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17 May 2012

Religious liberty – Nigeria

Religious liberty – Nigeria

“The simple act of going to church on a Sunday has become a perilous one for Christians in many parts of Nigeria,” said Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, international director of Barnabas Fund, as a church service at Bayero University was attacked at the end of April. At least 20 people lost their lives after explosions and gunfire. This attack however wasn’t a single event for persecuted Christians in northern Nigeria - but another in a series of deadly bombings. In just one diocese, around 300 Christians have been killed by the anti-Christian violence. 

The BBC said that although no group had admitted to the attack, signs pointed to Boko Haram. The explosives thrown from inside drinks cans and attackers arriving on motorbikes are trademarks of the violent Islamist group, still active in the area. On the same day, a Sunday service at Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) in the Borno State capital Maiduguri came under attack by gunman and five people were killed, including their pastor.

Alliance member Barnabas Fund reported that Boko Haram has killed around 1,000 people since 2009 in its campaign to establish an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria including targeted attacks on police, security forces, and politicians as well as Christians. Boko Haram recently threatened to “strike new fear into the Christians of the power of Islam by kidnapping their women” and demand that their families leave Islamic areas as a ransom.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide advocacy director Andrew Johnson said: “There can no longer be any doubt that Boko Haram is a terrorist organisation utilising violence and threat of violence to bring about its long standing aim of transforming a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state into a country governed by its own interpretation of Shari’a law.”

Many Christians are leaving to go to the Christian south of Nigeria. The chairman of the Yobe State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria said that 95 per cent of Christians have left Yobe “to save their lives from these attacks”. Just days before the attack at Bayero University, Compass Direct News had reported that attackers drove past a site where Christian’s had gathered to watch a football game in Jos and threw explosive devices, at least nine people were injured and another person died following that attack.

Despite the threats raged against them, many Christians are continuing to worship. One member of a church that lost 38 people in a suicide bombing at Easter said: “The Bible teaches me that we should have faith in God. This is our town. This is our home. This is where we should worship.”  Volunteer security guards have taken on roles at the entrance to church compounds to check vehicles for weapons and explosives and patrolling the grounds.

Dr Sookhdeo urged people to continue to pray for Christians in Nigeria, saying: “They very much need our prayers as they courageously continue to gather for worship despite the unrelenting violence.”