Why Jihadists are Killing Muslims in Nigeria in Alarming Numbers: Study Report

Mass burial for victims of persecution in Nigeria. Credit: Intersociety

A recent study by the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) has revealed that jihadists in Nigeria are killing their fellow Muslims in alarming numbers as extremism rages in various States of the West African country.

The human rights foundation that advocates for democracy and good governance in Nigeria has found that struggle for economic dominance and long-standing inter-ethnic hatred are the key factors behind the violence that has been known to hugely target Christians.

In the report dated April 4, researchers at Intersociety established that violence in Nigeria is increasingly targeting “moderate” Muslims, with the gap between Christian and Muslim deaths narrowing over the years.  

The researchers found that in 13 years, 75,644 Nigerians have been killed in the past 13 years with Christians accounting for 45,644 deaths, and defenseless Muslims accounting for 30,000 deaths.

“In the past thirteen years or July 2009 (Boko Haram uprising) to March 2022, the Christian death tolls had risen to no fewer than 45,644, from 43,000 as at August 2021. Estimated 30,000 moderate and defenseless Muslims were also killed during the period by the country’s Jihadists,” Intersociety says in the report.


Researchers at the human rights foundation report that patterns and trends associated with killing of moderate and defenseless Muslims in the country especially in the past five years have been centered on Muslim Fulani-Muslim Hausa rivalries in the Muslim dominant Northern States of Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi and North and Central Kaduna.

According to the research entity, patterns and trends associated with killings by jihadists dating back to 2009 are centered on “collateral and revenge killings”.

Nigerian States mentioned by Intersociety are those the agency says are dominated by “indigenous and alien Fulani Herdsmen, Fulani Bandits and other jihadist pastoralists or mercenaries.”

According to Intersociety, ethno-religious jihadists responsible for killing moderate and defenseless Muslims in the Northern Muslim States of Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Birnin-Gwari and Igabi parts of Kaduna State are drawn from Fulani bandits formed in Maradun part of Zamfara State in 2011 and who came into the limelight and embraced group violence in 2013.

The agency says, in reference to the armed Fulani, “They were primarily raised against the indigenous Hausa communities and their Vigilante Group, known as ‘Yankasai’”.

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The research agency says that it has conducted various investigations that have revealed that many victims of  Muslim deaths in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Kebbi and Northern Kaduna belong to indigenous Hausa Muslim  communities.

Reasons behind the killings, Intersociety says, are economic, political and radical religious alliance for Jihad.

Intersociety expresses concern that the perpetrators of the violence have extended their activities to other parts of Northern Nigeria, including targeting members of other ethno-religious nationalities such as Northern and non-Northern Christians and members of non-Fulani Muslim faith.

Since 2017, the violence has escalated and extended to Niger, Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), Adamawa, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kogi, Gombe and Bauchi States.

According to the report, the armed “Fulani bandits” have also allied with Jihadist Fulani herdsmen and are occupying and terrorizing forests, bushes and farmlands and their owners in Nigeria’s Southern States of Edo, Ondo, Ogun, Delta and the North Central State of Benue. 


Intersociety has also investigated what it refers to as “anti-Christian butcheries in Nigeria” and found the killings to be perpetrated mainly by Jihadist Fulani herdsmen and their hired external counterparts.

Other than the indigenous Jihadist Fulani herdsmen and their pastoralist counterparts recruited from some African countries, the “Zamfara Bandits”, now called “Fulani bandits”, are also responsible for “butchering” of defenseless Christians, Intersociety reports.

The human rights entity reports that owing to the rampant killings in Nigeria, the country qualifies as a place where people are hacked the most in the whole world because of their religious beliefs.

“The Federal Republic of Nigeria and its governing authorities ended the year 2021 as the most hostile country in the world to practice Faith Freedom or Freedom of Worship and peacefully showcase Ethnic Identity. Nigeria also became ‘the Greatest Enemy of Christian Faith and its Faithful or Members in the World’ and ‘a country with the world’s largest Christian deaths for the Year 2021,’ the team of researchers says in the report circulated April 8.

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.