(Morning Star News) – After a massacre in which members of the Islamic extremist Boko Haram group last month dressed in Nigerian Army fatigues, Christian leaders believe elements in the military must be complicit in the often-unchallenged attacks on Christians.
In the wake of the group’s kidnapping of more than 300 high school girls, Boko Haram has launched continuous attacks, some of them resulting in dozens of fatalities, on predominantly Christian areas of northeastern Nigeria. As trust in the Nigerian military falters, Christians have reportedly begun trying to arm themselves in defense.
“In Ataggara, Southern Senatorial Zone of Borno state, Boko Haram attacked and were repelled by the community,” three Christian leaders wrote on June 10 in Nigerian newspaper The Guardian, describing a June 1 insurgent assault that killed nine church guards posted at a worship service.
Community leaders went to military officials in Pulka to report the attack and were assured that a unit would protect the town’s people, wrote church leaders Pogu Bitrus of Chibok, the Rev. Ibrahim Dauwa of Gwoza and the Rev. James Yaga, also of Gwoza.
“The following day some people appeared in Nigeria Army issue in nine armored personnel carriers bearing the colors and insignia of the Nigerian Army,” the wrote. “They announced to the villagers that they had come to assess the security situation. When the people gathered to hear them, the men that came in armored personnel carriers and in Army uniform opened fire and killed over 250 men, women and children.”
The assailants pursued those who fled into the bush and butchered them with knives or shot them to death, they wrote.
“We are aware that the Nigerian military is a deeply divided fighting force,” they wrote. “As the Ataggara case above illustrates, when some Muslim commanding officers and others receive reports from our communities, they pass such reports to Boko Haram, who come in Nigerian Army issue uniforms to perpetrate pogroms in our communities.”
Suspected members of Boko Haram, an insurgent group that seeks to impose sharia (Islamic law) throughout Nigeria, reportedly undertook an equally insidious ruse on June 4 in Barderi, on the outskirts of the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. Pretending to be a few of the itinerant preachers common in Nigeria, the Islamic extremists gathered villagers for a homily on “the righteous path” at about 9:30 p.m. witnesses told Agence-France Presse (AFP).
After villagers had gathered, another set of insurgents joined the false preachers, and they opened fire on the crowd, the witnesses said. At least 45 men, women and children were killed.
Boko Haram members had assaulted four villages in Gwoza District the previous day in violence that community leaders said may have resulted in hundreds of deaths.
Enumerating attacks that killed from 2 to 46 people in each of nearly 50 other villages from mid-May to mid-June, the three church leaders noted that the violence took place where Christianity is the dominant faith.
“We want to place on record that all the communities mentioned above are predominantly Christian,” they wrote. “Why are we being attacked now? The answer lies in the result of the 2011 presidential election. It is on record that the Middle Belt, which the Southern Borno State Senatorial Zone is a bona fide part of, voted massively for President Goodluck Jonathan; a fact that enabled the sitting president to succeed at the polls in 2011. Going towards 2015, Boko Haram, on behalf of the oligarchic North, wants to decimate and displace our communities so that we would be less of a factor.”
Additionally, observers say Boko Haram violence is meant to destabilize the government not only by showing it cannot contain attacks but by sowing religious conflict. As Christians seek arms to defend themselves against an insurgency that some say already has superior weapons to those of the Nigerian military, a plea by the three church leaders for the president to arm Christians belies how desperate churches have become.
“Our most profound prayer to President Jonathan, which we want other Nigerians and the international community to pressure him to accede to, is that he should arm our communities,” the three church leaders wrote. “If we have access to arms and ammunition like Boko Haram, we would have a sporting chance of defending our lives, dependents and property.”
Suspected Boko Haram members launched another massive attack at the end of the month near Chibok, where the high school girls were kidnapped on April 15, spraying a church service in Kwada village with bullets on June 29 before burning homes. Scores of Christians were killed there and in neighboring Kautikari, and five church buildings in the villages were destroyed.
In Abuja, the Nigerian capital, a Boko Haram bomb attack on a shopping mall at the Emab Plaza on June 25 killed 24 people. Area witnesses told Morning Star News that the mall includes a Christian bookstore and several Christian-owned stories. Though some Muslims were killed, Boko Haram sought to maximize Christian fatalities, as bombers timed the explosion for 4 p.m., 15 minutes after many Muslims had left for the 3:45 p.m. prayer time at a nearby mosque.
“The bomb was targeted at the mall because there is a Christian bookshop where there were Bibles, Christian literature and videos are sold,” said a resident who requested anonymity. “Also, all the shops that sell computers and accessories are owned by Christians.”
Shortly after the explosion, the Rev. Musa Asake, national secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Morning Star News, “It is unfortunate that there is a deliberate attempt to annihilate Christians at all cost.”
Besides Abuja, in the country’s center, Boko Haram has also attacked other parts of Nigeria. In Owerri, Imo state in the country’s southeast, authorities thwarted an attempt to bomb the Living Faith Church, a Pentecostal church.
On 14 June, Boko Haram members gained entrance to the church and planted bombs the night before more than 15,000 worshipers would attend services the following day. Vigilant security guards reportedly alerted police and soldiers, who arrested six of the insurgents.
Moses Oyedele, pastor of the church, confirmed the bombing attempt.
“Yes, there were some Boko Haram men who were arrested in my church by security agents as they were planting bombs in the church,” he told Morning Star News. “The bombs were detonated and evacuated by the security agents. We thank God for His intervention.”
Imo Gov. Rochas Okorocha said in a press statement that authorities averted a massive disaster.
“The bombs had the capacity to go within a 500-meters range, and it would have been a disaster if they had exploded, as the church where it was planted is located at a densely populated area of the state,” he said.
The three church leaders from Chibok and Gwoza assert that high-ranking Muslim officials are disingenuous in stating that the Boko Haram insurgency is devoid of a Muslim extremist agenda.
“In 2012, in a widely publicized video recording that is easily accessible on the Internet, Abubakar Shekau … announced the mission statement of his sect,” they wrote. “Among other things, he said, ‘This war is not political. It is religious. It is between Muslims and unbelievers. It will stop when Islamic religion is the determinant in governance in Nigeria or, in the alternative, when all fighters are annihilated and no one is left to continue the fight.’”
Let’s remember these prayer points when praying for Nigeria:
- Pray for strength for our Christian brothers and sisters, and the weak and defenseless
- Pray for guidance for President Jonathon
- Pray for courage and a renewed spirit
- Pray for protection, and divine intervention
- Pray for the kidnapped girls that God may provide comfort and courage to their families and the girls
- Pray for the Church leaders that they may find a renewed strength, and guidance, knowledge and protection
- Pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence and love to envelope all those facing persecution