By Rev. Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, WAGF Commission on Religious Liberty Member.
In the wake of the abductions of over 200 school girls from the Government Girls secondary school in Chibok in April, members of the international media have rushed to become instant experts on Nigeria in general and terror groups Boko Haram and Ansaru in particular. However, they have largely failed to recognise the religious motivations of these organisations.
Boko haram and its aims:
Boko Haram (Hausa for “Western Education is Forbidden”) has never concealed its hatred of Western influence, particularly of the Nigerian federal system and Christianity — the allegedly “Western” religion. In the disturbing interview where he boasts of kidnapping the girls, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, reiterated: “This war is against Christians. I mean Christians generally…It is a war against western education, democracy and [the] constitution.”
There is still a seeming international reluctance to fully acknowledge Boko Haram’s ongoing religious cleansing campaign in predominantly Christian areas of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. Indigenous Christian villages of southern Borno State have been particularly decimated. During the last few months of 2013, the group destroyed over 46 villages, forcing over 14,000 indigenous Christians to flee into neighbouring Cameroon.
The scale of the Chibok abductions, coupled with the ages and gender of the victims, outraged Nigerians into uniting across tribal, religious and regional divisions under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, and requesting robust action by their government. Had this not gone viral, many Christians feel this event would merely have been consigned to the litany of Boko Haram atrocities.
Boko Haram is the latest and most virulent manifestation of a phenomenon consistently omitted from international and even local narratives. Systematic religious discrimination and longstanding impunity underpin the regular emergence of violent groups that deny religious freedom to non-Muslims, and increasingly, to Muslims who do not share their restrictive dogma. In this enabling atmosphere, violence has erupted periodically — and with impunity against — Christian communities, usually following unproven allegations of blasphemy. Most recently, in February 2014 Assemblies of God Pastor Dike Ocha was murdered in Katsina State by a mob following unfounded allegations he was involved in the ritual killing of a young girl.
Since May last year over 300,000 people have been displaced by Boko Haram violence, as well as by attacks on Christian villages in Plateau, Kaduna, Taraba, Bauchi and Benue States by increasingly well-armed Nomadic herdsmen. Several observers speculate they are now linked to Boko Haram, due to their progressively sophisticated tactics and weaponry, including AK 47s. There are also very real fears of another outbreak of deadly religiously-motivated violence as the 2015 elections approach, as occurred in 2011.
Something must change — urgently!
As part of the Religious Liberty Partnership, Christian Solidarity Worldwide
is calling for a worldwide week of prayer for Nigeria from 15-22nd June.
Please join us in crying out for God’s intervention in this strategic nation.
Details can be found on the CSW website at http://www.csw.org.uk