Boko Haram has been persecuting and killing Christians for more than 10 years. In a decade, thousands have died. I am going to focus on the story of just one woman.
Saratu’s home was one of those targeted. She saved her family as her village burned, making sure they got away. They hid together in the forest, but she knew she would have to go back. They had nothing to eat and she could not let her children die of hunger. She was spotted, chased, captured and beaten. Saratu was taken to a holding camp with hundreds of other women and children; they were held like animals. She feared the worst. She had heard the stories of rape, torture and murder, and of forced conversion, forced marriage and slavery. But her spirit was not broken. She was determined to get back to her children and save the other women with her. Two nights later, she escaped with more than 20 women and children.
Twenty thousand Nigerian Christians have been killed, and many more have endured kidnapping, forced conversion and torture. The kidnappings have not stopped. Christians across the middle belt of Nigeria still live in fear and the violence has spread to neighbouring Niger. Just last month, Boko Haram kidnapped a woman from the city of Diffa, in an area that has provided refuge for the tens of thousands fleeing the attacks in Nigeria. They used that woman to send a message of terror—a letter saying to all in Diffa: “Leave within three days or be killed”. Many Christian families have fled in fear, but others simply cannot afford to leave and remain at risk. It may become yet another story of religious cleansing and murder.
The Diffa region has already seen what Boko Haram will do: 14 people were killed and 37 kidnapped in two separate 2017 attacks. Soon afterwards, the daughter of the region’s Christian pastor was taken as well. The persecution caused by Boko Haram is extreme. Some 8,000 children have been used as soldiers, targeted because of poverty and vulnerability, and exploited, lied to and manipulated. Many are orphans, and some had been abandoned to the streets by parents who could simply no longer look after them. In 2018, according to UNICEF, 48 of those children were used as suicide bombers— 48 children died to murder others. In that year, they were mostly girls. In 2017, the number was 135. The campaign of religious violence has not stopped, and less than a month ago three children were used as a weapon in a communal hall; 30 were murdered and 40 injured. Religious differences have been exploited to create this violence. Christians—the minority in the north of Nigeria—have been made scapegoats. Hatred has been created and fuelled.
President Buhari has made clear commitments to improve security, including for Christian communities in Nigeria, but frankly such promises have been made before. I want to know what the Government are going to do to work proactively with Nigeria, Niger and others to make that basic promise of security a reality.