Boko Haram: cost, struggle, hope

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

Nigeria (MNN) — Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says the Boko Haram insurgency is worse than the civil war that broke out in Nigeria in the late 60s.

A million people died during the Biafra war: not from the fighting, but through starvation and illness.

The five-year struggle for control of the country has resulted in a near daily bloodbath. Boko Haram’s aim: to carve out an Islamic state from its bases in the remote northeast. The fighters frequently massacre whole villages, gunning down fleeing residents and burning their homes. Churches have been bombed and explosive devices set to destroy Christian homes and public buildings. Dozens of Christians were killed as they tried to escape into the hills to try to hide in caves.

What’s more, the attacks aren’t staying in the borders of the northeast: they’re now spreading southward. Three bombings in Abuja since April prove that the insurgency isn’t just limited to the north.

Yet, what’s happening to Nigeria has slipped off the front page and out of the mind’s eye. Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleton agrees. “The world paid attention, I think, for a brief window on the kidnapped girls. The girls are still kidnapped, but the world’s attention has kind of moved on.”

More than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April are still being held by Boko Haram, which seeks to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the country’s north. “What they would like to do is very similar to what ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has done: they would like to control territory. They would like to be the religious authorities. They would like to have complete control of the area of Northern Nigeria.”

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

Nettleton adds that the combination of Ramadan (Islam’s holiest month) and the success of radical Islamists elsewhere could embolden Boko Haram because of shared ideology. “I suspect that as they see what ISIS is doing, their wheels are turning and they’re thinking, ‘Maybe we could do that here as well.'”

The group opposes secular education, democracy, taxation, banking, and all aspects of Western culture. “They could make everyone follow Islam and follow the teachings of Mohamed the way they think everyone should.”

However, Nigeria’s government is resisting. The military repelled an attack at a military base in Damboa, in which at least 50 insurgents were killed.

In the chaos, more than 60 girls and women kidnapped in northeast Nigeria last month reportedly fled their captors. While that is good news, the fight might just be getting started. “Boko Haram has not left. They have not laid down their weapons. They continue to be a force of persecution, upheaval, and violence in the country of Nigeria.”

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

(Photo courtesy Voice of the Martyrs)

A case in point: last month, militants attacked a village twice, slaughtering 27 people, many of them Christians. VOM’s medical coordinator in Nigeria broke down in tears when he heard how the 17 children were killed. He and the team are working to provide medical attention for those that were injured in the attack.

Nettleton says this is where support brings comfort. “We can encourage people to pray. We can again remind them that we’re part of the body of Christ together. ‘When you hurt we hurt, and when you need, if there’s something we can provide and a way we can help, we want to do that.'”

However, much of North America’s awareness has turned away from the plight of Nigeria’s Christians. This is where you can help the most, besides praying. “Tell their stories. Remind the American Church, ‘These are our brothers and sisters. They are suffering. We need to be in prayer for them.'”