Religious Extremism, Violence in Nigeria at “absolutely appalling” Level: Catholic Charity

A Catholic Priest walks in front of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Enugu State, Nigeria. Credit: ACN

Religious extremism and violence are at “absolutely appalling” levels in the West African country of Nigeria, the leadership of the Catholic Pontifical and charity foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has said. 

In a report, ACN Executive President who condemns the May 12 stoning and murder of Deborah Yakubu said religious extremism in Nigeria has caused division among the people of God in the country. 

“The levels of extremism and violence reached in Nigeria over the last few years are absolutely appalling,” Thomas Heine-Geldern was quoted as saying in the May 13 report. 

Mr. Heine-Geldern added that the heightened levels of religious extremism “have become so familiar with Boko Haram, and that has caused so many innocent victims, seems to have spread and polarized an increasingly large part of society.”

He lamented the fact that “hardly a week goes by without news of kidnappings and dozens of deaths” but added that the stoning and murder of Deborah “leaves us speechless”.


Various media accounts have indicated that Deborah, an Economics student at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto, allegedly had an argument with fellow students in a WhatsApp group and the Muslim students among them claimed that she had made blasphemous statements about the Prophet Muhammad.

The argument on WhatsApp reportedly took place during the Muslim month of Ramadan when the College was on break. When they reportedly saw Deborah at College on Thursday, May 12, all available Muslim male students allegedly surrounded her and started stoning her until she fell. They reportedly made sure she died and subsequently set her body ablaze.

In the May 13 report, Mr. Heine-Geldern said that Nigeria is facing a serious religious liberty crisis that is not only caused by terrorists but also Shariah law.

The 2021 ACN Religious Freedom report shows that Shariah law has worsened the situation in the Northern parts of Nigeria, he said, adding that 12  States in Northern Nigeria have been using Shariah laws since 1999.

“The report states that Shariah law has deepened the divisions in the country. After 20 years of Shariah law the situation in northern Nigeria has become worse, with ethnicity and religion becoming shortcuts to power, resources and privilege,” said Mr. Heine-Geldern. 

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He added that while Sharia law stipulates heavy penalties for blasphemy, including death, the law based on the teachings of the Koran “guarantees a form of due process, without resorting to lynching and summary execution, as happened with this most recent case in Sokoto, which is not unprecedented.”

For this reason, the ACN official said Nigeria’s government needs to step in and protect all citizens from all forms of violence.

“The Nigerian government must reflect deeply on where this violence is dragging the country, and how it can defend the rights of all its citizens,” he said. 

Deborah’s murder has caused uproar in Nigeria. Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Diocese described the stoning to death of Deborah as a criminal act and said the law must take its cause.

On May 14, a section of Muslim youth “led by some adults in the background” took to the streets to protest the reported arrest of two students in connection with Deborah’s killing, the head of the Directorate of Social Communication in the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto said in a statement.


The youths destroyed property in various Catholic Church premises, including the Holy Family Catholic Cathedral of Sokoto Diocese, St. Kevin's Catholic Church Gidan Dere, Bishop Lawton Secretariat, and St. Bakhita Centre located along Aliyu Jodi Road where they burnt down a bus .

A 24-hour curfew that was imposed in Sokoto State on the day of the protests was revised to a dusk to dawn curfew on May 16. 

Officials of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) have directed all churches in Nigeria “to organize a peaceful protest in honor one of our daughters, Deborah Yakubu”.

The protests scheduled for May 22 are expected to take place at 3 pm in every CAN secretariat countrywide.

Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.