Christians in Nigeria pray for their Presidential Elections
Nigeria’s presidential elections take place tomorrow, and Nigerian Christians are praying that their new leader will keep them safe from violent persecution.
Muhammadu Buhari, 76, who is seeking re-election, is expected to lose in the Christian-dominated areas of Nigeria due to dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to eradicate Boko Haram’s insurgency and the violence against Christians by Fulani Herdsmen.
Nigerian pastor, Rev. Gideon Para-Mallam, from the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, told us: “Many Christians are very disappointed with Buhari’s administration when it comes to security for all and especially Christians in the Middle Belt, North East and North West.”
Christians have also accused Buhari’s government of inaction in addressing the violence against Christians by predominantly Muslim Fulani cattle herders whose attacks on the indigenous Christian communities of the Middle Belt region have claimed lives of thousands of people. Hundreds of churches and properties have also been destroyed.
The growing desertification has pushed Fulani herdsmen towards the farmlands of the Middle Belt and the fight over land has proved to have a religious context too. Apart from encroaching on the croplands of Christians, Fulani herdsmen armed with sophisticated weapons attack villages and cities, murder entire families, and even burn people alive. In June 2018, around 230 people were killed over just one weekend in Nigeria’s Plateau state. The government often under-reports the number of victims.
Seeking peace and security
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said in August 2018 that the country under President Buhari’s leadership is more divided than ever in Nigeria’s history. CAN criticized Buhari’s government for allowing the perpetrators to act with impunity.
During this year’s electoral campaign, CAN set a panel to interact with some of the presidential candidates and raise the concerns of Christians in Nigeria. Rev. Para-Mallam served in the committee and told the candidates that above all else, Christians desire security: “Christians want to see Leah Sharibu, Alice Ngaddah and the Chibok girls along with several in captivity: Muslims and Christians alike, set free. We want to see a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of this nation to all Nigerians, good governance devoid of corruption”, he said.
According to Open Doors on the ground research, over 2000 Christians were killed because of their faith in Nigeria in 2017 and over 3700 in 2018. However, persecution of Christians in Nigeria is more than violence. In the 12 northern Nigeria states that have adopted Sharia, Christians continue to be denied their constitutionally protected rights. They do not receive the opportunities and protections given to Muslims and face difficulties in accessing education and the jobs market in many sectors.
In the elections of 2015, while Muslims voted in large numbers, Open Doors received reports that many Christians avoided going to the polling stations because they were fearful of violence. Some 100,000 Christians were deprived of their right to vote because they were displaced after escaping from Boko Haram attacks. According to the United Nations migration statistics, some 1.8 million Nigerians are in refugee camps – and the majority of these will be unable to return to the area they escaped from in order to vote.
According to Rev. Para-Mallam, Police and the Army have promised to do everything possible to ensure the security of all citizens in the 16 February elections. One church leader, Ibrahim Bakwe, told us: “Every time elections approach, there is so much fear of the unknown among Christians, because they have been targeted so often.” Please continue to uphold our brothers and sisters in Nigeria at this time in your prayers.
There are 91 million Christians living in Nigeria that make up around 46 per cent of the total population of 196 million. There are a similar number of Muslims in the country – over 90 million.