Faith Under Fire in Nigeria

Kristin Wright

Faith Under Fire in Nigeria

On Tuesday, bombings once again rocked Nigeria’s Kaduna State, igniting panic among the city’s civilians. Rev. Yunusa Nmadu, who serves as director of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in Nigeria, was in the center of the attack. Hours after the bombing, he posted an update on his Facebook page. “Our team just survived a bomb blast at Ungwar sarki, Kaduna State,” he wrote. “The bomb exploded just immediately behind our vehicle. The bang was as if it was right in our van. It shook our car and gave the screen a crack. We are safe though.”

No one was killed in the first blast that struck the city. But a bomb disposal officer in Kaduna was killed while attempting to deactivate a second bomb. "He died when an explosive device he was trying to defuse exploded, killing him on the spot," according to Aminu Lawan, a Kaduna state police spokesperson.

Tuesday’s attacks were the latest in a string of violence initiated by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram, a name loosely translated to mean “Western education is forbidden” or “Western education is sin.” The violent group has claimed responsibility for over 900 deaths in the region since 2009, primarily targeting government offices and churches.

According to Information Nigeria, a Boko Haram spokesperson addressed the recent arrest of Boko Haram leaders in a message following the latest attacks. “No matter what, we cannot be deterred," he said. "No amount of arrest of leaders will stop us from striking but, like I said, we will strike and it will be soon.”

Boko Haram has consistently targeted churches in its brutal strikes, including the most recent church attack on Sunday, January 22, 2012. Compass Direct News reported on January 24, 2012, that early morning attacks in Tafawa Balewa, Bauchi state on Sunday had destroyed a church building and left at least seven Christians dead.

Yunnana Yusufu is a pastor with the Church of Christ in Tafawa Balewa. He told Compass Direct News that attackers arrived in the early hours of the day and began shooting at Christians. Many were injured, he said, and he personally saw the bodies who of those who were killed. “I saw seven dead bodies of some of the Christians killed,” Yusufu told Compass. “The situation is terrible, and I am about to go out to other parts of the town, to see the extent of the damage caused by the attackers.”

Yusufu reported that those who were injured were taken to a local hospital. “Some of them have been taken to the General Hospital here, while others are being treated at home by medical personnel who are Christians,” he said.

Jubilee Campaign, an international human rights organization in Washington, D.C., recently circulated a sign-on letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging her to consider the religiously motivated element of the violence targeting minority Christian believers. “The State Department has traditionally viewed the violence in the North and Middle Belt as a result of economic and tribal tensions,” the letter stated. But Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign, as well as other human rights leaders who signed the letter, want recognition of the religious aspects of the group’s attacks. “While [economic and tribal] tensions undoubtedly contribute to the violence, the use of religious themes and rhetoric vastly expands the scope of the conflict,” the letter states. “In the North entire villages and family groups have been exterminated based on their Christian identity. It is our concern that over the past two decades the State Department has neglected the profoundly religious nature of the conflicts in the North, and overlooked the potential for this conflict to provoke an increasing religious segregation of Nigerian society with serious consequences for the political future and stability of this American ally.”

Buwalda goes on to reference the mass exodus of Christian believers fleeing Nigeria’s northern regions. “Currently the media reports that thousands of Christians are fleeing or attempting to flee the North, based on religious identity and regardless of tribal affiliation,” she said.

The letter concluded with a call to action, requesting that Secretary Clinton launch an investigation into the religious issues motivating the attacks. “Most importantly, we implore you to conduct a thorough assessment of the underlying issues behind the escalating violence and update the perceptions and understanding of the U.S. Department of State regarding this issue, paying particular attention to the religious elements which must be recognized in order to make effective policy decisions.”

Rev. Yunusa Nmadu has survived the recent spate of attacks in spite of his close-up work with Nigeria’s Christian community. His organization, Christian Solidarity Worldwide in Nigeria, identifies itself as an “interdenominational Christian human rights organization committed to upholding religious harmony, to contributing towards the peaceful co-existence of Nigeria's religious communities, and ensuring that all Nigerians enjoy the rights and freedoms to which they are constitutionally entitled.” He says his organization “exists to address the injustice faced by those who are discriminated against or face violence on religious grounds, to champion human rights and to stand in solidarity with the oppressed.”

In the midst of Boko Haram’s frequent attacks against local churches, Rev. Nmadu believes his mission is crucial. He says that the brutal attacks mark a new era for Nigeria’s Christians, adding that, “the church in northern Nigeria is faced with security challenges more than never before.” He hopes that the world will notice the tragedy occurring in his home country, and take action to help the victims. As a pastor, he urges prayer as a response to the violence. “The international community,” he says, “especially the church, can help by praying for the church in Nigeria.”

Kristin Wright is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to human rights, international travel, social justice, women's issues, religious freedom, and refugee resettlement. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email [email protected].

Publication date: February 15, 2012

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