The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting by video conference on 20-24 July 2020, takes special note of a number of situations of concern that have been brought to its attention in Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the WCC’s priority countries in the context of the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, and Africa’s most populous nation, with many diverse communities of faith, and a vibrant church and ecumenical life.
A recent spate of violent attacks in northern Nigeria has once again cost many lives, destroyed much property and resulted in further displacement of affected people and communities. Christian communities and church leaders have been among those seriously affected by such attacks. Growing insecurity in the north-west of the country adds to the challenges posed by a longstanding Islamist extremist insurgency in the north-east. Recent attacks and insecurity have particularly affected the states of Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Plateau, Niger, Kaduna, Katsina, Zamfara and Sokoto. In addition to armed extremist actions, inter-communal violence, livestock raids and simple banditry have created a situation of endemic insecurity for many communities and vast numbers of people living in these areas, which the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded.
The recent lockdown imposed in some states to limit the spread of the virus has also compounded a long-term crisis of sexual and gender-based violence in Nigeria. A major spike in cases of such violence prompted 36 governors to declare a state of emergency over rape and attacks against women and children in the country. Nigeria’s police chief reported 717 rapes nationally between January and May this year, equating to one rape every five hours. Moreover, results of a 2019 survey suggest that up to one in every three Nigerian girls could have experienced sexual assault by the time they reach 25. However, the number of successful prosecutions of rape suspects remains low and stigma often prevents victims from reporting incidents. Recently, the brutal rape and murder of 22-year-old university student Uwavera Omozuwa at a church where she was studying in the southern Nigerian city of Benin has become emblematic of the crisis, and strengthened demands for major legal and social reforms.
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are also deeply felt in the economic arena, The officials responsible for developing Nigeria's economic recovery plan estimate that 39.4 million people could be unemployed by the end of 2020 without major government intervention and support. Food insecurity resulting from the pandemic is already affecting many communities – especially the poor and the marginalized – with Lagos, the Federal Capital Territory and 16 northern states particularly vulnerable to the food and nutrition crisis. 20 million Nigerians are expected to experience food shortages this year alone.
In the midst of these challenges, the Executive Committee also takes note of, and celebrates, the many signs of hope arising from the ministry of the churches in Nigeria, together with their ecumenical, inter-religious and international partners:
- Leadership by the churches through the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) in peace-building initiatives. A prominent example is the establishment of the Peace-building and Trauma-healing Centre located at the Institute of Church and Society, Jos, in 2016, responding to issues of insecurity, providing capacity-building and training for religious leaders in peace-building, and offering psychosocial support to traumatized individuals including women. WCC Pilgrim Team Visits to Nigeria in 2017 affirmed and encouraged the churches in their work for peace.
- Increased inter-religious cooperation for peace – including through the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, and reflected in the establishment of the International Centre for Interfaith Peace and Harmony (ICIPH) in Kaduna, supported by the WCC and the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (RABIIT), as a hub for cooperation among the Nigerian Christians and Muslims for the purpose of fostering peace and harmony between people of different religions.
- Reduced HIV prevalence in Nigeria, down from 2.8% to 1.4% among adults aged 15-49 years. Diverse ecumenical campaigns involving church leaders, women’s groups and youth-led organizations – supported and accompanied by WCC and UNAIDS – have contributed greatly to this success. Nigerian churches continue to play an active role in promoting prevention, testing and treatment adherence, and in addressing issues related to stigma.
- Efforts by the churches to address sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and to engage in national actions plans to combat sexual violence against children in Nigeria, in partnership with WCC and UNICEF.
- Joint initiatives by CCN and other local partners, facilitated by WCC, supporting child-led advocacy for children’s rights in Nigeria.
- Positive responses by churches, including through ecumenical and inter-religious collaboration, to curbing the spread of COVID-19 – including by sharing information and promoting public health measures in accordance with WHO and Nigerian government guidelines – building on lessons learned in the HIV response.
The Executive Committee appeals to the International Community (the United Nations, the African Union, and national and local governments) to work in the direction of protecting human rights in Nigeria.
The Executive Committee expresses deep solidarity and prayers for the churches of Nigeria in their efforts to respond to such a constellation of crises, celebrates the signs of hope offered by the churches and their partners in the initiatives described above and many others, and lifts up the people of Nigeria for the support of the global fellowship of churches and of all people of goodwill around the world.
World Council of Churches
20-24 July 2020