Tags: Nigeria | Christians | BokoHaram

Murder, Forced Conversions Spur Nigerian Christian Exodus

By    |   Tuesday, 20 May 2014 06:08 PM

Long before the jihadist group Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls last month, Christians in northern Nigeria endured years of terror and violence from radical Muslims in the area.

Father John Bakeni was recently sent by his bishop to Gashua, a town near the border with Niger, in an effort to reassure parishioners that the church had not abandoned them. In the three years before he arrived, the overwhelming majority of the local 3,000-member Christian community had fled, leaving only 200 parishioners.

Bakeni, 38, said Islamist terrorists in the region made it clear that the Christian minority is regarded as unwelcome “infidels.”   

“Several times a week I would find a dead animal had been thrown in the compound, usually a chicken, goat or sheep, but sometimes dead cats too,” Bakeni told the London Telegraph. “Stones would get thrown at the church almost every day, and sometimes also people would bang the gates and shout: ‘Infidel, we are going to kill you.’ ”

During his eight-month term at St Joseph's, which concluded last summer, Bakeni buried four of his parishioners who had been murdered by Boko Haram. The violence and intimidation took a heavy psychological toll on the remaining Christians.

Most of the assaults targeting his compound came from male students at local madrassas who are required to spend several years supporting themselves by begging for alms, Bakeni said. That creates a pool of impoverished youths who are easily recruited into Boko Haram.

The combination of Boko Haram’s violence and intimidation and the ineptitude of Nigerian security forces in protecting them have left many Christians believing they have no choice but to get out.

In northeastern Nigeria, many predominantly Christian neighborhoods have become veritable  ghost towns as tens of thousands of residents flee south.

“The extent of the attacks, both physically and psychologically, is tantamount to a human-rights disaster,” according to John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need, an international organization that highlights the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.

“Nigerian Christians are undergoing some of the worst suffering the 21st century has seen, yet the world see[m]s to turn a blind eye,” Pontifex added.

In some instances, Boko Haram has offered to spare Christians who agree to convert to Islam – for a terrible price, the Telegraph reported. By allowing some victims to live, the terrorists seek to create a traumatized cadre of witnesses to educate their neighbors about what awaits them if they challenge the Islamists in any way.

In one attack that killed 25 people last year in Nigeria’s northeastern Adamawa state, armed militants told Rifatu Bila, the wife of a local politician, that she could live if she converted to Islam.

They then executed Bila’s husband in front of her.

Like Mrs. Bila, another terrorism victim who was spared execution was "Andrew," a wheelchair-bound employee of St Joseph's Minor Seminary, a Catholic school attacked in March. Gunmen wheeled Andrew around the campus, forcing him watch as they blew up classrooms and a chapel and executed four of his colleagues. He was warned that his Christian faith put him in direct danger.

Thus far, Nigerian Christians, who comprise close to half the national population, have refrained from responding in kind. But church officials have warned that restraint can no longer be guaranteed if the security forces do not act.

"The church leadership has hitherto put great restraint on the restive and aggrieved millions of Nigerians, but can no longer guarantee such cooperation if this trend of terror is not halted immediately," said Ayo Oritsejafor, leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria said recently.

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Long before the jihadist group Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls last month, Christians in northern Nigeria endured years of terror and violence from radical Muslims in the area.
Nigeria, Christians, BokoHaram
Tuesday, 20 May 2014 06:08 PM
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