Persecution against Nigerian Christians continued from September into October, with fresh attacks in northeastern Nigeria’s Borno State. Mark Lipdo, the director of the Stefanos Foundation, a watchdog group based in Jos, told WORLD that Islamic militants burned more than 50 houses and vehicles and killed one man during the violent spree. This attack is only the most recent conducted by terrorist group Boko Haram.
The group, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” has said it will not stop its attacks until the Nigerian government institutes Sharia law across the entire country. Militants struck villages in Gwoza, behind the Mandara Mountains, around 8 p.m. Sept. 26, burning two Church of the Brethren (EYN) churches and killing one congregation’s pastor. Gwoza is the local government area of Borno State and about 80 miles south of Maiduguri, the headquarters for Boko Haram and the state’s capital.
Boko Haram killed about 800 people in hundreds of attacks last year. The U.S. State Department has named the group the second-most dangerous terrorist organization in the world. At the UN General Assembly, President Barack Obama’s first meeting was with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, and Obama called Boko Haram “one of the most vicious terrorist organizations in the world.” But despite the numbers and the president’s statement, the United States has failed to name the organization as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and violence against Christians has only increased.
Jonathan promised earlier this week, in a televised speech marking Nigeria’s 53rd year of independence from Britain, he would begin a national dialogue to heal what he deems an ethnically and religiously divided nation. “These may not be the best of times,” he said. “Our people are divided in many ways—ethnically, religiously, politically, and materially. I cannot hide from this reality.”
The attack in Gwoza took place in an area called Gava West, behind the Mandara Hills near Cameroon’s border. Militants killed another 7 people and left more houses burned. After the attack, villagers tried to escape to nearby Cameroon. Fleeing victims said they met a Boko Haram roadblock and only people behind the hills were allowed passage.
Boko Haram also attacked Christians and the EYN Church in Kogum. Militants burned 17 houses behind the Mandara Hills. This area has long been home to Borno State’s minority Christians, and the increase in attacks has raised doubts about the success of the state of emergency the government imposed on three northeastern states in May.
The attacks continued through the weekend, but a lack of media coverage showed the glaring difference between attention paid to attacks targeting Christians and attacks on non-sectarian targets. Media coverage focused on more than 60 students killed when dozens of gunmen attacked an agricultural college in northeastern Nigeria in the early morning hours of Sept. 29. Reports largely ignored the increasing atrocities and fear tactics used by Boko Haram, as gunmen tied villagers to trucks and dragged them to their deaths, hunted and gunned down students who fled the college attack, and burned families from their homes.
Nigeria’s nearly 170 million people and 250 ethnic groups are split almost evenly between Islam, which dominates in the north, and Christianity, which is more prevalent in the south.