Scenarios For The Future Of The Church In Northern Nigeria
Being a keynote address by Ane Loueerens Mulder (from Netherlands), on the following issues: Actors of Persistent Violence; Awareness about Impact of Persistent Violence; Figures, Features and Trends; Main causes of public death in Northern Nigeria; Causes of Non-natural death in Northern Nigeria; Fulani Herdsmen Attacks. These are summarized below:
In this document we compare the history of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia (1) with the history of the Church in Northern Nigeria (2) with respect to the impact of persistent violence, and give two scenarios for the future of the Church in Northern Nigeria (3).
- The Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia
Philip Jenkins1 describes the history of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia in three distinct periods. First, there is its golden age from the apostles until the 14th century when the Christian faith spread to China, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, and flourished in bishoprics, with beautiful cathedrals and renowned universities. Even under Islam from the 8th century Christians lived in relative peace; the Eastern Church engaged into its largest missionary enterprise in Asia and Muslim lands in the Middle East remained largely Christian.
From the 14th until the 19th century, however, Christianity fell into decline caused by climate change (economic), tribal migrations (social) and the Mongol invasions (religious-political). It lost its majority status, became a minority in different lands and collapsed in a mixture of warfare and persecution leaving only small communities behind (e.g., Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq). Finally, since the 20th century Christianity ceases to exist in organized form and a Muslim world free of Christians is emerging (e.g., Turkey, Iraq and Syria). Is the Church dying in the heartlands of the Middle East as once it did in Asia and North-Africa?
The largest single factor for this decline – in spite of all efforts of Christians to adapt – was organized violence in the form of massacre, expulsion or forced migration2. Other factors were the combination of religion and politics; when power was in the hand of a rival faith, the state had a primary role in the elimination of churches and communities. Dominance reinforces dominance; Islam grew by the migration of Muslim tribes into by Muslim conquered lands and in case of conflicts only the dominant faith received government funds for repair and reconstruction. The power of Islam; Muslim regimes succeeded in creating a society in which pressure to convert to the dominant religion was paramount.
Participation in the benefits of society was only open to Muslims; Christians were marginalized and this created a kind of natural default to Islam (through marriage, jobs, loans, etc.). Moreover, Christians received the dhimmi status and became 2nd class citizens and worse. Arabization and Islamization; as Arabic became the dominant language, non-Muslims adopted this as well as the Muslim culture and Islam followed. Islam is a successful religion; the triumph and victory of Islam in the 8th and subsequent centuries appeared as irreversible; Muslims created a global civilization and Christianity became the religion of the losers3.
- The Church in Northern Nigeria
Christians in Northern Nigeria are a substantial minority (>26 million – 34.8%) but targeted for different reasons by persistent violence (biggest minority, exponential church growth, ethnic composition and associated with the West). They suffer from targeted violence by politically motivated communal clashes, the 2011 post-electoral crisis, the Boko Haram insurgency and Fulani herdsmen attacks, marginalization and discrimination by forced Islamization through Sharia state governments and society at large.
Actors of persistent violence impacting the Church in Northern Nigeria are: the Northern Muslim political and religious elite, radical Islamic groups, and the Fulani herdsmen acting within the framework of a culture of political violence. Drivers of violence can be summarized as follows: protection of Northern Muslim endangered interests (political-economic), protection of Muslims’ endangered identity (social-cultural), and protection of Islam’s’ endangered ‘legitimate’ position (religious).
Between 2006 and 2014, an estimated 12,500 Christians have been killed, over 550,000 Christians are displaced and 13,000 churches are destroyed or abandoned. The most affected communities are in the predominant Muslim Far North (e.g., Borno – 87.3%, Kano – 63.4% and Yobe – 77.8%). Christians relocate mainly to the predominant Christian Middle-Belt (e.g., Plateau – 75.6%, Kebbi – 53.5% and Nassarawa – 44%), but at the same time Christian communities in the rural areas of this sub-region are the most affected by Muslim herdsmen attacks (e.g., Benue, Nassarawa, Plateau and Taraba).
In the same period, Church life went down substantially to dramatically in violent ridden areas. Christian attitude towards Muslims deteriorated negative to strongly negative due to experiences of marginalization, discrimination and violence by Muslims. Christian behavior towards Muslims substantially decreased due to feelings of fear and adversity due concrete experiences of killings, mistreatment, etc., by Muslims.
Faith however has not been abandoned. And although many churches have seen a decline in membership and subsequent attendance, those that stayed show an increase in commitment to their faith and church. Engagement in personal prayer, participation in prayer groups, fasting and commitment to faith, has increased. Many experience God’s deliverance, protection and presence and persevere despite personal loss, damage of trauma!
