Charity’s Story: Beyond the violence of Boko Haram
By Brian Orme, Open Doors
Charity, a young mother of three in Northern Nigeria, was in the bathroom, cleaning up for the evening, when her brother came running in the house, "Put out the light!" he shouted in hushed tones.
"That was the moment we found out Boko Haram was attacking our village," Charity says.
Boko Haram has long been one of the most infamous terrorist groups in the world. They view themselves as the ultimate expression of Islam, carrying out the true preaching and mission of the Muslim faith, which means fighting a holy war.
"We ran away toward the mountains," Charity says. "We were heading in the same direction when a motorbike came toward us. That was how I got separated from my children. I went with my little girl, and my son ran in a different direction with his sister.
Charity darted inside the mouth of a cave for shelter with others from the village. In the darkness, She whispered again and again the names of her missing children: "Theophilus… Elizabeth…" No answer.
What if they killed my children? Charity thought.
"When I arrived home, I didn't see my children," Charity says. Weeks went by with no news, and fear overtook the village.
One day, Charity heard her son calling out her name. When she looked out her front door, she saw her son and daughter walking toward her.
"I was so shocked and excited!" Charity shares. "Seeing my children felt like a new dawn— everything changed because my lost children were back."
"But soon after all the joy and laughter, we remembered that some of our family members had died," Charity shares. "So, we went to console our family members and mourned our loved ones. But I was greatly comforted because I saw my children were alive."
Charity's story represents thousands of persecuted Christians across Nigeria who are left to pick up the pieces after violent religious attacks by extremists like Boko Haram.
NG: Pastor Andrew: ‘I never thought I’d worship again’
By Brian Orme, Open Doors
In 2015, the extremist group Boko Haram violently attacked the Christians in Guyaku, killing several believers and burning all but six of their houses. "I lost hope that we would come together to worship God again because our Church was destroyed," Pastor Andrew shares.
They came at night
Pastor Andrew remembers the church treasurer running into his home on the night of the attack, saying, "Boko Haram is attacking Guyaku!" When Pastor Andrew stepped out into the night, there were rows of houses on fire.
"Fire was consuming the entire village," Pastor Andrew says. "We ran for our lives and went to hide under the mountains."
As he hid under the mountains with others, Pastor Andrew whispered a specific prayer for his people. "During the time of the attack, my prayer for my members was that God will strengthen their faith," he says. "And even if they are abducted, they should not deny Christ but hold firmly to their faith."
"The persecution was so much that I never imagined we would come together again to worship in the church," Pastor Andrew says. "We lost everything."
Partnering together for hope
"After the attacks, [Open Doors]were the first to come and help each family with food support. Not only did you give us food, but you also brought trauma healing teachings to us. We organized various groups in our region, and you came down to us to teach us," Pastor Andrew says.
Pastor Andrew's experience represents the storiesof thousands of Christians across Nigeria who risk their lives to call themselves Christians.
For persecuted Christians, the needs are significant across the country. Your prayer and support go towards helping Christian leaders, like Pastor Andrew, pickup the pieces and rebuild after deadly attacks.
Today, they have a new church building, and their congregation is larger than it was even before the attack. What Satan sought to destroy, God multiplied.
Islamic Cleric Says “Here We Kill” in Response to Deborah Samuel’s Murder
Northern Nigeria is known today as being unsafe for Christians, with its Muslim majority and history of violence against Christians for their faith. After the tragic and disturbing murder of 21-year-old student Deborah Samuel on May 12, 2022, an Islamic clericnamed Bello Yabofrom northern Nigeriastood in defense of her attackers.
Bello Yabo called for Muslims to continue to carry out justice for blaspheming their prophet. In a video that circulated on social media, Yabo made his position clear. Translated sections of the video read:
“A young person in Sokoto insulted Allah’s prophet yesterday.In Sokoto we kill such. We don’t tolerate such idiocy in Sokoto. This isnot Kano, which is a commercial center, where someone called the prophet names, including being an adulterer. They have been dragging about it.
Here we kill. When you touch the prophet we become mad people. No talk of a person being out of his mind. Kill him!
Anyone who touches the prophet, no punishment. Just kill! Even if the person repents or recants, forgiveness is God’s business. We must kill such. Out of his mind, but buys a device, data, opens social media and insults the prophet? Kill him! Don’treport as a grievance to any authority. Kill him! Even if he is an Islamic teacher, much less a useless rascal.
Like Shehu Usman Dan Fodio, we are Mujahedeen (holy warriors) and Jihadists.
