Under cover of darkness the extremists come, planning to kill, maim, pillage and destroy in northern Nigeria. They surround the village and shatter the silence of the night with gunfire and menacing chants.
As the terrified Christians wake and try to flee, the militants attack and lay waste to the village, killing anyone they can find, stealing cattle, plundering food stores and setting fire to churches and homes. Such attacks are occurring regularly across northern and central Nigeria, leaving in their wake hundreds of Christian martyrs.
At least 6,000 killed in anti-Christian attacks
Since 2015, a surge of extremist violence in Nigeria has killed more than 6,000 Christians and forced almost two million people to flee their homes. Attacks on villages by heavily armed militants are filled with Islamic cries of “Allahu Akbar” meaning “God is great”.
Thousands of others were maimed, burned and kidnapped or forced to flee. “Persecution is real here. We are targeted because of our faith,” said one distraught Christian leader in Borno State in November 2019.
“Full scale jihad launched against Nigerian Christians”
Another Barnabas contact told us in January this year, “Whether it is the continuous attacks of Boko Haram or Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) or even Fulani militia, the fact remains that a full scale jihad has been launched against Christians in Nigeria.”
Martyred Pastor Lawan Andimi “went home like a champion”
This is how a fellow Christian described the martyrdom of Pastor Lawan Andimi of Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria, one of the many Christians killed by extremists. Andimi was chairman of his local Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and a mighty man of God. He led thousands to the Lord, including many Muslims.
A Muslim convert himself, he began to follow Christ as his Saviour in 1980 and became a pastor. His testimony and powerful relationship with God saw him lead to Christ his own father-in-law, a prominent mallam (Quranic scholar) in Chibok, a town from where 276 mainly-Christian schoolgirls were kidnapped in 2014.
Andimi’s evangelism made him the target of Boko Haram as far back as 2013 and he survived a series of attacks from it in 2015, 2016 and 2017. On 2 January 2020, he was abducted by the extremists.
“I shall fear no evil”
Despite being in the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), this courageous Christian did not give in to fear. Instead, he sent a poignant video message to his family, “Thank God for everything … I have never been discouraged because all conditions that one finds himself is in the hands of God. By the grace of God, I will be together with my wife, my children and my colleagues. If the opportunity has not been granted, maybe it is the will of God.”
Boko Haram killed the father-of-seven on 20 January. He was one of at least 35 Christians killed by extremists in January alone.
Vast country identifies as either Christian and Muslim
Nigeria is a vast country with more than 370 tribes, the largest being the Hausa-Fulani (majority Muslim), Yoruba (mix of Christian and Muslim) and Igbo (predominantly Christian). At the beginning of the twentieth century, traditional African religions dominated but by the 1960s most Nigerians identified as either Christians or Muslims.
Christians predominate in the South, and Muslims predominate in the North. The Middle Belt has a roughly even mix of both religions and was the scene of many incidents of anti-Christian mob violence in the last two decades of the twentieth century.
Twelve northern states implement sharia in state law
A rivalry between the three largest tribes has dominated Nigerian politics since it became independent of British colonial rule in 1960. For the majority of the 40 years following independence, Nigeria stumbled from one military coup and regime to another.
During this period radical Islamism grew and, by October 1999, culminated in the announcement by the Northern state of Zamfara that it was implementing parts of sharia (Islamic law) in general state law. Eleven other states in northern Nigeria with majority Muslim populations, including those of Kano and Kaduna, followed suit.
These moves flew in the face the country’s constitution that guarantees religious freedom, and Christians strongly opposed the change. Riots ensued and several thousands of people, both Christians and Muslims, were killed.
Boko Haram’s goal is an Islamic caliphate
It was against this background of rising radicalism that the terror group Boko Haram arose. Its name, loosely translated, means “Western education is forbidden”. The group was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, with the initial aim of uprooting corruption, which it blamed on Western influences, and imposing sharia law. However, its goal expanded and it now seeks to eradicate the Christian presence and establish an Islamic caliphate from north-eastern Nigeria all the way to northern Cameroon.
Boko Haram is active across the Western Sahel, its violent insurgency having spilled out of Nigeria into neighbouring countries such as Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Far North Cameroon. It is understood to have formed links with other Islamist terror organisations, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Somalia-based Al Shabaab.
