Nigerian Christians Brace for Increased Persecution On the Eve of Presidential Elections

By Troy Augustine

3/27/2015 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Nigerians are preparing to vote for president tomorrow amid heightened tensions between Christians and Muslims in a race that currently stands too close to call. Populations of persecuted Christians remain more vulnerable than ever to election-related violence.

Already, dozens have died from clashes between supporters of the opposing candidates: incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south (People’s Democratic Party), and General Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from Nigeria’s north (All Progressive Congress). Nigeria’s Human Rights Commission has reported 58 deaths related to the upcoming vote in the last three months.

Christians are being singled out in the clashes. Sources reported the burning of The Winners Chapel in Giwa, Kaduna State, on March 15 by two Buhari supporters after Pastor David Oyedepo offered his endorsement for Jonathan.

During the last presidential election in 2011, 800 people died across the country from clashes that erupted after the vote, including hundreds of Christians; 700 churches were also burned. This weekend, experts predict that if Jonathan wins, Christians in the north will be targeted in post-election attacks. A Buhari victory will likely spark riots in Nigeria’s southern delta region from where Jonathan hails.

“This level of animosity is concerning,” said Emmanuel Ogebe, Special Council for the Peaceful Polls Project Nigeria 2015. “If Buhari wins, radical Muslims will feel that the great Jihad has come and will attack Christians,” he said. In case of a Jonathan victory, Ogebe said reprisal attacks on Christians would be inevitable.

Islamist terror group Boko Haram promises the weekend will unfold with bloodshed. “We say that these elections that you are planning to do, will not happen in peace, even if that costs us our lives,” the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau threatened through a video entitled “A Message to the Leaders of the Disbelievers.”

One Nigerian Christian in the United States says her family in Borno State lives in fear of attack this weekend. “They are so scared,” Deborah Johnson said. “They are in need of food, assistance, and prayers,” she added. Johnson’s parents spent weeks in the Nigerian bush after Boko Haram militants destroyed their house in December.

Nigerian authorities have closed the country’s land and sea borders beginning last Wednesday until midnight Saturday to prevent foreigners crossing the border to vote. The measure also seeks to enhance security in light of the continuing Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast after postponing the election six weeks from February 14 to March 28.

Boko Haram regularly perpetrates mayhem in Nigeria’s north, especially targeting Christians for mass-murder, barrel-of-the-gun conversion to Islam, abductions, and forced marriage of young girls. Fighters are also reportedly using human shields when under attack from government forces, according to recent reports.

Despite recent military gains dislodging Boko Haram from former strongholds in Manguno, Dikwa, Damasak, and other towns during the past six weeks, polling stations will be enticing targets for Boko Haram to attack where large numbers of people congregate.

Yet, the militant group’s influence transcends just physical violence. Boko Haram’s extreme Islamist ideology has inspired Muslim Fulani herders in central Nigeria to persecute Christians, carrying out frequent attacks on Christian farming communities.  March 13, Fulanis murdered more than 100 Christians in attacks on three villages in Kaduna State.

“This is indicative of an alliance not only with Boko Haram, but is an attempt to destabilize communities prior to the election,” Ogebe said.

With so many threats to Christians throughout Nigeria, the 2015 elections could result in increased persecution for the months to come.

“Continue to pray for peace during the election process in Nigeria. Christians in Nigeria are bracing for the possibility of intensified persecution and this is a terrifying time,” said Troy Augustine, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager of Africa.

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