Nigeria (MNN) — On April 15, armed gunmen abducted at least 100 girls from a school in Borno State. The attackers are thought to be from the Islamist group, Boko Haram.
24 hours earlier, bombings blamed on the group killed more than 70 people in Abuja. This brings to eight the number of attacks launched since since March. Most are blamed on the militant Islamic group Boko Haram.
Spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA Todd Nettleton says based on pattern, this week could be deadly. “There are several things that point to more trouble ahead. It is Holy Week. It is Easter Week. We have seen around the world where Christians and churches are sometimes targeted during that particular season of the year.”
The Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, has been waging an armed campaign for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. However, it seems the pattern of the Islamist agenda for Nigeria is to bring the whole country under the House of Islam.
Since Boko Haram emerged as a critic of Western-style education, its militants frequently target schools and educational institutions. “Long-term, what they want is for everybody to be Muslim,” Nettleton explains. “They would like to have a country of their own, whether it is somehow they take over the entire country of Nigeria, or they separate off a chunk of northern Nigeria that would come under Boko Haram control.”
The push to get there has been bloody. Last May, the Nigerian government imposed a state of emergency. It didn’t do much to help. Nettleton says, “So far this year, Amnesty International says Boko Haram has killed 1500 people. I assume that was before the bus station attack [April 14]. We’re now talking about close to 1600 people that have been killed. It’s less than four months into the year.”
Also last spring, the United States designated the group and an offshoot, Ansaru, as terrorist organizations. While it seems that would have been a help in the fight against the insurgency, things got worse in some places. Nettleton says in Boko Haram stronghold areas, “They have given you two choices: you can move out of territory controlled by Boko Haram, or you can be killed.”
That they’re targeting Christians is obvious. That this year’s casualties have also included a growing number of Muslims is puzzling. The attacks are growing bolder and broader in scope. “It’s kind of hard to fathom a group that says they’re supporting ‘true Islam’ and they’re supporting having an Islamic country, and yet, they’re killing their Muslim countrymen.”
Conversion is dangerous, and Muslim-background believers and Christians in many northern states suffer restrictions in schooling, threats of abduction, and forced marriage. They have also been denied employment and facilities such as clean water, clinics, and roads. It is very difficult for churches to openly integrate new converts from Islam.
Although Nigeria is constitutionally a secular state with freedom of religion, the continued violence against Christians is disconcerting. Ministries are taking security precautions. Some are running silent.
According to the Voice of the Martyrs, the future does not look bright with emerging links between al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and Boko Haram making more violent persecution likely. However, Nettleton goes on to say, “Those can be times when God moves and when people come to know Him in a personal way. So let’s pray for the attackers and pray that they will hear the Gospel message, that their hearts will be softened, and that they will respond.”