Nigeria May Have “highest number of Christian martyrs in this century”: Seminary Rector

Fr. Peter Hassan, Rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Nigeria. Credit: Fr. Peter Hassan

Should persecution against Christians in Nigeria continue, the West African nation will have the highest number of people killed because of their faith in the 21st century, the Rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary Jos has said.

According to Fr. Peter Hassan, nearly every Christian in Nigeria’s Plateau State has been a victim of insecurity, which is perpetuated by armed Fulani jihadists and several other organized militia groups.

In an interview, Fr. Hassan told ACI Africa that now, Christians in Nigeria can only rely on God’s protection against what he referred to as “an enemy who is both ubiquitous, invisible and highly mobile.”

He said that in Nigeria, Christians have learnt “to accept that what we call the future might just be very brief.”

“Should things continue as they are currently or perhaps get worse, I have no doubt that Nigeria will become the country with the highest number of Christian martyrs in this century whether officially recognized or not,” Fr. Hassan said in the January 12 interview.


The Rector of the Major Seminary in Nigeria’s Jos Archdiocese further said that the whole of Northern Nigeria is “in turmoil”, adding that in Central Nigeria in particular, the area also described as “the Middle Belt” is “bearing the brunt of the violence.’

“It is either Boko Haram and its affiliates or the herdsmen or unknown gun men, all these seem to be in league, fighting a bitter war of attrition whose sole aim is terror, death, and displacement of entire villages. Jos city and indeed Plateau State, like Kaduna have been on the news on account of many such bloody attacks. Of course, many of the victims of these attacks have been Christians,” Fr. Hassan added. 

Highlighting the impact of insecurity to Christians in Nigeria, he said, “Many of our Seminarians and members of staff either come from some of these villages or have families and relations living there. Some of our alumni and colleagues also live and work there. Even if our seminary has not been a direct target of violence, we are heavily affected by those happenings.”

Fr. Hassan said that the sheer worry of not knowing whether one’s family members or relations or colleagues and the alumni of St. Augustine Major Seminary are still alive or dead or even abducted was taking a toll on everyone’s emotional and psychological health at the Seminary.

He continued, “Moreover, the villages of the Middle Belt have for a long time been our main sources of food for feeding both staff and students. With many of the villagers displaced and not being able to return to their farms, the cost of food has galloped out of control and hence further leaned down our limited resources.”

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Fr. Hassan also told ACI Africa that all over Northern Nigeria where the Boko Haram militant group have done most damage against non-Muslims, the Christian minority continues to rely on God for safety and survival.

In Jos, located in North Central Nigeria, the Nigerian Catholic Priest said, Christians have remained resilient despite the attacks that target them.

“Between 2001 and 2010 when our beloved city of Jos was a theatre of constant internecine violence, our people continued to come to church,” he said, adding that at the height of persecution, Christians would say, “it is better to die in the house of God than to die elsewhere.”

This resilience, Fr. Hassan concluded, is a summary of the faith of a people who he said now totally rely on God for everything.

The member of the Clergy of Nigeria’s Jalingo Diocese was one of the Seminary formators who told ACI Africa during the January 12 interview about the emerging spirituality of martyrdom in Africa’s most populous nation.


On whether or not Christians can still rely on protection of those in authority against persecution, Fr. Hassan said, “To be honest, many people think the government is either overwhelmed or lacks the political will to deal with the huge problems of insecurity.”

The Rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary Jos finds it worrying that Christians in Nigeria are increasingly losing trust and confidence even in the security forces.

He pointed to the allegations that security forces drag their feet, or never respond at all, when they are alerted about attacks against Christians.

“Many at times when attacks happen and people alert the security forces and beg them to perform their constitutional role, there are allegations that they either get to the scene when the deed is already done with many left dead or reeling in blood and despair, or they don’t respond at all. Such allegations only add to our people’s hopelessness and desperation,” Fr. Hassan said.

He added that in the cities, there is an appreciable level of preventive measures by both government and the security forces.

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The same, however, cannot be said about the villages and hard to reach rural areas, Fr. Hassan said, and explained, “In those places, people are more or less left at the mercy of those marauding killers whose ability for mobility defies logic.”

The Nigerian Seminary Rector said that despite the hostility meted against Christians in Nigeria, the Church has, through the years, been working towards dialogue, understanding and collaboration with adherents of other religions in solving the problems of the community especially where the Seminary is located.

While the Church’s attempt to work for peace and friendships with people of other religions may be time consuming and patience testing, it is beginning to bear some fruit, Fr. Hassan told ACI Africa in the January 12 interview.

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.