Violence in Northeastern Nigeria Increasing Again
After a brief lull in violence following the announcement of a state of emergency in three Northern Nigerian states, violent incidents have surged over the past few months. The militant Islamist sect Boko Haram is suspected of killing at least 110 people of various faiths across Nigeria during the last week of September prompting the country’s top Catholic bishop to declare that the rebel movement “has no limits.”
On Thursday, Sept. 26, gunmen murdered Rev. Augustine Yohana, a Catholic priest, and two of his sons in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Yobe, before setting their home and church building ablaze. The Nigerian news service Daily Trust quoted one of Yoahana’s surviving sons, Ibrahim, as saying the gunmen arrived in their town of Garinbaba in the middle of the night, “woke us up, asked us to lie down in front of the church, tied our hands with rope and said they are security personnel on search mission.”
Though no arrests have yet been made, a Christian leader in the area told World Watch Monitor that the attackers were members of Boko Haram. “My life and that of many other Christians in the state are in danger. We are only hoping that the government will take necessary measures to stop these endless killings,” he said.
In the neighboring northeastern state of Borno, suspected Boko Haram attackers raided the town of Gamboru twice. Six people were killed during the first attack, on the night of Wednesday, Sept. 25. The second incident, late the following day, left a further 21 dead.
On Saturday, Sept 28 in the central state of Kaduna, gunmen raided the town of Zangang in the early-morning hours, leaving 15 dead villagers and numerous burned homes in their wake. Hundreds of residents fled the village. Guardian News Nigeria cited a survivor of the attack as saying most of the victims were young people on their way into the farm fields. The Northern States Governors Forum has said it suspects Boko Haram of the attack.
Less than 24 hours later, at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept 29 nearly 30 gunmen stormed the Agricultural College campus in Gujba, Yobe state. They roused the sleeping students, gathered them all together, and opened fire. News accounts vary about the number of students killed, initially putting the death toll between 40 and 50, but later increasing it to 65. Several other students were injured, and narrowly avoided flying bullets as they fled into the surrounding countryside. Some of the college buildings were also set on fire.
The Agricultural College had been closed along with other area schools following the July 6 attack at Mamudo School outside Damaturu in which 29 pupils and a teacher were killed. A few weeks ago, the state commissioner for education, Mohammed Lamin, urged all schools to reopen and promised protection from soldiers and police. President Goodluck Jonathan called the Sept 29 attack, which came just a few days after the school re-opened, “the creation of the devil.”
“They started gathering students into groups outside, then they opened fire and killed one group and then moved onto the next group and killed them. It was so terrible,” a witness recalled. “They came with guns around 1 am and went directly to the male hostel and opened fire on them …. The college is in the bush so the other students were running around helplessly as guns went off and some of them were shot down,” said Ahmed Gujunba, a taxi driver who lives by the college.
After visiting with hospitalized victims Sunday, a tearful Yobe Gov. Ibrahim Gaidam implored Nigerian security forces to improve vigilance in combatting the violence. On Monday, Msgr. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, archbishop of Jos and president of the Bishops Conference of Nigeria, issued a statement that noted most of the victims of the attack at the college were Muslim. “In the beginning the aim of Boko Haram was to attack Christians in order to destabilize the community. But now the ferocity of the members of this movement has no limits to the point of slaughtering even those who should be their fellow Muslims,” Kaigama said through the Catholic news service Agenzia Fides. “Boko Haram has made further progress in the sophistication and ferocity of their attacks but it is now made up of fanatics who have lost their original goal.”
The leadership of Boko Haram has declared its intention to wipe out Nigerian democracy and replace it with an Islamic state guided by sharia law.
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of Christian Association of Nigeria, joined others in condemning the killings and urging the federal government to intensify efforts to stop the Islamic insurgents whose violent campaign has left thousands dead in the northern parts of the country.
“There is fear and apprehension in the length and breadth of this nation,” Oritsejafor said at a service marking Nigeria’s 53 years of independence, “but Jesus said, ‘Take courage.'”
Father, we bring before You the violence of Boko Haram as it seeks to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. The government seems powerless to bring about justice and stability in the region; we call on You to grant them godly wisdom and strength and the determination to establish peace. We pray for the many people who have fled their homes and villages; sustain and protect them. We pray for Your church that has borne the brunt of the violence. Protect them and grant the leaders extraordinary wisdom, discernment and courage as they respond to the unrelenting attacks and continue to minister in the midst of danger. We pray for the victims of recent attacks and the families who have lost loved ones, both Christian and Muslim. In the midst of the terror, may You turn the hearts of many Muslims to the light of the gospel of Christ. We know that in all things You work “for the good of those who love [You], who have been called according to [Your] purpose.” May the suffering and death of those You love in Nigeria not be in vain, but serve to establish Your purposes there, to bring many to faith. In the name of Jesus who suffered and died that we might live forever in glory, Amen.