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 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’.
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.”
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.
“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.
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
What if? is a six-part resource for small groups. You can work through it remotely online or together in person - and it’s completely free! It features videos, challenges, Bible studies and prayer pointers.
Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.