Boko Haram Violence Cripples Christianity in Areas of Nigeria’s Borno State

Thousands flee attacks; public worship impossible for some who remain.

EYN church building in Maiduguri, Borno state after destruction. (Morning Star News via Z. Bulus, EYN)

EYN church building in Maiduguri, Borno state after destruction. (Morning Star News via Z. Bulus, EYN)

JOS, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremist Boko Haram insurgents have driven thousands of Christians from areas of Borno state, with some of those remaining unable to hold worship services, church leaders said.

Boko Haram attacks that killed at least 150 members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria, or EYN) in the past 10 months have caused 8,000 Christians to flee, EYN leaders said.

“Most of our church members affected by these attacks have fled to other communities, and they are in desperate need for help,” said the Rev. Daniel Yumuna, Jos district secretary for the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria.

Militants from the Islamic extremist group destroyed 15 places of worship belonging to EYN, which is the dominant denomination in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in northeastern Nigeria with 180,000 members.

The Rev. Filibus Gwama, former president of Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. (Morning Star News via EYN)

The Rev. Filibus Gwama, former president of Church of the Brethren in Nigeria. (Morning Star News via EYN)

Boko Haram, based in Borno state, has killed at least 900 Christians in the past year in its stated campaign to establish strict sharia (Islamic law) throughout the country, according to the Hudson Institute.

Filibus Gwama, former president of the EYN, told Morning Star News that a Sept. 27 attack by Boko Haram on his community, Gavva West in Gwoza District, forced many Christians to flee to neighboring Cameroon.

“Five members from my village who escaped from the attackers said seven of our Christian members were killed in the attack, and two of them were children, ages 6 and 8,” Gwama said.

Yumuna and Gwama said 75 houses were burned in the attack on the Christian community near the border of Cameroon. They said it was the 10th attack on Gavva West village this year.

Another attack on Barawa, also in Borno’s Gwoza District, devastated local churches, EYN leaders said.

“One church member was killed, three EYN churches were burned, and 19 houses were destroyed, including the house of our pastor,” Yumuna told Morning Star News. “The Boko Haram gunmen forced about 8,000 people out of Barawa area and set fire on nine churches, while 400 houses were destroyed.”

The Rev. Samuel Dante Dali, president of EYN, says in a denomination report that church services have become impossible in some areas.

“They attacked Christians from house to house and burned almost every church in the Gwoza and Gavva areas,” Dali states in the report. “Most of the EYN church is in these areas are close to Cameroon. About 2,000 of our church members have fled to Cameroon as refugees.”

EYN members are continually praying, Dali states.

“And sometimes we are very confused and depressed because there’s not much you can do,” he adds. “The church cannot mobilize and provide security. The resources aren’t there. And sometimes you can’t have a church service at all. Worship is out of the question in some places.”

Dali notes that Islamic extremists from other countries have joined Boko Haram.

“In the recent attack that happened, the armed men came from Cameroon, Niger and Chad, and joined together with Nigerian terrorists to attack Maiduguri,” he states. “The terrorists are not only Nigerians. They are from the neighboring countries. And of course from Mali. Most of them are trained in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.”

Boko Haram has targeted Christians as well as government, police and military installations in its effort to destabilize the government and impose sharia nationwide. The group, whose name translates roughly to “Western education is a sin,” has stated that the sole purpose of its campaign of violence is to establish an “Islamic state like during the time of Prophet Muhammad,” though the U.S. Department of State has insisted that the group is motivated by poverty and marginalization.

Advocacy group Jubilee Campaign has stated that Boko Haram uses religion as its primary recruiting tool, and that statements by the Islamic extremist group’s leaders reveal their motive for violence is “unambiguously waging Jihad.”

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million and live mainly in the south, while Muslims account for 45 percent and reside primarily in the north, according to Operation World.

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