But Christian communities that stay behind are small (e.g., Tudun Wada, Kano state), traumatized (e.g., Southern Yobe) and inclined to resort to vigilante groups for self-defense (e.g., Tafawa Balewa, Bauchi State). Christian communities that receive relocating Christians (e.g., Jos – Plateau state; Yola – Adamawa state, Biu – Borno state) are overwhelmed by the humanitarian crisis and lack human, financial and other resources to cope with the urgent needs. Property and land of fleeing Christians is bought, confiscated or simply occupied by local or migrant Muslims (e.g., Southern Taraba state). Returning Christians find great difficulty in starting all over again (e.g., Northern Adamawa). Responses of Church leadership so far lack coherent vision, strategy and planning to cope with this.
What will be the effects for the future? In the impact of persistent violence upon the Church in Northern Nigeria, we recognize certain elements of the fate of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Although time and circumstances are different, the factors of Islam in the context of religion, politics, economics and the socio-cultural for both the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and Nigeria, are the same.
The Church in Northern Nigeria had its golden age from the time of the first missionaries until the 1987 Kanfanchan crisis in which it expanded over the Middle-Belt and had great inroads into the Far North. But the impact of Muslim dominance in terms of religion and politics, Islamist insurgencies and herdsmen attacks since then has led to a decline of the Church in the Far North, an overburdening of the church in the Middle-Belt and at the same time in certain areas the Church seems on the verge of death (Southern Yobe and Tudun Wada city, Kano state).
The effects of especially the following 6 factors are felt:
(i). Organized violence in the form of massacre, expulsion or forced migration (e.g. the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, the Fulani herdsmen attacks on Christian communities in the Middle Belt, the Jos -Plateau communal clashes, the 2011 post-electoral crisis).
(ii). The combination of religion and politics in the hand of a rival faith (e.g., the protection of the interests of the Northern Muslim religious and political elite, the application of sharia in 19 Northern states, the Hausa-Fulani in power in Southern Kaduna local governments, the political manipulation in the Wukari, Taraba State communal clashes and the Taraba southern senatorial district Fulani herdsmen attacks on Christian communities).
(iii). Dominance reinforces dominance (the migration of Muslim Fulani to Middle Belt states for land and cattle reasons, the relocation of Muslim inhabitants from the Far North to the Middle-Belt due to desertification and draughts, the settling of foreign mercenary jihadists in property and lands of relocating Christlans in Taraba State).
(iv). The power of Islam (e.g. the dominance of Muslims in Northern politics, economics and the media: the default to Islam by marriage, employment and/or loans from banks, the not destroyed mosques and Islamic schools in by Boko Haram conquered territory in the northeast, Hausa Christians being considered as settlers in sharia states, discrimination of Christians in access to promotion, jobs, scholarships, in being awarded in school notes, access to doctors, clinics and hospitals of the government, the suppression of teaching in Christian Religious Knowledge at government schools).
(v). Arabization and lslamization (e.g., the use of Hausa as a lingua franca in the Northern region, the adoption of Hausa names by Christians in order not to be identified as Christian and subsequent marginalized and discriminated in society, kidnapping of young Christian girls and subsequent forced Islamization, capture of mission schools in the 1970s by Northern state governments and subsequent de-Christianization).
(vi). Islam is a successful religion (e.g., the effective 20 year Muslim rule in the period between the Christian President Obasanjo’s first and second government (October 1, 1979 – May 29 1999), the manipulation of the Christian constituency for Muslim political ends during democracy, the failure of the Christian Goodluck administration to beat Boko Haram, the economic effectiveness of Northern Muslim businessmen, the domination of retail business in every Northern town by Muslim merchants, the poverty of many Northern Christians in rural areas).
- Two scenarios for the future
Two scenarios for the future of the Church in Northern Nigeria are possible:
- The history of the Church in Northern Nigeria will be similar to that of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. For the impact of persistent violence – especially through the working of the 6 factors – is unescapable; Islam in the context of religion, politics, economics and the socio-cultural simply is too strong.
The consequence of this scenario is that the Church will more and more disengage from society, close in on itself in order to survive and slowly fall into decline and over time ceases to exist.
- The history of the Church in Northern Nigeria will not be similar to that of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. For the impact of persistent violence – especially through the working of the 6 factors – can be reversed, averted and/or even prevented: Islam in the context of religion, politics, economics and the socio-cultural – we believe in faith – can be dealt with.
The consequence of this scenario is that the Church will be engaged into society, open up its resources from the Gospel to the benefit of all and thrive.
The first thing within this scenario for the Church is to seek the face of the Lord and at the same time do some thorough analysis of the challenge the Church in Northern Nigeria is presently facing, come up with a vision and strategy for the future, develop accompanying measures that are comprehensive and realistic at the same time, and apply these effectively. These accompanying measures will have to deal with a response of the Church at the spiritual and emotional, the social-cultural, the economic and the political level.
1The Lost History of Christianity; the Thousands Years Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia – and How it Died; by Philip Jenkins, HarperCollins publisher, 2008.
3Cf. Chapter 7. How faiths die.