Nigerian Christians face continued persecution from state governments
Technically a secular nation, Nigeria’s federal constitution contains protections for freedom of religion and belief, including the right of citizens to change their religion and the right to “manifest and propagate [one’s] religious belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
Twelve northern states operate a parallel court system which hands down judgements based on Sharia law instead of the country’s penal code. The courts, though originally designed to handle administrative matters for Muslims, evolved soon after the advent of democracy in Nigeria to also handle criminal matters.
The shift in these courts from administrative to criminal is an important one and gave these courts jurisdiction over matters like petty theft which, under Sharia law, calls for the amputation of the perpetrator’s hand. The shift also gave courts jurisdiction over crimes specific to Sharia, such as blaspheming the prophet Mohammed. Kano Upper Sharia Court sentenced two young men for blasphemy in 2020—one to death and one to ten years in prison.
That government courts can hand down convictions for blasphemy—a so-called crime long criticized by human rights activists because it criminalizes minority religious beliefs—is a direct violation of Nigerians’ right to religious freedom.
In Kaduna State, Governor Nasir El-Rufai recently reintroduced the Religious Preaching Edict of 1984. The renewed regulations criminalize preaching without authorization and aims to control not only who can preach but also the content of their sermons.