Allah curse whoever touches the prophet. Those of you who displayed your wrath, Allah bless you. Kill and disperse!”1
Brutal violence in northern Nigeria toward Christians is continual. And now, even Islamic leaders are making their violent intentions publicly known, like Bello Yabo. From Islamic State—West Africa Province, a militant group (ISWAP)and Boko Haram wanting to eliminate Christians in Nigeria, and Muslim Fulani militants indiscriminately hacking Christians to death, to even classmates murdering other university classmates for blasphemy, the situation in Nigeria is dire for Christians.2
1 Translated sections are taken from “Islamic Cleric Defends the Killing of Christian Student: ‘Here We Kill,’” Persecution.org International Christian Concern, May 16, 2022. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://www.persecution.org/2022/05/16/islamic-cleric-defends-killing-christian-student-kill/
2 Nigeria,” Open Doors. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/nigeria/
Massacre at Nigerian Catholic Church Kills Dozens
On June 5, 2022, in the city of Owo,Ondo State in Nigeria,four gunmen entered St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, opened fire and detonated explosives. The church was full for Pentecost Sunday. Dozens of worshippers—including women and children—were killedin this horrific attack. The final death toll exceeded 50. Some died in the explosions and gunfire, others were trampled to death as the parishioners rushed to the exits.1The attack lasted longer than 20 minutes, beginning just as Fr. Andrew Abayomi had ended mass and given his final blessing to the church.
This brutal eventis now referred to as “Black Sunday in Owo,” and community members and Christiansfrom all over Nigeria still feel its impact to this day.2Footage and images went viral on social media following the brutal attack, spreading awareness but also re-traumatizing victims.
Auxiliary Bishop John Bakeni of Maiduguri in the state of Borono stated, “There are challenges and difficulties that Christians, especially in the north, have been living with for so many years on the account that they are minorities in some communities of this region...And based on their faith, [they] have had to deal with maiming and killing of their loved ones and destruction of their properties over the years.”3
A funeral mass was held on June 17th, organized by the Nigerian authorities for the victims of the St. Xavier Catholic Church massacre.4
The mass killing in Owo is just one instance of Christians experiencing targeted violence in Nigeria.A Catholic priest,Fr. Joseph Aketeh Bako,was abducted and killed in April 2022. There have been numerous other attacks and kidnappings of clergy since. Congregants were also targeted at “the St. Moses Catholic and a Baptist church in Kaduna State, killing three people in the process and kidnapping others.”5Christians in Nigerianowlive in constant fear of harm.
1 Valentine Iwenwanne, “Nigerian Catholics Speak of ‘Palpable Fear’ as Anti-Christian Violence Escalates,” October 6, 2022. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/news/news/nigerian-catholics-speak-palpable-fear-anti-christian-violence-escalates
4 “Murdered Nigerians Found Suffering at Foot of Cross, Biship Says at Funeral,” Catholic News Services, June 17, 2022. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://catholicnews.com/murdered-nigerians-found-suffering-at-foot-of-cross-bishop-says-at-funeral/
5 Tawanda Karombo, “Church Killings in Nigeria Leave Catholics ‘confused, afraid, and sad,” July 6, 2022. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://www.ncronline.org/news/world/church-killings-nigeria-leave-catholics-confused-afraid-and-sad
Deborah Samuel Martyred for Her Christian Faith
Deborah Samuel Martyred for Her Christian Faith On May 12th, 2022, Deborah Samuel (also known as Deborah Yakabu) was brutally murdered by her fellow classmates at Shehu Shagari College of Education in Sokoto.1 Sokoto State is one of the 36 states of Nigeria, located in the most northwestern corner. It is one of 12 areas impacted by the strict governance of Sharia (Islamic) law.
Deborah was a bright student, set to graduate with her home economics degree in the 2023/24 school year. The daughter of Emanuel Garba and Alheri Emmanuel, Deborah was also the second oldest of six siblings.2
In an exchange on WhatsApp with her fellow students, Deborah had credited her last semester’s passing examination grade to “Jesus o.” Instantly, Muslim students in her class were outraged. When asked to retract her statement, the 21-year-old woman doubled down, saying via voice message on the app, “Holy Ghost fire. Nothing will happen to me.” 3
Citing blasphemy of the prophet Mohammed and Islam in general, the young woman’s classmates took matters into their own hands to execute so-called “justice” for her “crime” of blasphemy. Her angry classmates rallied, bringing other Muslims from the community into the classroom. A mob formed and overwhelmed all attempts to save Deborah from harm’s way. Some classmates had attempted to protect Deborah by bringing her to a security post outside the building, but it was to no avail.
“What do you hope to achieve with this?” Her last words rang out as she was dragged out of the security building, stoned, and her body burned. In the wake of this, Christian students fled the campus.
The upheaval that day and the tragic martyrdom of Deborah Samuel put a face to a terrible, increasing problem in Nigeria of violence perpetrated against Christians.
