- (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
Christian groups are calling for action and fighting back across Africa as hundreds are dead and close to 200,000 people remain exiled from their homes following over two years of isolated violence by Islamic terror sect Boko Haram, the same group that killed dozens of people in Christmas Day attacks on churches.
At least 160,000 people – mostly Christians – have fled the northeastern cities of Damaturu and Maiduguri following particularly violent attacks over the last two months.
Ibrahim Farinloye, northeast coordinator for the National Emergency Management Agency, spoke to reporters about the exiled masses.
"Around 40,000 of this figure is from the Pompomari area, where the whole neighborhood has been deserted. Some of the displaced have lost their homes, while others just fled for their security," he said.
Displaced people have few good options to escape the increasing violence in the region.
"We advised the displaced against moving into any temporary camp for security reasons, therefore most of them are sheltering in the homes of friends and relatives in the city and neighboring villages," Farinloye said.
The Nigerian government has done little to protect communities from Boko Haram's attacks. This is the second consecutive year of Christmas Day violence (close to 40 people were killed in a church bombing in Jos last year), and Christian organizations are looking to help themselves.
Pastor William Kumuyil, General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, a massive church congregation in Lagos, spoke at a church retreat this week about the need for action in addition to prayer.
“Nigerians like prayers but prayers alone will not move the country to the preferred destination,” Kumuyil said. “All we need to do is work and pray.”
“In this coming year, our mission should be to learn from our mistakes of the past, put our heads and mind together and resolve that we (Nigerians) will solve our problems ourselves because foreign countries cannot do it for us,” he added.
Boko Haram typically targets religious and government buildings, and often use homemade explosives and indiscriminate gunfire. Few attacks exceed more than a dozen fatalities, but the frequency of fighting has increased to several attacks per week throughout Nigeria.
The inability to determine when and where Boko Haram will strike has both Christian and Muslim residents – particularly those in northern Nigeria – fearing for their lives. Although the government has sent troops to major cities, their presence has resulted in only a few arrests of low profile militants.
The ineptitude of law enforcement has residents looking for help wherever, and however, they can get it.
On Thursday, over 10,000 people paraded in Zonkwa, which lies in the embattled Kaduna state, calling for peace and requesting help to snuff out Boko Haram.
The Rev. Sunday Ibrahim, Chairman of the local Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) organization, told the crowd it would have to be vigilant about removing the sect.
“Christians and all those who believe in peace must speak up against terrorism. If you don’t stand up against terrorism, one day you would stand on the Judgment Day and face your Creator,” Ibrahim said.
Some Christian organizations, including CAN, are not certain Boko Haram will listen to threats from the government or be moved by prayer requests. The growing belief is that without immediate intervention, the country may slip into prolonged civil war.
“The Christian community is fast losing confidence in the government’s ability to protect our rights to religious liberties and life,” a CAN statement released this week read. “The consensus is that the Christian community nationwide would be left with no other option than to respond appropriately if there are any further attacks on our members, churches and properties.”
“It is considered as a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria as an entity,” the statement said.
War is exactly what Boko Haram wants, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell told the Daily Mail. He added that the sect is “seeking to provoke retaliatory attacks [by Christians] on Muslims in predominantly Christian parts of the country.”
The threat of war certainly worries domestic and international advocacy groups already struggling with providing options for thousands of displaced Nigerians in Africa’s most populous country.