The constitution bars the federal and state governments from adopting a state religion, prohibits religious discrimination, and provides for individuals’ freedom to choose, practice, propagate, or change their religion. Members of the armed forces fired on Shia Muslims participating in the Arba’een Symbolic Trek organized by the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) on October 27, killing at least three persons, and again on October 29, killing 39 and injuring over100, according to human rights organizations. The government reported t conducted an investigation into these incidents but did not release its findings publicly. The government did not keep its commitments to ensure accountability for soldiers implicated in the December 2015 clash between the army and IMN members that, according to a Kaduna State government report, left at least 348 IMN members and a soldier dead, with IMN members buried in a mass grave. On November 7, the Kaduna State High Court denied the bail request for the leader of the IMN Shia group, despite a December 2016 court ruling that the government should release him by January 2017. Authorities arrested a Christian man for inciting violence after attempting to convert a Muslim girl. A Muslim law graduate was called to the bar wearing her hijab after initially being denied. The federal government launched military operations in Middle Belt states with the stated aim of stemming resource-driven rural violence, which frequently played out along ethnic and religious lines. Members of regional minority religious groups continued to report some state and local government laws discriminated against them, including by limiting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and in obtaining government employment.
Terrorist organizations Boko Haram and Islamic State-West Africa (ISIS-WA) continued to attack population centers and religious targets. On January 3, a Boko Haram suicide bomber attacked a Gambaru mosque, killing 14 and injuring 15. According to international news, on April 22, two suicide bombers killed three in a Bama, Borno State mosque. On May 1, twin suicide bombings in Mubi, one in a mosque and another in a market, killed at least 27 and injured more than 60 persons. According to Christian news outlets, on June 12, Boko Haram burned 22 buildings, including part of a Catechetical Training Center in Kaya, Adamawa State. On June 16, two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked the town of Damboa, killing 31 persons returning from Ramadan celebrations on Eid al-Fitr. On July 23, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed eight worshippers in a mosque in Mainari. Boko Haram also conducted limited attacks in Adamawa, while ISIS-WA also attacked targets in Yobe. Although government intervention reduced the amount of territory these groups controlled, the two insurgencies maintained the ability to stage forces in rural areas and launch attacks against civilian and military targets across the Northeast.
There were incidents of violence reflecting tension between different ethnic groups involving predominantly Muslim Fulani herders and predominantly Christian farmers. Scholars and other experts assessed that ethnicity, politics, and increasing competition over dwindling land resources were among the drivers of the violence, but religious identity and affiliation were also factors. In January and May Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in northern Benue State, resulting in the deaths of more than 200, mostly Christian, Tiv farmers. During the year, clashes between farmers and herders in Adamawa and Taraba States resulted in more than 250 deaths. In June Fulani herdsmen attacked several villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area (LGA) of Plateau State, killing approximately 200 ethnic Berom farmers. The following day, Berom youth set up roadblocks and killed dozens of Muslim passersby. In March the Nigerian Interreligious Council (NIREC), which includes the nation’s most influential religious leaders and addresses interfaith collaboration, met for the first time in five years. In September religious leaders throughout the country met in Abuja to sign a peace pact and pledged to combat ethnoreligious divisions.
U.S. embassy and visiting U.S. government officials promoted religious freedom and interreligious tolerance in discussions throughout the year with government officials, religious leaders, and civil society organizations. The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials hosted interfaith dinners, participated in interfaith conferences, and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue. The embassy sponsored training sessions for journalists who report on ethnoreligious conflicts to help reduce bias in their reporting and prevent tensions from becoming further inflamed. The U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Abuja, Kaduna, and Lagos to engage with relevant stakeholders and highlight U.S. government support for interfaith cooperation.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement
U.S. embassy officials and visiting U.S. government officials promoted religious freedom and interreligious tolerance in discussions throughout the year with government officials, including the vice president, secretary to the government of the federation, governors, and national assembly members. The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials hosted interfaith dinners, participated in interfaith conferences, and conducted press interviews to promote interfaith dialogue. The embassy sponsored training sessions for journalists that emphasized ways to report on ethnoreligious conflicts without further inflaming the situations.
In March the Ambassador participated in the reconvening of NIREC. In his remarks, he highlighted the significance of the leaders coming together at a time when rural violence appeared to be dividing the nation along ethnic and religious lines. The Ambassador also hosted a number of interfaith dinners bringing together Muslim and Christian religious leaders, NGOs, and journalists to encourage interfaith dialogue.
The Ambassador and other senior embassy officials participated in multiple interfaith conferences and summits throughout the year encouraging religious, traditional, government, and community leaders to continue to dialogue and work towards sustainable peace. They also spread this messaging in media interviews during multiple trips to states affected by ethnoreligious conflict, including Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Taraba, and Adamawa States.
In July and August a senior embassy official made three visits to Jos after deadly ethnoreligious attacks claimed the lives of more than 200 persons. During the trips, he visited two of the affected villages and participated in a state-level interfaith summit that included Muslim and Christian religious leaders, traditional leaders, NGOs, and security and government personnel. He also conducted media interviews expressing condolences to the victims and stressing the importance of dialogue in resolving conflict.
The embassy hosted a number of training sessions in Abuja and Jos for journalists who report on ethnoreligious conflicts to increase professionalism and reduce bias in reporting on sensitive matters. The embassy also funded peacebuilding programs in conflict-prone states, such as Kaduna, Plateau, and Nasarawa. The programs were designed to train farming and herding communities, including traditional, youth, religious, and female leaders, to build mechanisms to resolve tensions before they became violent conflicts.
In June the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom visited Abuja, Kaduna, and Lagos, engaging with government and religious leaders as well as NGOs to highlight U.S. support for interfaith cooperation in the country and to encourage greater efforts to combat ethnoreligious violence. The Ambassador at Large met with the deputy governor of Kaduna State, the vice president, the governors of Benue and Taraba States, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, and the head imam of the National Mosque.
The U.S. Consul General in Lagos continued to discuss religious tolerance and interfaith relationship building with a wide range of religious leaders.