(Photo: The Christian Post)
WASHINGTON – More Christians were killed in Northern Nigeria last year than in the rest of the world combined, according to the head of a human rights organization.
Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign, told The Christian Post on Thursday that an estimated 1,200 Christians were killed for their faith in Northern Nigeria.
"We documented 1,200 Nigerian Christians in the North of Nigeria who were killed, some by Boko Haram, some by Fulani herdsmen. These two types of attacks are persistent within several of the Northern Nigerian states," said Buwalda, who participated on a panel on Christian persecution in Nigeria.
Buwalda added that the persecution watchdog group Open Doors agrees "with our statistic of more Christians have been killed in Northern Nigeria than the rest of the world combined."
"Statistically, we are looking at approximately 60 percent of the world's Christians that were killed for their faith last year was in Northern Nigeria," she stated.
The number, she noted, is based largely off of published accounts and sources, making it a conservative estimate.
Her remarks came at an event sponsored by the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom that focused on the persecution of Christians in Northern Nigeria, specifically by extremist Islamic groups like Boko Haram.
Titled "Witness of Boko Haram's Religious Cleansing in Northern Nigeria: An Inside Look at the World's Deadliest Place for Christians," the event featured a panel moderated by Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.
In addition to Buwalda, other members of the panel were Emmanuel Ogebe, international human rights lawyer, and Adamu Habila, a Nigerian Christian who barely survived a massacre committed by Boko Haram militants.
In his remarks, Habila spoke about his experience of nearly being killed when militants came to his neighborhood and massacred the Christian community.
According to Habila, one of the militants asked him if he would convert to Islam. When Habila refused, he was shot in the head at close range and left for dead.
"I give thanks to God Almighty for keeping me alive up to this moment. I know if not because of God I am a dead man now," said Habila. "But because of His grace I am still alive in order to testify the goodness of God in my life and the work of God in my life."
For years, the terrorist organization Boko Haram has been killing large numbers of Christians and non-likeminded Muslims in Northern Nigeria.
Their acts of atrocity have included bombing churches, massacring students at schools, and attempting to murder the occasional Muslim cleric who speaks against them.
On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department officially designated Boko Haram and a similar group called Ansaru as foreign terrorist organizations, or FTOs.
Ogebe, who had been active in the effort to get the State Department to make such a designation, told The Christian Post that it was merely the very beginning of the effort to stop the violence.
"We've wasted a lot of man hours just trying to get the administration to this point," said Ogebe.
He compared the effort to a 12-step process, remarking "we have eleven more steps to go," including getting a USAID research project to recognize that the violence in Nigeria is based on religious extremism rather than economic factors.
"The USAID has a project that explores extremism and Nigeria is not one of the countries that they have designated for this research and they have actually gone out of their way to say that Nigeria is an example of a country where it's not religion that is behind what is happening," Ogebe lamented.
"So maybe that's the next push, maybe that is where we're going to say 'look, at least study before you come to a conclusion. I think that's how research works.'"
As the situation in Northern Nigeria has received more attention, the Nigerian government has sent in the military and stepped up efforts to eliminate Boko Haram.
According to the Jubilee Campaign, thus far this year 200 Christian martyrdoms have been recorded in Northern Nigeria. However, Buwalda told CP, due to the military's presence it has been harder to get good numbers.
"So our data had come from incidents published as well as local sources, pastors, or there are some human rights organizations," said Buwalda.
"We gathered from legitimate specific sources as well as public media. This year we don't have the same public media sources and that's where things have been basically shut down."