The federal government was ineffective in preventing or quelling violence, often expressed along religious lines, or in protecting victims of violent attacks targeted because of their religious beliefs. The government was not able to stop Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad (commonly referred to as Boko Haram, Hausa for “Western education is forbidden”), a designated foreign terrorist organization. The security forces operated under a state of emergency, declared in May 2013 and extended a year later, in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States.
The government often responded with heavy-handed tactics and did not adequately equip and train security forces to contain Boko Haram. Security forces sometimes increased the civilian death toll by committing extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists, and detainees died in custody. Religious leaders, civil society, and international human rights organizations condemned the military’s ineffectual or indiscriminate response. Many reported the military did not respond to attacks or threats of attack by Boko Haram, even if given ample warning. Residents reported the military fled their posts during or in anticipation of an attack, and some attacks lasted hours without any response to pleas for military intervention. Soldiers said they lacked the ammunition and other supplies to confront Boko Haram. Press reports indicated that soldiers fled Biita and Izge in Borno State in June after a Boko Haram attack, and many deserted, saying they were outgunned by Boko Haram. Security forces reportedly abandoned Mubi in Adamawa State in October in advance of a Boko Haram attack.
Christian and Muslim groups continued to say local and state authorities did not deliver adequate protection or post-attack relief to rural communities in the northeast, where Boko Haram killed and kidnapped residents and destroyed villages, including houses of worship, throughout the year.
The government only occasionally investigated, prosecuted, and punished perpetrators of violence or other abuses of religious freedom. There were no indictments or prosecutions following fatal attacks during the year on high-profile Islamic leaders and traditional rulers in the north. The government’s prosecution of suspected Boko Haram members was slow, and most suspects were held indefinitely. On September 30, the Federal High Court in Lagos sentenced three Boko Haram members to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism, possession of firearms, and membership in an illegal organization. On November 24, a Federal High Court judge rejected the charges against a man suspected of planning a bombing in Abuja in April that killed over 70 people, due to errors by the prosecution including the suspect having been held without trial.
Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky, leader of the Shia Muslim group the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), reported the army killed dozens of his supporters and three of his sons July 25, during a religious procession. Zakzaky said the army targeted the annual Quds Day procession in Zaria, Kaduna State, while the army argued that it acted in self-defense after being shot at by IMN members. The army and the National Human Rights Commission said they had opened investigations into the killings.
Some Christian groups reported discrimination and a systematic lack of protection by federal, state, and local authorities, especially in central regions, where there were long-standing disputes, many between Christians and Muslims, over land use and other political, economic, and ethnic issues. On June 11, gunmen suspected to be Muslim herders killed nine people and burned down two churches, among other buildings, in two largely Christian villages, Tanjol and Tashek, in Plateau State in central Nigeria. On September 4, a clash between Muslim herders and Christian farmers in the town of Wukari in Taraba State left at least six dead and two mosques among the 10 buildings destroyed. Because of the close links among religion, ethnicity, and political and economic interests, it was difficult to categorize many of these incidents as based solely on religious identity. The disputes were usually between ethnic groups native to a region (indigenes) and those whose ethnic roots originated in another part of the country (settlers). Often the indigenes and settlers belonged to different religious as well as ethnic groups. The federal government again did not implement any recommendations from numerous government-sponsored panels for resolving these types of disputes or reducing tensions, despite ongoing calls by political and religious leaders to do so.
Islamic organizations continued to criticize a Katsina State law requiring licensing of Islamic schools, preachers, and mosques, although there were no reports of prosecutions. Opponents described the law as discriminatory because it did not impose licensing requirements on Christian groups and stated it inhibited the freedom of Muslim imams to preach openly against the government. The state government maintained that a more rigid definition of Islamic education and preaching helped address security concerns.
Eight men were arrested in Niger State in June for preaching and operating an Islamic school without a license, in violation of state law.
An October 17 ruling by the High Court in Lagos upheld a ban on wearing the hijab in public primary and secondary schools outside of religious classes and times set aside for prayer. The judge rejected the lawsuit filed two years prior by the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, which said it would appeal the decision.
There were no verified reports of sharia courts hearing criminal cases without the consent of both parties during the year. On April 23, a sharia court in Kano issued a sentence of death by hanging for Ubale Saidu Dotsa, a 63-year-old Muslim man found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl and infecting her with HIV/AIDS. According to media reports, Dotsa chose a sharia court over a state court and pleaded guilty to the charge. The sentence had not been carried out as of December. The appeal to the Bauchi State Sharia Court of Appeal of a death sentence for a man convicted of rape and incest in 2013 remained pending at year’s end.
Some non-Muslims continued to say government-funded sharia courts amounted to the adoption of Islam as a state religion, while the state governments maintained no person was compelled to use the sharia courts, citing the availability of a parallel common law courts system. Christian groups also stated non-Muslims were pressured to file cases in sharia courts and were treated unfairly in those courts.
In some states, sharia-based practices, such as the separation of the sexes in public schools and in health care, voting, and transportation facilities, affected non‑Muslim minorities. Some Christian groups said religious affairs ministries in some states provided services to Muslims exclusively.
State governments in Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Niger, and Zamfara funded sharia law enforcement groups called the Hisbah, which enforced sharia law inconsistently and sporadically, sometimes targeting Christians or residents of other states. During the year, the Kano State Hisbah periodically arrested residents for alcohol consumption, prostitution, and other reported violations of sharia law.
On August 6, the Kano State Hisbah Board said it had arrested 200 beggars in Kano from other states and 15 from Kano. The Kano State Hisbah authorities said they returned non-residents to their home states and provided assistance to those they determined were Kano residents.
Kano State authorities levied steep fines and prison sentences for the public consumption and distribution of alcohol, in compliance with sharia statutes. On July 14, the director general of the Kano State Hisbah Board said 55 individuals had been sentenced to four months in prison and another 27 were pending trial for alcohol consumption. Christian leaders said the Hisbah targeted Christian areas and churches when arresting people for alcohol consumption.
Authorities in some states reportedly denied building permits to minority religious communities for construction of new places of worship, for expansion and renovation of existing facilities, or for reconstruction of buildings that had been demolished. Christians reported local government officials in the predominantly Muslim northern states used regulations on zoning and title registrations to stop or slow the establishment of new churches. Church leaders said they evaded the restrictions by purchasing and developing land in the name of an individual member of the congregation, but this practice left the church in a tenuous legal position.
Christian groups reported individual administrators of government-run universities and technical schools in several northern states refused to admit Christian students or delayed the issuance of their degrees and licenses. Christian and Muslim groups alleged employment discrimination against their members in regions where they were not the dominant religion.
The federal government approved the use of air carriers for religious pilgrimages to Mecca for Muslims and to Jerusalem or Rome for Christians, and subsidized both types of pilgrimages. It established airfares and negotiated bilateral air service agreements with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Italy to support pilgrimages. The National Hajj Commission provided logistical arrangements for approximately 65,500 pilgrims to Mecca. The Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission provided logistical arrangements for the travel of as many as 30,000 pilgrims to Jerusalem and Rome. Muslim leaders objected when the military barred multiple chartered flights to Mecca from departing airports in Maiduguri and Yobe States June 28. A spokesman for the military reported the decision was made for security reasons.
Shortages of teachers capable of teaching Christianity or Islam reportedly existed in some public schools, particularly for the minority religion of a region. Increasingly, students received no religious instruction in the public classroom, turning instead to informal religious instruction outside of public schools or to parochial school education.