Children are slowly starving to death. In regions that until recently were in the control of Boko Haram, an estimated 244,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition and aid agencies are now warning of an “emerging disaster” in north-east Nigeria; according to Médecins Sans Frontières, one in five of the children at risk is likely to die in the coming weeks. Farms in the region have been destroyed, farmland lies barren and there is now a shortage of agricultural labourers, as many have fled because of the conflict. Boko Haram have recently attacked a UN aid convoy in Borno state, hampering the UN’s efforts to help those in desperate need.
Since 2009, when Boko Haram began their violent campaign to establish an Islamic state, more than 15,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced within Nigeria and neighbouring countries. Christians are one of the groups that have been specifically targeted, with Christian villages attacked and women and girls kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s Muslim President, claimed in December 2015 that Boko Haram had been defeated “as an organised fighting force”, but despite that claim regular attacks against civilians have continued.
In an interview published by Islamic State media last Wednesday (3 August), Boko Haram’s self-proclaimed new leader has stated that the group will no longer engage in indiscriminate attacks, which have claimed Muslim as well as Christian lives, but instead will move to “blowing up every church that we are able to reach and killing all of those who we find from the citizens of the cross.”
Nigerian Christians now face the prospect of intensified attacks from Boko Haram, whilst Buhari’s commitment to defeating the Islamic group is increasingly being questioned, with a senior Western official recently quoted as saying that “One of the reasons we have this humanitarian crisis in northern Nigeria is that Mr Buhari is diverting vital resources away from the campaign [against Boko Haram] to pursue his own political agenda.” According to analysis by Stratfor, analysts of global events, of the 122 political appointments President Buhari has made since coming to power in May 2015, a total of 77 positions have been given to Muslims from northern Nigeria. Christians are concerned that the direction that the president is taking may lead to Christians being increasingly marginalised.