Nigeria (MNN) — Nigeria is in lockdown. Nigeria has rebels on the run. Nigeria is releasing criminals.
What's really going on? Todd Nettleton, a spokesman with the Voice of the Martyrs USA, would not confirm the reports of the Islamist terrorists being in disarray. However, he did address the government's plans to release members of the Boko Haram Islamist group held on suspicion of terrorism, in phases.
In an e-mailed statement by the senior special assistant to the President on public affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe said the effort was aimed at the peace effort.
The statement read in part:
"It has become necessary to make further clarification on the directive for the release of some people held in connection with activities of the Boko Haram sect, in view of misrepresentations in some sections of the media.
"The order for the release of the detainees will be in phases.
"Concerning the first batch, the emphasis is on women and children who have been in detention on suspicion of involvement and/or connection with insurgency in some parts of the country.
"This will be followed by other phased releases where cases will be treated on their individual merits by the Defence authorities and security agencies."
Yet, it follows a decision by President Goodluck Jonathan to impose a curfew as well as emergency rule in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, and start a military campaign against Boko Haram Islamist insurgents.
Nettleton explains, "My perception is that President Goodluck Jonathon is taking a dual approach in the sense that with one hand, he's reaching out the hand of fellowship. In the other hand, he's kind of balled up a fist."
Rather than viewing the approach as a ‘see what will stick,' he says it's one of options. "If you will talk peace, and if you will cooperate, yes, there's a pathway for that. If you won't, then we're going to come and hunt you down. I think it'll be interesting, in the weeks to come, which pathway produces the most progress in establishing peace and security in northeastern Nigeria."
However, that has been an uphill battle ever since Jonathon took office. "There's not always the level of cooperation in the northern states with the federal government to get a handle on some of these situations. They want to see a Muslim president elected, and they see it as somewhat good if there are problems, if the people lose confidence in the Christian president that's currently in office."
Boko Haram is a terror group whose campaign is to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. The resulting bloodbath has cost the lives of 3,000 people in the past four years, and Christians have borne the brunt of the Boko Haram's wrath. In the early months of 2013, it seemed that every Sunday brought news of another church bombing or drive-by shooting massacre. Then, if possible, the violence escalated.
After attacks that left several hundred people dead in the previous fortnight in towns near Maiduguri, on May 14th, Jonathon imposed the state of emergency.
Morning Star News reported that within an hour of the state of emergency declaration in Borno state, Faye Pama Musa, leader of the chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria was assassinated. Police say the gunmen followed him home from the evening Bible study he led at his church.
Security got tighter at church services. Nettleton noted the presence of armed guards outside the churches during his visit last week, noted vehicle proximity to buildings in case of car bombs, and yet, the most notable thing, he said, was that "people continue to gather for worship even though they know there are risks, even though they know there could be attacks. The church service that I attended was a fabulous church service. I really enjoyed the presence of the Lord and worshipping together with my Nigerian brothers and sisters."
Despite the violence, despite the tension and the threat of harm, people are still following Christ openly and sharing their faith. Nettleton acknowledges that is where the challenge gets real. "That's where the danger is, when you're going into the Muslim community and sharing the Gospel. One of the things they said is ‘to be effective, that's almost always a one-on-one conversation' where they can sit down and talk to somebody, and look at the Bible and look at the Quran, and point them to Jesus Christ."
For the new Muslim-Background Believer (MBB), the risk comes not from outside assassins, but from those they love and trust. "Do you tell your family? Do you tell your friends? How long after you accept faith do you come forward and say, ‘Listen, dad…listen, older brother: I'm a Christian now. I'm following Christ…', because that is where the danger lies, even danger from your own family members."
Despite the confusion surrounding Nigeria's approach to the Boko Haram question, Nettleton says one thing is clear: Christians are hard-pressed, and they're begging for their family to advocate for them. "They asked us to pray for peace, for there to be some kind of long-term stable peace in their country. Secondly, we need to pray for God's protection. I think also, we can pray for these Muslim converts and for the evangelists that are reaching out into the Muslim community."