Nigeria: a second chance for peace?

By March 6, 2019

Voters outside a polling station in Nigeria (Photo courtesy of The Commonwealth Observer Group)

Nigeria (MNN) – Nigeria’s election results might go down as President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘Second Chance’ to meet his campaign promises of security, peace and fairness.  Todd Nettleton is a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA.

As he watches the results, he says, “Christians there are hopeful that there will be more security, that he will protect the religious freedoms of all Nigerians, but I think there is some skepticism as well, based on what has happened in the last four  years and the fact that there hasn’t been the progress that he promised four years ago.”

What will be different this time?

Boko Haram, a jihadist group, plagues the north of the country. While Buhari says its activities have been largely brought under control since he assumed office in 2015, Nettleton observes, “He came in four years ago promising to address the Boko Haram situation; promising to increase the security of Nigeria, the internal security. I think you would say he’s had mixed results on that.  He certainly hasn’t defeated Boko Haram.”

The country’s Independent National Electoral Commission certified the results last week. With 56-percent of the votes, Buhari could claim the win.

Yet not everyone was willing to accept the results.  Occupy Nigeria launched a protest in Abuja Monday, challenging the electoral process. Opposition leader Atiku Abubakar, who took 41-percent of the votes, promised a court challenge, as well. “The opposition is making noises about protesting or filing a formal challenge to the election results. It doesn’t seem that that is likely to be successful.”  

(Photo courtesy of The Commonwealth Observer Group)

What makes this term different from the last? “Buhari did gain power in the Nigerian Senate”, explains Nettleton, adding that “There is at least a theory that he will have more success in pushing through some of the legislation and some of the reforms that he has campaigned on because the Senate will be more favorable to him in this new term.”

Who are the players?

Why was the focal point of the election on security?  Boko Haram was originally a non-violent organization when they first formed in 2002. They mainly wanted to purify Islam in northern Nigeria, but became increasingly radicalized. With the help of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, they embraced the weapons, ideology, and tactics of an insurgency.

The group also expanded into Chad, Niger and Cameroon. In the 17 years of their uprising, the violence displaced over two million, and tens of thousands lost their lives. They also regularly kidnap young girls, convert them to Islam and marry them off to Boko Haram soldiers.

In the northeast, the Fulani herdsmen are moving toward militancy in the fight over resources, now rivaling Boko Haram in the ferocity and frequency of their attacks. To the south, Buhari faces the Niger Delta Avengers, who vow to increase their attacks and take down Nigeria’s economy. Since the first term, what headway has Buhari made in getting a handle on the rebel groups?

What will be different in a second term? Nettleton explains, “Buhari did gain power in the Nigerian Senate. There is at least a theory that he will have more success in pushing through some of the legislation and some of the reforms that he has campaigned on because the Senate will be more favorable to him in this new term.”

Both Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen regularly target Christians.   They make up roughly half of the population, yet feel unheard and unprotected as the attacks ramped up last year.

Where is it worst?

According to information from Open Doors, during the first quarter of 2018, the Fulani militia launched 106 attacks on communities in Adamawa, Benue, southern Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa, Plateau and Taraba states, resulting in 1,061. In the south, an additional 17 lives lost in attacks. Also documented, seven instances of violence targeting Fulani herders or communities, in which 61 people lost their lives; two of these attacks were in the south of the country.

Teen victims of Boko Haram violence were rejuvenated at a camp just for them. (Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs USA)

That’s why Christians hope that a second Buhari term brings the promised change. “We wait to see if that legitimately happens, and hopefully there is more freedom for our Christian brothers

and sisters. Hopefully there is more security for Christians, but (also) for all Nigerians because we don’t want to see the violence and the attacks continue.”

Why should we care?

What’s happening to ministry work in Nigeria?  People make tough choices, but maybe not the way you might think, says Nettleton. He heard the story of a pastor who leads a church in an area where Boko Haram is active.   When the risk grew too great, he sent his wife and kids six hours away to safety, but remained in the area to continue to be a witness for Christ.

Nettleton says when the pastor was asked ’Why don’t you go with your family? Why don’t you go someplace safe?’,  “He said ‘if I did that, who would pastor my church?’ As you are praying for Nigeria’s Christians, pray for those pastors who are having to send their family away in order to continue the ministry that God has called them to.”

Shortly before the current mandate lapses on May 29, Buhari will dissolve his cabinet. Last week, he swore in eight new Permanent Secretaries, so there’s hope things will be more nimble in this term.

Politics aside, Nettleton reminds us, this is a spiritual battle for the heart of Nigeria. “We continue to pray and we pray for the Church and for the Christians to be protected, but also to be bold in their witness. I think we pray for Nigeria’s government leaders, just as the Bible calls on us to pray for government leaders, that that they will make wise choices and that they will pursue justice.”



Headline photo courtesy The Commonwealth Observer Group

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