Nigeria (MNN) — On one hand, Nigeria’s government is vowing to take out all of Boko Haram’s camps before the general elections March 28.
One the other hand, Boko Haram is taunting the government by continuing to raid, bomb, and kidnap with near impunity. Their growing brazenness has led to an aggressive expansion of their so-called caliphate, an Islamic state ruled under a caliph.
A case in point: Boko Haram stepped up cross-border raids and suicide bombings in Niger this week, sending waves of panicked residents into Zinder, Niger’s second-biggest town.
According to the U.S. council on foreign relations, roughly 10,000 people have died in the Islamic uprising over the past year, compared to 2,000 in the previous four years. Although Nigeria’s government has issued tough rhetoric and curfews, its struggle with the group is seen as largely ineffective.
In fact, it feels like the latest government move played right into Boko Haram’s hands. Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton agrees. “I think it’s certainly a win for Boko Haram.”
The general election was originally slated for Saturday, February 14. This week, two suicide bomber attacks and multiple raids forced the issue. Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin have created an alliance of 8,700 troops to defeat Boko Haram. Nigerian officials are concerned about security. Voters will be put at risk, and election workers could have trouble distributing voter cards in the northeast.
Nettleton says, “You want the elections to be safe. You want them not to be marred by widespread attacks. So in that sense, I understand the postponement.”
However, his next thought is one echoed by a watching world. “The challenge, I think, is what’s going to be different six weeks from now? Is it going to be a more stable country? Is Boko Haram going to be defeated in six weeks?”
Despite the 4-country alliance, Boko Haram’s leader remains defiant. The risk Nigeria runs is credibility. “The challenge is: what are we going to do in the next six weeks to make sure the elections [take place] then, because I think if they were delayed again, it would be a real blow to the very idea of democracy in Nigeria.”
In addition to creating a caliphate, Boko Haram has vowed to rid the region of all non-Muslim influence, including Christians. They’ve attacked churches regularly, gone after schools, and slaughtered Christians en masse. Voice of the Martyrs has been increasingly active in Nigeria as a result. Aside from their normal support ministry, they come alongside the persecuted church with tools for evangelism, medical care for victims of attacks, and job training for widows and other affected Christians, and encouragement.
Last month, a conference for VOM frontline ministry workers in northern Nigeria was relocated amid concerns for the workers and their families. The training was for Christian leaders who serve in the northern states of Yobe and Gombe, both states currently under a barrage of Boko Haram attacks.
Several suicide bombs set off in nearby cities and a massive attack in Baga, Nigeria, raised security concerns. Moving the meeting to Bauchi made it possible for the frontline ministry workers to attend training in relative safety.
These frontline workers returned to their homes in Yobe and Gombe fully aware of the increase of terrorist attacks around them, but strengthened and equipped for more ministry through the training conference.
In the next six weeks, Nettleton urges you to pray. Many Gospel workers will continue risking their lives to share the story of Jesus. “We owe them a debt of our prayers and our support, asking God to protect them as well as asking God to give fruit for the work and the ministry that they’re doing.”
Pray that the presidential election will be conducted without violence. Ask God to strengthen the faith of the Christians in Nigeria. Pray that He will change the hearts of Boko Haram extremists.