1 Lindy Lowry, “10 Nigerian Martyrs That Show Us The Power of Faith,” Open Doors, July 21, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/10-nigerian-martyrs-that-show-usthe-power-of-faith/
3 Ishola Balogun et al, “Deborah’s Last Words as She Pleaded for Mercy: What Do You Hope to Achieve with This? Vanguard, May 14, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.vanguardngr.com/2022/05/deborahs-lastwords-as-she-pleaded-for-mercy-what-do-you-hope-to-achieve-with-this/
The Aftermath of Deborah Samuel’s Martyrdom
After the brutal killing of Deborah Samuel at Shehu College of Education in Sokoto, Nigeria, a distress call was made to authorities. Police arrived and subdued the mob, and two arrests were made. The school was shut down, and an inspection was launched.1
Following the arrest of two student suspects, Muslim supporters protested, destroyed buildings, and “besieged the palace of the sultan of Sokoto who had condemned the May 12 murder.”2 In addition to this, roads were shut down as riots occurred in the streets, demanding the release of the two students under investigation for Deborah’s murder.
President Buhari, like the sultan of Sokoto, condemned the violence against Deborah, urging people that the law does not allow anyone to take matters into their own hands. Likewise, the Vice President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, rejected the killing of the 21-year-old. Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President of Nigeria, tweeted: “There can not (sic) be a justification for such gruesome murder. Deborah Yakabu was murdered, and all those behind her death must be brought to justice. My condolences to her family and friends,” but after his tweet was riddled with threatening responses from Muslims, Abuakar deleted it.3
In the weeks following Deborah Samuel’s brutal death, Christians across Nigeria have protested. In southern Nigeria, peaceful protests filled the streets, with people standing in solidarity to condemn the violence that transpired against Deborah. In the north, however, there was much more danger. Muslims are the majority in northern Nigeria, so great caution was taken. A group of 120 Christian leaders gathered with the protection of police and security agencies instead of publicly gathering.4
Persecution of Christians in Nigeria is now garnering global awareness. People from all over the world are condemning the brutal martyrdom of Deborah Samuel, including the US Ambassador-at-Large, Rashad Hussain, and the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Ironically, Blinken is also the one who made the recommendation for Nigeria to be removed from the CPC (Countries of Particular Concern) watch list, which has fueled the persecution of Christians in Nigeria.
1 “Everything We Know About the Murder of Deborah Samuel,” Zikoko. May 16, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.zikoko.com/citizen/everything-we-know-about-the-murder-of-deborah-samuel/
2 Jayson Casper, “Nigerian Christians Protest Deborah’s Death,” Christianity Today News & Reporting. May 25, 2022. Accessed October 6, 2022. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2022/may/deborah-sokoto-nigeria-christians-protest-blasphemy-killing.html
3 “Everything We Know About the Murder of Deborah Samuel,” Zikoko.
4 Jayson Casper, “Nigerian Christians Protest Deborah’s Death.” Christianity Today.
5 Vincent Ufoma, “US Honors Murdered Deborah Samuel,” ICIR, August 24, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.icirnigeria.org/us-honours-murdered-deborah-samuel/
6 Nahal Toosi, “Christian Groups Furious at Blinken for Removing Nigeria from Religious Violence List,” November 23/2021. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/11/23/christian-groups-blinken-nigeria-religious-violence-list-523258
Deborah Samuel’s Murderers Charged with Misdemeanor
After the 21-year-old Nigerian student, Deborah Samuel, was brutally stoned to death and her body burned by her Muslim classmates for refusing to remove a comment from a social media platform about Jesus, two suspects were taken into custody. The suspects were questioned by police and appeared in the Sokoto Chief Magistrates’ Court with their legal team of 34 lawyers. They heard the charges against them and pleaded “not guilty.”1
Deborah’s murder was carried out in broad daylight, with many witnesses. And even with a video documenting her execution subsequently going viral on the internet, in which one of the suspects—with a smile on his face—shows the match box used to set her body on fire, the suspects were only charged with disturbing the peace and act of criminality. Not murder.2 The judge’s decision sparked global outrage as people all over the world called for justice.
This defenseless student is only one victim in a long series of religious persecutions documented in Nigeria. With Muslim mobs acting as judge and executioner, more Christians are now killed in Nigeria than all other nations combined, and that number is growing at an alarming rate.
Even with the sultan of Sokoto, the spiritual head of Muslims in the country, condemning the violence done to Deborah, the lack of accountability and justice carried out in the sentencing of murderers in this case is alarming. Charging her killers with only criminal conspiracy and inciting public disturbances only communicates to other violent Muslims that their actions will not be punished.3 This is a ripe environment for persecutions to continue in Nigeria against Christians with no accountability.
1 “34 Senior Lawyers Mount Defence (sic) for Deborah’s Suspected Killers in Court,” This Day Live. Accessed October 10, 2022. https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2022/05/17/34-senior-lawyers-mount-defence-for-deborahs-suspected-killers-in-court/
2 Olabisi Deji-Folutile, “Deborah Samuel: Why Won’t the Killings Continue?” The Cable, May 19, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://www.thecable.ng/deborah-samuel-why-wont-the-killings-continue
3 “Despicable Murder of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto,” The Guardian, May 23, 2022. Accessed October 7, 2022. https://guardian.ng/opinion/despicable-murder-of-deborah-samuel-in-sokoto/