With Nigeria’s presidential elections looming, Nigerian Christians are wondering whether the outcome will keep them safe from violent persecution.
Presidential and parliamentary elections were due to take place on Saturday 16 February, but just five hours before the polls were due to open, the Independent National Electoral Commission postponed them by a week.
Muhammadu Buhari, 76, who is seeking re-election, is expected to lose support in the Christian-dominated areas of Nigeria due to dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to eradicate Boko Haram’s insurgency and the violence against Christians by Fulani Herdsmen.
Nigerian pastor, Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam, from the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, told Open Doors: “Many Christians are very disappointed with Buhari’s administration when it comes to security for all and especially Christians in the Middle Belt, North East and North West.”
Christians want security
Rev. Para-Mallam said that above all else, Christians desire security: “Christians want to see Leah Sharibu, Alice Ngaddah and the Chibok girls along with several in captivity: Muslims and Christians alike, set free.”
Leah Sharibu was among some 100 girls kidnapped from a school in Dapchi, north-eastern Nigeria a year ago. All the other girls were released, but Leah remains in captivity because she is a Christian and refused to convert to Islam.
Buhari’s government has been accused of inaction in addressing the violence by predominantly Muslim Fulani cattle herders against the indigenous Christian communities of the Middle Belt region. Fulani herdsmen armed with sophisticated weapons attack villages and cities, murder entire families, and even burn people alive. In June 2018, around 230 people were killed over just one weekend in Nigeria’s Plateau state.
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Violence and attacks
Open Doors Senior Policy Advisor Dr Matthew Rees explains: “Over the four years of Buhari’s presidency, the Nigerian army has been relatively successful in driving the Islamic group away from some territories it had occupied. However, despite the claims that Boko Haram has been defeated, it continues to subject Christians to deadly attacks. These attacks have been stepped up in the run-up to the elections.”
In the elections of 2015, while Muslims voted in large numbers, Open Doors received reports that many Christians avoided going to the polling stations because they were fearful of violence. According to Rev. Para-Mallam, Police and the Army have promised to do everything possible to ensure the security of all citizens in the 16 February elections.
One church leader, Ibrahim Bakwe, told Open Doors: “Every time elections approach, there is so much fear of the unknown among Christians, because they have been targeted so often.”
A divided country
Meanwhile, Nigeria remains a divided country. The majority of Christians live in the south of the country, where their religious freedom is respected. But in the north of Nigeria and the Middle Belt, Christians are in the minority, and they face high levels of persecution by various Islamic groups. Open Doors research indicates that over 2000 Christians were killed because of their faith in Nigeria in 2017 and over 3700 in 2018.
However, persecution of Christians in Nigeria is more than violence. In the 12 northern Nigeria states that have adopted Sharia (islamic Law), Christians continue to be denied their constitutionally protected rights. They do not receive the opportunities and protections given to Muslims and face difficulties in accessing education and the jobs market in many sectors.
Despite his claims to the contrary, many observers believe Buhari is pursuing an Islamic agenda.
“He tries to deny it but his appointments especially in the security apparatus are virtually filled with Muslims,” said Rev. Para-Mallam. “I personally do not like religious politics or injecting the element of religion into our politics but Buhari has made this worse.”
STAND WITH YOUR CHURCH FAMILY IN NIGERIA
Nigeria is number 12 on the Open Doors World Watch List ranking the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Open Doors partners with the local church to strengthen persecuted believers in Nigeria with training, community development, emergency relief, trauma care and legal assistance.
Could you give £64 today to provide an emergency relief pack for a displaced Christian in northern Nigeria? This help could include emergency food, clothing and blankets.
Your support and prayers are vital for our persecuted church family in northern Nigeria. Rev Danjuma from northern Nigeria recently told us, “Open Doors is an organisation that identifies with the persecuted church holistically, meeting both our spiritual, physical and economic needs. Without your assistance many of us will die of hunger. Widows who get the school fees support would not have been able to send their children to school if not for your support. Your support has rekindled our hope and strengthened our faith in God.”