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Nigeria's May Day: Northern Christians Cry for Help

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BOKO HARAM
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Last Thursday marked another dark day in the bloody history of my country. The May Day blast in my nation's capital, Abuja, killed at least 19 innocent Nigerians going about their day-to-day life, just days before this weeks' World Economic Forum on Africa began. Unfortunately, this day joins a series of others in what is becoming a story of personal tragedy, political failure and potentially, regional calamity.

Thursday's bomb blast was only metres away from the site of a terrorist attack on the Nyanya bus station, which killed more than seventy people less than three weeks before. The same day as that attack, more than two hundred teenage schoolgirls, who were preparing to sit their final exams, were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Secondary School in Borno State. This week, a further 11 girls have been kidnapped from the same locality and hundreds more have been murdered in the border village of Gamboru Ngala, Borno State.

Western readers are increasingly familiar with many of the details of these attacks. The Abuja bombings have received coverage in the international media, as has the plight of the missing schoolgirls, which - following a global social media campaign - has been brought to the attention of millions. It is only right that these outrageous atrocities garner the attention of the world, especially considering Nigeria's position as Africa's most populous country and largest economy.

But what many will probably not be aware of is the plight of Northern Nigeria's Christian population and the threat they face on a daily basis. This week, Abubakar Shekau, the leader and spokesperson of Boko Haram, the terrorist group responsible, restated the group's primary targets remain Christians. In addition, the group have been actively encouraging other Muslims to join their campaign of violence against Christians in their local communities.

Northern States Christian Elders Forum (NOSCEF) is a Christian non-governmental organisation based in Northern Nigeria. As Chair of NOSCEF, I know first hand of Boko Haram's brutal violence against our community. The villages attacked in Chibok are predominantly Christian. The schoolgirls that were kidnapped are too, predominantly Christian. The village of Gamboru Ngala, are again, predominantly Christian.

Many of our Muslim neighbours have also been killed or lost loved ones for not adopting to Boko Haram's extremist beliefs. Amnesty International recently reported that so far this year, the conflict between the Nigerian state and Boko Haram has cost 1,500 lives.

Both churches and mosques have been destroyed. Thousands of houses, businesses and schools razed to the ground. Entire communities forced to flee their homes because they have rejected the Islamic sects extremist doctrine.

Neither are the effects of Boko Haram's terrorism limited to the North-East. Government agencies have stated that 3 million Nigerians have been displaced because of the violence. Boko Haram's crimes - and the surge of refugees they have created - have spread a wave of instability across Northern Nigeria and the country as a whole. Tensions have risen within communities - from East to West, from the North, slowly creeping South - as extremists answer their call to join their campaign of jihad.

Approximately six months ago, NOSCEF members in Taraba State - more than 500kms from the violence in the North-East - began to raise concerns following the arrival of a sudden and unprecedented influx of people from outside the region who gave the appearance of cattle herders. Unlike the cattle herders they are accustomed to, this new group travelled without family, arrived outside of the normal seasonal movements and were armed with sophisticated weaponry. Shortly after their arrival, attacks against Christians increased.

Since January this year there have been numerous reports of violence in Taraba State against the Christian population at the hands of heavily armed Islamic extremists. Hundreds of members of that Christian community have been murdered and thousands more forced from their homes. The Islamist extremists destroyed their villages, their farms and their churches.

We pray that God will help our security forces bring Boko Haram's campaign of hate to a swift end before the whole country is sucked into a religious war, but we also look to the international community for their solidarity.

NOSCEF welcomes the support from both prime minster David Cameron and president Barack Obama. Nigerians are proud people. We are able to take care of our own problems and often are the first to offer assistance to other African neighbours. But we are desperate and we are fighting for our lives. We cannot let evil triumph.

President Jonathan has requested the international community's assistance - for the sake of peaceful Nigerians of all ethnicities and religions across the country - please answer our cry for help and stand with us to #StopBokoHaram.

Around the Web

BBC News - Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram Islamists? - BBC.com

Who is Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau? - CNN.com

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Boko Haram | World news | The Guardian

Boko Haram 'to sell' abducted schoolgirls - Africa - Al Jazeera English

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Nigeria's Boko Haram: Who Are They and What Do They Want?