In 2009, after a confrontation with Nigerian security agencies and the death of Boko Haram’s leader in detention, the group vowed to exact revenge on the Nigerian government. In 2010, new leader Abubakar Shekau declared jihad against Christians with the words, “We are declaring a holy war! We will fight the Christians, because everyone knows what they have done to the Muslims!”
Extremists vow to “kill all citizens of the cross”
On Christmas Eve that same year, Boko Haram attacked two churches in Maiduguri and detonated explosives in Jos, Plateau state, the latter killing more than 30 people. It went on to align itself with Islamic State and, in 2016, declared that it would “blow up every church and kill all citizens of the cross” to “cleanse” the territory of Christians.
As well as laying waste to Christian villages and burning churches, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of people, including 276 mainly-Christian schoolgirls in Chibok. It has forced men and boys to join its ranks as “soldiers” and abducted women and girls for forced “marriages” to jihadists.
Islamic State in West Africa Province breaks away from Boko Haram
Boko Haram’s brutal and indiscriminate violence under Shekau’s leadership, which resulted in Muslim casualties as well as Christian, became too much for even some of its own followers and, in April 2016, a faction broke away and took on the name Islamic State of the West African Province (ISWAP).
Unlike Shekau’s group, the breakaway group was recognised by Islamic State. It is well-armed and has gained support from local Muslims by filling in gaps in governance and supporting economic activity.
A surge of ISWAP attacks took place in late 2019 and early 2020. On 26 December, ISWAP posted a horrific video of the beheading of ten Christian men and the shooting dead of an eleventh as revenge for the death of an Islamic militant in Syria. “This message is to the Christians in the world. Those you see are Christians and we will shed their blood as revenge,” it declared. On the same date, ISWAP ambushed and then shot dead Christian bride-to-be Martha Bulus and her party as they travelled in preparation for her wedding.
Fulani militants attack Christian villages and seize farmland
The third major group of well-armed extremists terrorising Nigerian Christians are from the Fulani tribe. Nomadic Fulani have been cattle herders since the thirteenth century and the majority are Muslim, although some have converted to become Christians. Of course, not all Fulani Muslims are extremists, and many live peacefully with their Christian neighbours.
Tensions arose when the Fulani herdsmen began to move south into the Middle Belt as their traditional grazing land in the north became more arid, alongside the Boko Haram conflict intensifying. Cattle rustling was also increasing, with some reports saying this was a major source of funding for Boko Haram.
As the Fulani moved south, militant elements began making murderous land-grabbing attacks against settled Christian farmers. Their attacks became more frequent from 2015, and their weaponry more sophisticated, raising concerns that a campaign of ethno-religious cleansing was being waged.
Christians wanted to know why the Fulani militants were targeting pastors and church buildings and why they were using the traditional Islamic war cry “Allahu Akbar”, if all they wanted was grazing land.
Campaign of violence against Christians described as “genocide”
Baroness Cox, a patron of Barnabas Fund, believes Islamist fundamentalists are trying to drive Christians out of their traditional homelands in an organised and systematic campaign she describes as “genocide”.
After a fact-finding mission to the area in November 2019, she said the Fulani strategy could be epitomised in the phrase, “your land or your blood”. She said, “In every village, the message from local people is the same: ‘Please help us! The Fulani are coming’.”
She met survivors of five Christian villages attacked by the Fulani, in which at least 116 were killed and an estimated 12,000 villagers forced to flee. One of the survivors told her, “I saw my brother-in-law’s body on the ground, hacked to pieces with a machete. Our home was destroyed. The hospital was burnt. They tried to burn the roof of the church by piling up the chairs, like a bonfire.”
Are Fulani fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram?
There are concerns that the Fulani militants are now so well armed by wealthy jihadist sources, who fund AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, that they are possibly fighting a proxy war for Boko Haram, with the shared agenda of driving Christians out.
Since the start of 2020, the Fulani have carried out a savage series of assaults on Christian communities in Plateau and Kaduna states. In one attack, on Hukke village, near Jos, on 8 April, seven vulnerable older Christians, unable to flee as around 300 marauding Fulani swarmed over their village, were burnt to death in their homes. The youngest to die was 67, and the oldest 90.
