The terrorist group Boko Haram struck again in Nigeria on Friday, with a vicious attack on civilians in the northern city of Kano. The radical Islamist sect has killed over 900 people since 2009, targeting churches and police stations in gruesome attacks against Nigeria’s civilians. The death toll for Friday’s violence has soared past 200, with hundreds more wounded.
Friday’s attacks began with an explosion at a local police station in Kano, with repeated explosions following. Masked gunmen chased down and shot civilians throughout the streets of the northern city.
The group’s goals are muddled, according to government officials, who say that the group seeks to impose Sharia law in Nigeria, obtain revenge for past scuffles with Nigeria’s government, and push Christians out of the northern regions of the country. The group has consistently targeted Christians in repeated attacks against churches. Last year and this year, Nigerian Christians faced brutal Christmas Day attacks that left hundreds dead.
Rev. Yunusa Nmadu directs Christian Solidarity Worldwide in Nigeria. He says that the recent spate of attacks is terrorizing Nigeria’s Christian community, and that the violence “has driven fear into many Christians in northern Nigeria, leading to a drop in church attendance.”
Joe Bavier of The Atlantic writes that Boko Haram is “actually the nickname in the Hausa language for the group officially known in Arabic as ‘Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad’ -- the People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad.” He says that the group’s name translates loosely as "Western education is forbidden.”
Bavier says that the militant group’s targeting of churches leads to several possible conclusions about their goals. “In the choosing of churches as targets for bombings, many see an attempt to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims,” he says, “and perhaps push Nigeria into a civil war fueled on both sides by religious extremism.”
Rev. Nmadu believes the group is on a revenge mission – against Nigeria’s Christians. Boko Haram is targeting Christians, he says, because of previous violence between Muslims and Christians. The pastor believes the group is targeting churches to avenge Muslims killed during the recent violent crisis in Plateau and Kaduna states. Moreover, he believes that Boko Haram is bent on eradicating the Christian community in the north. “This excuse by the group to attack Christians is a pretense,” he says. “What they are doing is a longtime grand plan to exterminate Christians in northern Nigeria.”
On Tuesday a joint military task force arrested over 150 suspected militants, members of Boko Haram.
“The government of Nigeria at every level must be more proactive and sensitive to the [killing of] Christians,” Rev. Nmadu says. He calls on the government to bring justice to those bent on destroying Nigeria’s Christian community. “Bring to justice all those who are destroying our churches and killing us” is his plea.
Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, says that Boko Haram’s attacks show complete and utter disregard for human life. "The Nigerian authorities need to call a halt to this campaign of terror and bring to justice those responsible for planning and carrying out these reprehensible crimes,” she says.
“Christians in Nigeria are facing violence because some people, especially in northern Nigeria, believe that we are second-class citizens and most be treated that way,” Rev. Nmadu says. But he says his faith helps him face the suffering, even expect it. “It can also be seen as a fulfillment of scripture that promises suffering for all those who follow Christ.”
He asks for aid and prayer from those who read and hear about the attacks. “The international community, especially the Church, can help by praying for the church in Nigeria,” he says. “The church in Northern Nigeria is faced with security challenges more than never before.”
Rev. Nmadu feels that practical aid for Nigeria’s persecuted believers must involve measures of protection against future attacks. He suggests security awareness seminars and security systems on church buildings. “Since state security seems to be failing, we call on our brothers and sisters in the West and Europe to help support security seminars for our churches across the north and the acquiring of simple security gadgets that could truly make the difference in providing safety to worshipers in our churches,” he says. In the wake of the blasts, he says, it’s hard for Christians to even think about attending services. “The attacks as they are rumored and eventually happen drives fear into the heart of Christians and some have decided to avoid Christian gatherings,” he says.“But we know that they will not run forever.”
Rev. Nmadu fears that his nation, split almost evenly between Christians and Muslims, might be on the brink of a religiously motivated war. “I am afraid that as Christians are driven to the wall, this may result to large scale religious war in Nigeria if nothing is done fast.” He hates to think about the possibility. But, he says, “people have limit to what they can take.”
He says that the church in Nigeria must unite to support those who are suffering in the northern regions of the country. “The need for solidarity is now.” He appeals for help from the international community, citing aid organizations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide Nigeria, and moreover asking for prayer and support for those who are suffering as a result of the attacks. “Christians in Nigeria needs the prayer of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world,” he says.
Publication date: January 25, 2012
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].