The persecution of Christians in Nigeria continues with unimaginable suffering, though conversely, the work of Christ is flourishing, according to a Baptist leader in the country.
“Our situation is fearful,” said Samson Olasupo A. Ayokunle, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the umbrella body of all Christians in Nigeria with some one hundred million members. He serves as one of several vice presidents of the Baptist World Alliance and previously served 10 years as president of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist group in Africa and Europe.
Ayokunle spoke July 10 at Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster ahead of the Baptist World Alliance meeting at Samford University in Birmingham July 10–15.
“Just one month ago the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Ondo was attacked with explosives, and 70 people died,” Ayokunle said. “Pastors who travel to preach in their churches can be kidnapped and held for ransom. Our government could provide security for us, but they don’t; therefore many churches are forced to provide security for themselves.”
Nigeria has a population of more than 210 million people and is roughly equally divided between Muslims and Christians, Ayokunle explained. Islam came to Africa in the 11th century, but “jihad” began in 1804 and accelerated after Nigerian independence in 1960.
Nigeria will hold elections this fall, and Ayokunle is hopeful new leaders might help ease tensions in the land, especially in the area of religious liberty.
“The best we can hope for is that Muslim and Christian leaders can be elected and will partner together to ensure religious freedom in our land,” he said.
As co-chair of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, Ayokunle works toward this goal alongside fellow co-chair Sultan of Sokoto, a “foremost tradition ruler” and the leader of all Muslims in Nigeria, Ayokunle said.
Before traveling to Birmingham, Ayokunle spoke at the Religious Freedom Summit in Washington about the need for change in Nigeria. He said he hopes American politicians will encourage the U.S. Department of State to pressure the Nigerian government to protect all worshippers.
He cited a June 29 letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri asking that Nigeria once again be labeled a “Country of Particular Concern” as it was during the Trump administration. The letter was co-signed by Senators Mike Braun of Indiana, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma.
“This [designation] means the American government can apply pressure, including economic pressure, to force change,” Ayokunle said. “We need our American friends to help us, and this designation is one way it can come about.”
Ayokunle said despite hard times, Baptist work is growing in his country.
“We have many Baptist churches in our nation,” he said. “The Southern Baptist Convention started the Nigerian Baptist Convention in 1850, and Baptist work has flourished. Many people are coming to faith.”
Other Nigerian Baptists who attended the Baptist World Alliance meeting include Samson Fatokun and his wife, Adebola, members of the Christ Baptist Church in Gbagada in the Nigerian state of Lagos, and Christson Adedoyin, a native of Nigeria who teaches public health and sociology at Samford.