Despite being 98% Muslim, Niger has a secular government and a high degree of religious freedom. Christians comprise less than 0.4% of the population.
In 2019, the government affirmed its support for religious freedom in the first article of a new law: “The purpose of this law is to guarantee the free exercise of religion in the Republic of Niger.” The law also highlighted that all are free to worship, but religious observance should be exercised with respect for “public order, peace and social tranquillity”. It introduced a formal religious building control process, including a requirement to declare funding sources. Religious education establishments are also to be regulated.
A Muslim mob burned out a church, which was also a pastor training centre, in the southern city of Maradi in June 2019 in protest over the arrest of an influential imam who criticised the new religious law. He later apologised for his comments, which had labelled the new law as “anti-Islamic” thus causing the mob attack.
The militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, which has a grip on northern Nigeria where it originated, stepped up attacks in south-eastern Niger in 2019. In March alone, 88 civilians were reported killed. The Islamist militants issued a warning to Christian families in the area, giving them three days to flee their homes or be killed. Several Christians fled to the border city of Diffa. In that year there was estimated to be 200,000 displaced people in the Diffa region, some of whom had fled from the Boko Haram insurgency in neighbouring Nigeria.
In a pre-recorded address to the UN General Assembly on 24 September 2020, President Mahamadou Issoufou stressed that only international action can restore security in the strife-torn Sahel region and Lake Chad Basin. Niger borders with Mali and Burkina Faso in the west, Nigeria and Benin to the south, and Chad to the east.
Give thanks that the government of Niger is supportive of religious freedom. Pray for protection for the tiny Christian minority and a safe place for the displaced. Ask that peace will reign in this troubled region of the world.
The above content can also be found in the Praying for the Persecuted Church (2021-2022) booklet