Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - What does Boko Haram leader’s death mean for Christians in Nigeria? - Open Doors UK & Ireland
09 June 2021

What does Boko Haram leader’s death mean for Christians in Nigeria?

Following the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, Open Doors contacts comment on what this means for persecuted Christians in Nigeria.

The leader of Boko Haram has been confirmed dead, but it is unlikely that attacks will diminish

The leader of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has been confirmed to have been killed. Initial reports of his death emerged a few weeks ago, but had not been confirmed until yesterday.

The Nigerian government have previously claimed to have killed Shekau on several occasions – his death is believed to be suicide, after a battle with Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). The BBC reports that ISWAP fighters ‘hunted down the warlord and offered him the chance to repent and join them’, and that Shekau ‘killed himself instantly by detonating an explosive’.

How are Christians in Nigeria responding to the news?

Boko Haram are responsible for the attack and murder of many Christians in northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries Cameroon and Chad – but the news of Shekau’s death is not being welcomed by Christians in the area.

"There are many lamenting the loss of an opportunity for justice for the many thousands of victims." Illia Djadi, Open Doors spokesperson

“This is not good news,” says Illia Djadi, Open Doors’ senior analyst for work in sub-Saharan Africa. “More than 40,000 people have been killed and two million displaced in this insurgency that spans north east Nigeria, south west Chad and northern Cameroon. People have been expectantly waiting for him to be arrested and put on trial. There are many lamenting the loss of an opportunity for justice for the many thousands of victims.”

Will life get easier for Nigerian Christians?

Sadly, the death of Shekau is not likely to change the terrible persecution faced by believers in these communities – nor should it be seen as the end of Boko Haram.

“Boko Haram is a dragon with many heads, so to speak,” continues Djadi. “Just like when the founder, Malam Yusuf, died the group did not disappear, someone else will take over from Shekau and seek to continue its activities.”

More concerning still is the fact that ISWAP are responsible for Shekau’s death. ISWAP is a breakaway, rival faction of Boko Haram, that split when Shekau became leader in 2016. It is also an affiliate of so-called Islamic State (IS). ISWAP now have access to a large number of fighters, weapons and territory – which is very dangerous for Christians in the area. “Shekau was seen by IS as causing division through his attacks on Muslims. ISWAP’s preferred target are Christians,” says Djadi.

More attacks on Nigerian church anticipated

“The Nigerian church is anticipating more pressures as a result of this,” adds Isaac M,* an Open Doors researcher for West Africa. “Most of the recent abductions in north west and central regions of Nigeria have been carried out by the ISWAP faction. There is an expectation that ISWAP may incorporate members of Shekau factions.

“The ISWAP have lots of trained members from North Africa whose presence in the country increases violent attacks and brutal killings of church leaders, church members and citizens in general in northern Nigeria.”

Attacks are even spreading into southern Nigeria, long considered a safer part of the country for Christians. “We have evidence that, in some cases in southern Nigeria, they have infiltrated and camouflaged as Fulani militants,” explains Isaac M.

A call for prayer

Amina knows more than most what Boko Haram are capable of – they murdered her husband and, in a subsequent attack, kidnapped Amina and held her captive for eight months. She has a simple request for Open Doors supporters: “I want believers to pray for Nigeria for an end to this menace that is happening in Nigeria. Not only Boko Haram, but other attackers – in every state in northern Nigeria, nowhere is safe. I pray for God to intervene.”

"I want believers to pray for Nigeria for an end to this menace." Amina, Nigeria

Please join with Amina by remaining in prayer for Nigeria and its neighbouring countries, which are all being affected by Islamic militant violence. Pray for the Lord’s protection over His children and that He will continue to give them hope and strength. Pray for protection over the work of Open Doors partners in the region, and that they will be able to provide the presence and encouragement to our brothers and sisters that they desperately need. Pray for the government to act decisively and transparently in this fight against the radicals.

*Name changed for security reasons

Please pray
  • That God will protect His children in Africa, giving them hope and strength
  • That Open Doors local partners will be equipped to give encouragement and support
  • For an end to Islamic militant violence in Nigeria and its neighbouring countries, and that persecutors should turn from their evil and seek Jesus.
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