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Is the violence in Nigeria about to get even worse?

May 6, 2022 by Abigail Hart in Persecution updates

An ‘unholy handshake’

That’s what Nigerian officials are calling the new alliances between violent extremist groups—such as Boko Haram, Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), Fulani herdsmen, bandits and gangs. The groups are reportedly coming together, coordinating their attacks on Christians and anyone who does not adhere to their strict interpretation of Islam.

And because of this, our brothers and sisters in West Africa face even greater threats than ever.

Recent attacks in Nigeria’s Kaduna State, including on a train travelling from Abuja and Kaduna International Airport as well as battles with government forces even has some officials suggesting cooperation between extremist groups in Nigeria. Following mass killings in Plateau State, State Information Ministry Lai Mohammed told reporters the attacks were a result of “a kind of unholy handshake between bandits and Boko Haram insurgents.”

Usman Yusuf, a member of the Northern Elders Forum who in the last few weeks dared to venture deep into forest hideouts to visit with groups of bandits in several parts of the country, told a national broadcaster he feared “that the marriage between ISWAP fighters and bandits would be the most lethal threat to the existence of Nigeria.”

Yusuf pointed to the nature of recent attacks on government installations and public systems in Kaduna State that show these bandits have joined forces with the Islamist State of the West African Province.

“The moment we saw that (Kaduna) train attack, we knew this was not the job of the ragtag bandits we met; this is the modus operandi of ISWAP. What we’ve been scared would happen has happened; the unholy alliance between bandits and ISWAP.

“Nigerians need to take a deep breath; we are in a very serious situation. The security situation in this country has gone out of hand.”

Almost 1,900 killed in three months

Over the last five years, attacks and kidnappings by bandits and gangs have increased exponentially.

Between January 1 and March 31 this year, almost 1,900 Nigerians have been killed in these attacks in the first three months of 2022. The UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has also stated that because of the attacks and insecurity in the country, more than 8.4 million Nigerians in the northeast region alone are in need of humanitarian assistance, with half of them facing a food crisis.

“This year, between January 1st and March 31st, 1,884 lives were claimed in attacks by Islamist groups such as Boko Haram and Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), militant Fulani herdsmen, as well as bandits and violent gangs,” noted a report by Nigeria-based research firm SBM Intelligence. The research shows that northwestern Nigeria has been the most affected region, with 782 people killed.

Though the attacks don’t always target Christians, believers are a particularly sought-after target by the extremists.

On Sunday, April 10th, Fulani militants attacked 10 communities in predominantly Christian Plateau State, in Nigeria’s northcentral region, killing more than 150 people. A week later, on April 19, at least 20 innocent people were killed or injured in an attack by ISWAP in a market in Iware. Reuters reports that ISWAP released a statement, saying, “Soldiers of the caliphate in Central Nigeria” had attacked “a gathering of infidel Christians.”

If this horrific trend in Nigeria continues as it has over the past five years, 2022 will overtake 2021 with even more believers killed for their faith. This “unholy handshake” is terrifying to Christians in the region. Islamic extremist groups are out to destroy anyone that disagrees with Islam, and that puts Christians at the top of the list.

A report written by three non-profit organizations that had recently visited the region warns: “The security situation [in northcentral Nigeria] is highly volatile … And religious tensions are expected to escalate with the run up to the 2023 [presidential] election.”

Meanwhile, the current increase in violence has caused more than 8.4 million Nigerians to flee their homes, leading to a massive humanitarian crisis, with half of those individuals now in desperate need of food. Some families have been displaced for five years or longer.

Islamic extremist groups, that now appear to be working together, are sending Nigeria into a spiral, and although the government is trying to cap the issue as much as possible, the stain of heartache and death continues to spread.

But as believers, we cannot lose hope! Because we know that God’s hand is still moving. And it’s in the darkness that His light is most seen. Burned churches and villages are being rebuilt. The Word of God continues to be read, preached and sung by survivors of attacks. Shattered lives are being made whole again through long-term trauma care. People are still trusting Jesus with their hearts and lives for the first time.

Praying for our anxious Nigerian family

On behalf of our Nigerian brothers and sisters, who are running out of places to turn, we need to shout out to God. Let’s pray with purpose and boldness, that those who have been abducted will be unharmed and returned, that those who raise arms in anger and hatred will instead open their palms before the true God and that peace will cover Nigeria like a cleansing flood.

Father God, we ask You to hear our prayers and do miracles like only You can. Amen.

Top photo: Nigerian refugees in Maiduguri, Nigeria, where Boko Haram is active. The photo was was taken in 2016 by VOA – 1, Public Domain, and is used here for representative purposes.