By Andrew E. Harrod, PhD, JD, Esq.
A delegation of Nigerian Christians visited the Washington, DC offices of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) this past Wednesday, December 12, 2012. Led by Dr. Musa Asake, the general secretary of the ecumenical Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Nigerians were in the American capital in order to discuss persecution of Nigerian Christians by the Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram (BH, translated as “Western education is sin”). The delegation presented chilling accounts of life for Christians amidst Islamist terror and called for action lest the violence only grow, engulfing Nigeria.
Asake described BH’s murderous attacks on Christians in northern Nigeria, with the initial goal of eradicating a Christian presence there. The historic long-term Islamification of the once Christian Maghreb, meanwhile, shows just how far BH’s ambitions could reach. BH uses silent nighttime killings with knives as well as firearms to massacre Christians. Asake expressed the fear that “you cannot sleep with your eyes closed” in northern Nigeria. Churches there must now surround themselves with barriers in order to prevent vehicle-borne attacks. Moreover, now northern Nigeria’s “children see dead bodies,” a troubling assault on their innocence.
Asake noted that Christians have the ability to retaliate in kind with, for example, bombings of Muslim public gatherings. Yet Christian leaders in northern Nigeria have counseled that it is wrong “to take the law into your own hands” and have invoked the injunction of Romans 12:19 that “vengeance is of the Lord.” Despite being “very patient”, though, northern Nigeria’s Christians “are human beings.”
Asake noted that Jesus, undergoing arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, told his followers to put away their swords, not break them. Asake’s associate Richard Erhiawarien of the Christian aid society, Adonai Partners, noted as well that there are other passages in the Bible justifying, if not vengeance, then self-defense. Any such taking up of arms, however, risks civil war in a Nigeria with a population estimated to be 50% Muslim, 40% Christian, and 10% followers of indigenous faiths. The last civil war in Nigeria, the delegation warned, was the 1967-1970 Biafra conflict with at least a million dead in a country with a far smaller population.
To avoid such a bloody outcome, the delegation called for increased pressure upon BH, particularly through a Department of State designation of the organization as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The American religious freedom organization Jubilee Campaign has launched a petition drive calling for this designation, but so far the petition has only 841 of the 25,000 necessary before the White House will even consider the petition. Among other things, FTO status would enable the United States to restrict the flow of funds purchasing BH’s weapons such as AK-47 assault rifles. Other nations might then follow an American lead in defining BH as a terrorist organization, particularly in light of BH having killed the citizens of nine countries.
The delegation also called for observers in the media and elsewhere to abandon their “distorted” view of BH as a “secular” organization responding to grievances such as underdevelopment. BH, the delegation noted, attacks churches but not mosques, aggression not explainable by poverty.
Citing the film Antwone Fisher, Asake concluded by asking, “Who will cry for the Christians of Nigeria?” Succumbing to tears, Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian Christian lawyer working with Jubilee Campaign, similarly described the situation in his home country as “overwhelming.” Ogobe asked, “If there was no America, where would we turn to?” Asake’s earlier comments, meanwhile, expressed faith in the ultimate source of all succor. “I just pray,” he said, “that the Lord intervenes today.” Fittingly, IRD’s Luke Moon, an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, closed the briefing in prayer.