011-2013”
USCIRF. “Annual Report: 2014”
US State Department. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2836.htm