Nigeria (MNN) — As many as 500 people were killed in Nigeria last week as a result of Muslim attacks on Christians in the city of Jos. The reason behind the attacks has yet to be determined.
"At the end of the day, eight churches had been burned to the ground," says Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs. "The Nigerian government enacted a 24-hour curfew to try to get people off the streets and get control of the situation."
Although there do not appear to have been other attacks since the original violence, it is still questionable as to how well the government is handling it. Hundreds of arrests have been made, but the last time such a dispute arose, most perpetrators were never prosecuted.
"It seems like rather than solving the problems, they sort of tamp it down. And then something triggers it, and it explodes up again," notes Nettleton.
The situation certainly has not been improved by the fact that Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has been away for health reasons.
As a result of the violence, several reports say we can be certain that at least 300 were killed in the attacks and at least 5,000 were displaced. The puzzling aspect of the event is that no one seems certain as to what caused it. Nettleton says some claimed the attacks began after Muslim men chased a Christian girl into a church. But most reports suggest the conflict originated between two groups of Muslims feuding over land.
The fact that the situation escalated to violence toward Christians may have something to do with previous disputes. Similar sectarian attacks occurred at the end of 2008, and the attacks last week may have simply been an excuse to act on festering resentment.
"Because of the bad feelings from before and the violence that has happened before, I think they sort of used it as an excuse to attack churches and the homes of Christians," suggests Nettleton. Nettleton says the church had been doing relatively well in the area until the attacks.
After such great atrocities, believers are sometimes afraid to speak the Gospel boldly for a time. Nettleton asks for prayer that the church in Nigeria would remain strong and continue to focus on growth and the Gospel.
In the meantime, Voice of the Martyrs is sending a team into Nigeria to learn more, to provide medical aid and to encourage the church. They're doing what they can to help, and your help is most welcome.
"We have a program called VOM Medical which is specifically designed for situations like this, to go in and help with the medical needs," says Nettleton. "But prayer is really the first–and most important–step to helping the Nigerian Christians right now."
To help VOM Medical via donations, visit the Voice of the Martyrs Web site.