A statement from Boko Haram in August 2016 declared the group would focus on “blowing up every church that we are able to reach and killing all of those who we find from the citizens of the cross”. But for the last seven years, Boko Haram has waged a war against believers in north-east Nigeria, torching villages and churches, abducting Christian women and girls for forced marriage to jihadists, and slaughtering believers – aiming to establish an Islamic caliphate, like that declared by Islamic State in Iraq in 2014, to whom Boko Haram have pledged allegiance. While previously Boko Haram had also targeted Muslims viewed as non-devout, and Western-style schools, the August statement focuses solely on Christians, who have always been a main target.
Last year saw a new wave of Muslim violence across the country. The wife of a pastor was beheaded for supposedly insulting Islam, while another pastor’s wife was murdered as she shared the Gospel in her neighbourhood, and a Christian man was stabbed for not observing the Ramadan fast. Attacks by Fulani Muslim herdsmen aimed at forcing Christians from their land have escalated, with the government perceived to be rewarding their violence by proposing a bill protecting Fulani grazing rights.
Nigeria’s southern states are largely Christian, whilst Muslims are in the majority in the north, where twelve states have instituted elements of sharia. Thousands of Christians have fled north-east Nigeria because of Boko Haram’s attacks and are living in often terrible conditions in neighbouring countries or in camps within Nigeria itself. Christian leaders have highlighted President Buhari’s failure to clearly condemn anti-Christian violence and his disproportionate appointment of Muslims to political posts.
Pray for the hundreds of thousands of Nigerian Christians who have been forced from their homes by anti-Christian violence. Ask that God will be their comfort and strength in the midst of great uncertainty. Give thanks that some of the school-girls kidnapped from Chibok in 2014 have been freed, although many others remain in forced marriages to Boko Haram fighters; ask that God will give them hope and that those released will be healed from physical and psychological trauma.