What is Behind the Jihad in Nigeria?
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 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:
A. Muslim organisations should set up centres to resist
Christian missionary activities.
B. Islamic radio and TV stations should be established.
C. All Christian activities, no matter the secular
expression, should be stopped.
D. Christian hospitals, orphanages, schools and
universities should be taken over.
E. Muslim organisations should set up Intelligence
Centres about Christian activities.
F. All Christian literature should be banned in Muslim
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
“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%.
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.
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
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
“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
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
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
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
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:
email@example.com and website:
What is Behind the Jihad in Nigeria?