We don’t often mention West Africa in these pages, but the civil strife in the oil-rich state of Nigeria which has been simmering away for several years reached new depths last weekend when the islamist group Boko Haram announced a ‘war’ on Christians.  In a statement reported by the Egyptian news network Bikya Masr it said:

We will create so much effort to end the Christian presence in our push to have a proper Islamic state that the Christians won’t be able to stay.

Boko Haram’s name roughly translates as ‘western education is sacrilege’.  In this context, education is used as a metonym for anything Western, since Christian missionaries to the Islamic sultanates in the north of Nigeria used education as an evangelistic tool when the country came under British control in the early 20th century.

Boko Haram has committed a number of atrocities against Christians in the past, notably in the city of Jos where a church was bombed in February.   Over the last 18 months it has also coordinated attacks in other major cities, and last January went on a rampage in Kano where it was able to intimidate the police to such an extent that it went unchallenged.  Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed to crush Boko Haram, yet the security forces seem to have made little progress.

The jihadist group wants to establish Sharia law throughout Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, which politically dominates the rest of West Africa.  This would have huge repercussions on Nigeria’s 61 million Christians as well as the rest of the region.  Boko Haram is not merely Islamist but also radically anti-West, rejecting any western influence or products.  Given the amount of crude oil Nigeria supplies to the West (it is the world’s 8th largest exporter of oil) it is inconceivable that Western powers would not intervene should Boko Haram come close to taking control of the state.

Map of Nigeria showing in green states implementing Sharia law

Like many other West African countries, Nigeria is roughly divided north-south, with the coastal provinces dominated by Christians, and the northern provinces under Moslem control.  All Nigeria’s northern provinces, which have been Moslem for over 1000 years, already use Sharia law, but Boko Haram’s strategy aims at exploiting the deep rifts between the two zones, aggravating the historic tensions between the religions, hoping to divide the state and make it easier to conquer.  A more inclusive government policy aimed at reconciling the two regions and overcoming the sense of alienation in the north, would do much to marginalise Boko Haram.

Many Nigerian Moslem leaders have been vocal in condemning Boko Haram, urging it to take up the path of peace and denying that it represents true Islam, but at some cost.  Boko Haram is content to attack not only Christians and the Nigereian state, but also fellow Moslems who do not support it.

Please pray:

  • for the safety and security of Nigerian Christians;
  • for the Nigerian government to be effective in combating Boko Haram;
  • for peaceful relationships between Moslems and Christians, and particularly for Christians to have the grace to refrain from reacting violently when attacked.