RLPB 406. Nigeria: 82 girls freed, but terror far from over
— plus Indonesia update: Ahok jailed for ‘blasphemy’
by Elizabeth Kendal
CFF Director of Advocacy
The night of Sunday 13 April 2014 is a night the Christian enclave of Chibok (in Nigeria’s north-east Borno State) will never forget. It was that night Boko Haram militants invaded the town and kidnapped 276 girls from the dormitories of the Government Girls Secondary School [see RLPB 257 (23 April 2014)]. Though 57 girls managed to escape in the hours that followed, 219 were taken deep into the bush. Boko Haram leader Abu Bakr Shekau subsequently threatened to sell the girls as sex slaves and jihadi brides. A week later he released a video showing around 100 captive girls dressed in full Islamic attire, claiming they had converted to Islam. (Timeline) In October 2016 twenty-one Chibok girls were released in exchange for four militant commanders. On Sunday 7 May (2017) 82 Chibok girls were released in exchange for five militant commanders. While we thank and praise God that more than 100 girls have been released in answer to the prayers of many, there is no room for complacency, for the terror is far from over.
We need to pray that the released girls will be returned to their parents very soon. Like the 82 released on 7 May, the 21 girls released in October were transported immediately to the capital, Abuja, for a photo opportunity with President Buhari. In both cases the parents of the released girls had to make the difficult and dangerous 890km, 13-hour drive from Chibok to Abuja just to see their daughters — not to bring them home. The 21 girls released in October are still being held in Abuja, ostensibly for counselling and security screening. Consequently Amnesty International issued an appeal on 7 May, urging the government to ensure all 103 released girls are reunited with their families as soon as possible so as not to add to their suffering.
The Nigerian Church needs prayer for her security and mission. In March 2015 Abu Bakr Shekau pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of the Islamic State (IS), and changed his group’s name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). However, just as al-Qaeda deemed IS too extreme, IS eventually came to deem Shekau too extreme. [In both cases the complaint is that too many Muslims were being killed.] In August 2016 IS named Musab al-Barnawi as the new ‘governor’ of ISWAP. A split ensued and Shekau’s faction re-claimed the name Boko Haram. It seems that all the released girls had been in the custody of ISWAP and that negotiations had commenced soon after the August split. Clearly al-Barnawi decided the girls in his custody should be exchanged for skilled militant commanders, along with (reportedly) millions of dollars. At the time of the August split, al-Barnawi called for ISWAP to focus on combating Nigeria’s Christians by ‘booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all those we find from the citizens of the cross’. Al-Barnawi may now have the money and the skilled militants he needs to launch an operation against the Church.
We need to pray for the remaining captives. Shekau — described by one political analyst in Niger as ‘the pinnacle of barbarism’ — will no doubt continue to use the girls as suicide bombers in mosques and markets across north-east Nigeria and northern Cameroon. Indeed, the rate of bombings has escalated markedly, from 29 female suicide bombers in 2016 to at least 27 in the first three months of 2017, most in the Borno capital, Maiduguri. Shekau’s Boko Haram might be on the back-foot militarily, but it still recruited more than 2000 youths in 2016, and is still holding more than 100 Chibok girls. Intelligence reports indicate it is looking for a Western hostage.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO
* intervene in the capital, Abuja, so the released Chibok girls will be free to return to their families as soon as possible; may all the services the girls need — especially Christian counselling — be made available in Chibok.
* sustain and protect the Church, particularly in Nigeria’s volatile Middle Belt and Muslim-majority north; may Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts) protect and defend his people; and may the Spirit of God bless and empower all front-line ministries through which the Gospel is shared with Fulani and Hausa Muslims.
* pour a spirit of conviction over the churches of the south, so that these free and prosperous churches might not only be awakened to the strategic importance of the Church in the north, but will overflow with sacrificial and generous love for their vulnerable, suffering and imperilled brethren.
* intervene for his precious Church, so that the schemes of the wicked are brought to ruin. Pray Psalm 146 for Nigeria. Excerpts (ESV): ‘Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God … who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free … The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down … he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.’
INDONESIA UPDATE: On Tuesday 9 May, the popular ethnic Chinese Christian former governor of Jakarta, Basuki ‘Ahok’ Tjahaja Purnama was found guilty of ‘blasphemy’ and sentenced to two years in prison. He will appeal the decision. Ahok was taken immediately to Cipinang detention centre in East Jakarta. However, in the early hours of Wednesday morning he was transferred to the National Police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimbob) detention center in Kelapa Dua, Depok, for security reasons. Please pray for Ahok’s safety, and for his lawyers as they prepare the Appeal.
SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
NIGERIA: 82 GIRLS FREED, BUT TERROR FAR FROM OVER
In October 2016 twenty-one Chibok girls were released from captivity in exchange for four militant commanders. On 7 May eighty-two Chibok girls were released in exchange for five militant commanders and reportedly millions of dollars. Boko Haram split in August 2016 and the girls released in October had been in the custody of the Islamic State faction. This faction has declared its intention to focus on bombing Nigeria’s churches. The Chibok girls not yet released are held by the Boko Haram faction which has this year markedly escalated its use of female suicide bombers. Whilst we thank and praise God for the release of the girls, we must not become complacent in our prayers for Nigeria and its Church. The threat is far from over.
Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.
She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and, After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).