The Nigerian government now agrees with what church leaders have been complaining for years: Christians are the target of jihadist terrorism.
“In the wake of a renewed onslaught by our tireless military against Boko Haram and their ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province) allies in recent times, the insurgents have apparently changed their strategy,” said Lai Mohammed, the minister of information and culture, at a press conference last week.
“They have started targeting Christians and Christian villages for a specific reason, which is to trigger a religious war and throw the nation into chaos.”
In comments given exclusively to CT, the administration of President Muhammad Buhari clarified that this targeting is not new.
“Yes, Boko Haram is targeting individual Christians. In doing so, their target is all Nigerians, and their goal is to divide Christian brother against Muslim brother,” Mohammed, the information minister, told CT.
“What Boko Haram seeks—and always has sought—is to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.
“By targeting Christians, they seek to promulgate the falsehood that the democratically elected Nigerian government does not care to protect them.
“By targeting Muslims, they seek to promulgate the falsehood that the terrorists themselves follow truthfully Islamic teachings, and those they target do not.
“It is the strategy of the desperate.”
CT previously reported on the martyrdom of 11 Nigerian Christians killed by ISWAP around Christmas, as well as the January 21 killing of Lawan Andimi, a Brethren pastor and regional leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), beheaded by Boko Haram.
In response, CAN declared that January 21 be commemorated as an annual national day of prayers for the persecuted Christians of Nigeria.
The government statement followed two two-year anniversaries.
On February 19, 2018, Boko Haram kidnapped 110 Dapchi schoolgirls. Only Leah Sharibu remains in captivity, for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, after the government secured release of the rest.
And on March 1, 2018, ISWAP kidnapped Alice Ngaddeh, a UNICEF nurse and mother of two, along with other aid workers. Others captured were killed or released, but Ngaddeh remains a “slave.”
“This government continues and seeks to secure the release of all children and captives of terrorists—and we do so regardless of their creed or the name of their creator,” said Buhari in a presidential statement released on the anniversary of Sharibu’s capture.
“And as we redouble our efforts for Leah’s return, we can never allow the terrorists to divide us—Christian against Muslim, Muslim against Christian. We are all sons of Abraham. And all Nigerians have the same worth and rights before the law, and before God.”
In an exclusive op-ed for CT in which he praised the faith of Andimi, Buhari said 90 percent of Boko Haram’s victims are Muslims. CAN “angrily” rejected this statement, and called on the president to reveal his sources.
In an article at the National Catholic Register decrying a “Christian genocide,” former Congressman Frank Wolf, author of the United States’ International Religious Freedom Act, and Toufic Baaklini, president of In Defense of Christians, compiled the following statistics:
- Boko Haram has killed more than 27,000 civilians in Nigeria. This is greater than the amount of civilians ISIS killed in Iraq and Syria combined.
- The Global Terrorism Index states that Nigeria is the third-most dangerous country after Afghanistan and Iraq.
- Open Doors calculates that more than 7,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed because of their faith over the last three years, including 1,350 martyrs in 2019.
- CAN reports 900 churches in northern Nigeria have been destroyed.
“The government statement represents tremendous progress, because Nigeria needs to walk in the truth in such trying times,” said Gideon Para-Mallam, the former Jos-based Africa ambassador for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, now an advocate for peace and social justice.
“To own up and say that indeed Boko Haram has changed tactics will make a difference. They [the Buhari administration] need to be commended for calling out targeted attacks on Christians, and now we can join hands as a nation.”
The earlier government narrative, he said, believed by many Muslims, is that Christians are not persecuted in Nigeria.
Though the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has called for a state of emergency against insecurity, following the information minister’s statement, it stood by its previous statement that it was wicked “to suggest that Boko Haram is a ploy to eliminate Christians,” as reported by Nigerian newspaper Punch.
Para-Mallam spoke to CT from London at a British Foreign Office conference to promote social cohesion in Nigeria. He said that Muslims there felt blamed when Nigeria was painted as a land of Christian persecution.
He said his offer to be given the names of all Muslims in captivity, that he might also advocate for them, was appreciated.
But this does not mean he disagrees with the pressure CAN has kept on the Nigerian government. Last month, CT reported on a nationwide march joined by prominent pastors across the country.
“The troubles CAN has made have added up, and brought the government to a proper understanding of the reality before us as a church and nation,” said Para-Mallam.
It has also brought international attention to Nigeria.
Johnnie Moore, a commissioner with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), called for more efforts.
“The terrorists’ aim is to ethnically cleanse northern Nigeria of its Christians and to kill every Muslim who stands in their way,” he said, following a week-long personal visit with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, during which they visited with more than 50 survivors of Islamist attacks.
“If things don’t change immediately, portions of Nigeria may soon become the most dangerous place on the planet.”
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Source: Christianity Today