Speaking afterwards, a village head said that the attacks are now so commonplace that they had stopped reporting them. “We are tired and we do not want to bother others about our tragedies,” he said. “We seem to always be reporting deaths and attacks and people are weary of our reports.”
Another village head, retired pastor Duada Rogo, said the Fulani first attacked Nitiriku, the Christian village where he lives, in 2016, murdering 37 people, and since then have “been coming in from time to time killing people silently, one or two here and there in their farms”. The Fulani came again on 19 April, when they shot dead three women, set 63 homes ablaze and stole cattle and food.
Pastor Duada pointed out that Christians are not the only farmers in his area. “Muslims also own farms in villages near us, why do they not take over the farms of their fellow Muslims? This is more than grazing land or farmers and herders’ fight over land. This is specifically targeting Christians.”
“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”
Despite the anguish and suffering caused by the latest wave of terrorist massacres, the faith of Christians is being strengthened. A Barnabas contact told us, “We are sure that Christianity can outlive Boko Haram and all the brutal forces of jihad … The blood of Christians, like that of Christ Jesus, cannot be silenced by acts of cruelty and extreme wickedness emanating from the bowels of Islamic extremism.”
Please continue to pray for peace and an end to the extremist violence which is exacting such a terrible toll in the land. Our courageous brothers and sisters in Nigeria are indeed suffering persecution on a horrific scale. But we thank the Lord that He is with them. Though they walk through the darkest valley, His rod and staff will comfort them.
Barnabas supports Christian victims of violence in Nigeria
Barnabas is giving practical help to victims of anti-Christian violence in Nigeria. Displaced Christians receive emergency food, trauma counselling, medical assistance and spiritual support. The education of the children is supported and damaged homes are repaired.
(Project reference 39-772)
Jihadists exploit Covid-19 pandemic to further their murderous campaign in West Africa
Islamist terrorist groups took advantage of the Covid-19 lockdown to increase their murderous attacks against Nigerian Christians. They exploited the fact that the authorities refocused scarce security resources on combatting the coronavirus, knowing Christian villagers had no choice but to stay close to home, where they were left defenceless.
Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) stepped up their deadly insurgency against the military in north-east of Nigeria and in the Lake Chad region. At the same time, Fulani militants escalated their merciless attacks on Christians in rural areas of Plateau and Kaduna states.
“This incessant killing is getting too much”
“With this coronavirus people are suffering, but this killing is more dangerous than the coronavirus. How many people has the coronavirus killed in this country? But this incessant killing is getting too much,” said Rev Ronku Aka, chief of the Irigwe tribe, after an attack on Hura village in Plateau state on 14 April.
Nine Christians, including a three-year-old boy and his pregnant mother, were murdered in the Fulani militant assault. The gunmen surrounded the village, shouting “Allahu akbar, come out, come out!” while wildly firing their weapons into the air, before storming forward, killing at random and setting houses ablaze. In total, 21 homes were razed and seven badly damaged.
All nine victims were buried in two graves the following day, after which women and children started evacuating the village, walking the dusty tracks to seek safety in a town some miles away.
Islamist terrorist thanks God for pandemic
Some Jihadi groups celebrated coronavirus, describing the contagion as a “small soldier of Allah” and other Islamist militants believed that fighting jihad is the way to guarantee protection from the virus.
“We thank you God for this pandemic,” ranted, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, in a Twitter audio message on 14 April.
Hurling insults peppered with expletives at government leaders, including the presidents of Chad, Niger, Nigeria and the USA, he mocked Covid-19 precautions saying, “nothing has changed” in the daily lives of the Islamist group. “We pray five times daily … we stick together. We join hands. We eat from one bowl. We are doing very, very, very well. We have anti-virus. You have coronavirus, we have anti-coronavirus.”
Covid-19 has claimed comparatively few lives in Nigeria. At the time of writing, there had been 158 deaths and 4,787 cases in the whole country. However, the impact of the lockdown on poor Christians has been heavy.
Barnabas Fund has sent essential food supplies, including rice, beans and cooking oil, to feed 677 displaced and vulnerable families in the north for a month. We have also provided medical equipment, including sterilisers and surgical gowns, gloves and masks, to a hospital in Jos, in Plateau State.
We are giving financial support more than 30 pastors, whose small incomes in the form of Sunday offerings from their flock have disappeared, as their churches no longer meet and, with no incomes, people have little to give anyway.