A University College of London professor who specializes in the study of history and culture of northern Nigeria claims Christians are joining Boko Haram for financial gain.
During a roundtable discussion with fellow researchers at the European Conference on African Studies in Paris earlier this month, professor Murray Last asserted the terrorist organization employs Christians looking to earn a living, according to a soundbite from the event obtained by Radio France International.
"It's quite profitable joining Boko Haram because you not only loot places, but you share the loot out at the end. I think is important to realize is that there are plenty of Christians who are part of Boko Haram because it's a job," Last said during the discussion on the topic titled: "Within and Around Boko Haram in Nigeria."
He further asserted that being a member of Boko Haram was a "good job" and claimed that they could be paid $400 dollars a month without having to engage in any type of combat.
During an interview with The Christian Post, Last defended his claims, saying "I did mean to say that some of those involved with Boko Haram are (said to be) Christian."
"Among those saying so are local Christian men with kinsmen supposedly in Boko Haram and local journalists who report that some Boko Haram [members] taken prisoner by the Nigerian army turned out to be Christians from the south of Nigeria," he continued.
"Furthermore, in talking about the economy of Boko Haram, it is known that some of those trading with Boko Haram are from non-Muslim parts of Nigeria. My general point is that Boko Haram can attract all sorts, including those needing a job or a profit. And they can come from anywhere in Nigeria as well as from outside Nigeria."
Todd Nettleton, the director of media and public relations for Voice of the Martyrs, an organization dedicated to assisting persecuted Christians throughout the world with staff located in Nigeria, challenged Last's claim when asked by CP to comment on the allegation that Christians have willingly joined Boko Haram.
"No number is given, so it's hard to know what his idea of 'plenty' is. I know of no evidence of Christians willingly joining Boko Haram outside of this one person making that claim," Nettleton said.
"The other thing that comes to mind is how quickly Boko Haram announced (with video 'evidence') that the kidnapped Chibok school girls had 'willingly converted' to Islam after their kidnapping. If Boko Haram welcomed Christians, then why would these girls be forced or even encouraged to convert to Islam? And how strong is a person's Christian faith if they would be willing to join a group like Boko Haram that celebrates violence and death?" Nettleton asked.
Nina Shea, an International human rights lawyer and director of the U.S.-based Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, has worked closely with Nigerians who've survived attacks from Boko Haram. Based on what they've told her, Shea said the terrorist group would never tolerate co-existence with Christians.
"I've interviewed Christian survivors who independently tell the same story: Boko Haram gunmen come to their homes and demand that the male head of household convert to Islam on the spot. If they refuse, they are shot dead. I've interviewed female witnesses and a male survivor who was shot in the face," Shea told CP.
"Boko Haram is utterly intolerant of any degree of coexistence with Christians. Its leader Shekau has sworn allegiance to ISIS and rivals ISIS in its brutality toward Christians. ISIS' English propaganda magazine Dabiq recently praised Boko Haram for its practice of making Christian women sex slaves for its jihadists," she added.
Since 2009, Boko Haram has perpetrated the killing of over over 10,000 Nigerians, including thousands of Christians. The group also has used women and children as suicide bombers, according to a recent UNICEF report.
Earlier this month, the terrorist group attempted to strike a deal with the Nigerian government to release more than 200 kidnapped Chibok school girls, who were taken captive in April of last year, in exchange for government detained Boko Haram militant leaders.
An estimated 276 girls were kidnapped, and around 219 are still being held captive after some managed to escape.
Shea, who is close to the negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, has also had contact with some of the escapees who explained to her what it was like to be held captive by the terrorist group.
"I have spoken to several of the Chibok girls who escaped in the first two days and would not be surprised if not all the missing Chibok schoolgirls have survived their ordeal," Shea told CP earlier this month. "Some serious observers suspect that some of the girls are the female suicide bombers that have become common over the past year."
"These girls, most of whom are Christian, have borne unspeakable persecution and every possibility should be pursued to rescue them," added Shea, who believes the Nigerian government should do everything possible to ensure their rescue.