Nigeria ranks 12th among the 50 nations of the world where it is difficult to practice Christianity due to persecution, Open Doors USA, has said in its latest report.
The 2020 Watch List, unveiled in Washington on January 15 by the group, listed 16 other African countries, where it is hardest to follow Jesus Christ, the son of God. Of these countries, Nigeria ranks 5th, coming behind Somalia, Libya, Eritrea and Sudan.
Other Africa countries listed are Egypt, Algeria, Mauritania, Central Africa Republic, Morocco, Burkina Faso and Mali.
Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Cameroon and Niger also made the list.
Except Eritrea and Burkina Faso, in the other 15 countries, it is difficult to follow Jesus because of “Islamic Oppression,” the report says.
In Eritrea, “Christian Denominational Protectionism” makes it difficult to practice Christianity while “Religious Nationalism” account for the problem of Christianity in Burkina Faso.
The report, which was presented at a press conference by Open Doors and attended by a representative of the U.S government, is based on data compiled by Open Doors operations in 60 countries.
Chief Executive Officer of Open Doors, David Curry, said at the conference that 260 million Christians experience “high levels of persecution” in the top 50 countries, showing an increase of six per cent from the report of the previous year.
Nigeria, according to Curry, remained the most violent country in the world where Christianity is practised as far as Open Doors data can track.
He said, “The difference this year is primarily because, in Nigeria, Boko Haram has changed tactics. They have gone from assassination and these kinds of things to roadside assaults on Christians and Kidnappings. So we have seen a jump in those kinds of things. But Boko Haram is also spreading its wings into Cameroon and into Chad but also into Burkina Faso.”
Media reports had quoted a rights group sometimes ago as saying that no fewer than 1,000 Christians in Nigeria were slaughtered by the Fulani herdsmen or Boko Haram militants in 2019 and over 6,000 were killed since 2015.
Curry said the Fulanis were perpetrating violence in farming communities in Nigeria, especially with a view to pushing Christians from those communities.
“I think it is wrong to look at (Fulani) as simply having territorial issues. They have an ideology that is historically being radicalised and they have an agenda to push Christians out of these communities,” he said.
“The cover story that somehow these are their ancient lands and so forth doesn’t justify unlawful behaviour against Christians who live there.”
Curry added, “The greatest tragedy of Nigeria’s ineffectual response to Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen is now parts of Cameroon and those other areas like Burkina Faso are greatly affected.”
Burkina Faso rose from number 33 spot in the ranking last year to number 28 this year. The north eastern part of the country has been grappling with extremist violence since 2016.
Among the 50 countries, North Korea remains the worst topping the list followed by Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Eritrea, Sudan, Yemen, Iran and India.
North Korea has been on the topmost position for 18th consecutive time. The county led by Kim imprisons Christians in Labour Camps though underground church community is still on the rise.
The report said since the coming to power of the Bharatiya Party in 2014, Christians have been increasingly persecuted by the Hindus.
It also said that no fewer than 194 Christians were arrested in Iran in 2019, adding that 114 of them were arrested just before Christmas. According to Curry, the Iranian authorities are determined to crush the growing Christian church movement.
“These are courageous people standing up against the power that exists there in that country. Iran has put its full faith into persecuting Christians,” Curry said.
He also explained that Sri Lanka rose to number 30 from number 48 because of the killing of over 250 and injuring of 500 others in three churches and three toilets.
He said, “They were dressed up in their Sunday best and taking kids (to church), but they didn’t come home. There are repercussions for things like that: 175 children, in that case, lost one or both parents.”
On its part, China, which ranked 23 on the list has the reputation of jailing Christians for worshipping in unregistered house churches.
Curry said a total of 5,596 churches have been closed down by the authorities of the country which uses surveillance camera in their churches.
Curry considers China the “greatest threat” to human rights.
He said, “Churches must be sacred places. If government was monitoring you, your every move, scoring your citizenship based on how often you went to church or didn’t go to church, how could you feel. That is what is happening in China,” Curry said.