from Africa in Transition

Christian Martyrs in Nigeria

September 10, 2013

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa



Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Wars and Conflict

Citing church representatives, BosNewsLife is carrying the story that Islamists killed five people outside Jos in central Nigeria after they declared their Christian faith. Two other Christians were hurt in the attack. The victims were congregants of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN), a fundamentalist denomination that claims two million adherents and is based in Jos.

An alleged eye-witness identified the attackers as “a combined band of ethnic Fulani herdsmen and Islamic extremist mercenaries.” This specific  story is plausible because of its specifics, including the testimony of the alleged eye witness. The story has been picked up by The Washington Times, which stops just short of tying it to “Boko Haram.”

BosNewsLife describes itself as a "Christian news agency" while The Washington Times has long been associated with Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and with conservative causes.

The murder of a Christian solely because of his or her faith is commonly counted as martyrdom. Stories of Muslims killing Christians who declare their faith or refuse to convert are common. They circulate on Nigerian and diaspora websites. So too, are reports of Islamic family members killing one of their own who converts to Christianity. Such stories appear to be plentiful in parts of the North or the Middle Belt where there is a history of ethnic and religious violence, often masking other conflicts, such as those over land use or water. They are rare in other parts of the country, such as Yorubaland, where Christians and Muslims are commonly found in the same households.

While some “martyrdom” stories can be verified, it is very difficult to determine how widespread such crimes actually are. The motives of the killers are also unclear. Especially where ethnic and religious boundaries coincide in a region of unrest, such as Jos; are the victims murdered because of their religion, their ethnicity, or perhaps some personal grudge?

Nevertheless, “martyrdom” stories are widely told in Nigeria and help shape the view of many Christians about Muslims. As such, they fuel the apparently increasing religious polarization in some parts of the country.