Tuesday, February 24, 2015

RLPB 298. Feb Update; Incl. Syria, Nigeria, Egypt, Laos, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 298 | Wed 25 Feb 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

URGENT: IS SEIZES ASSYRIAN CHRISTIANS IN HASSEKA
Hasseka Province in Syria's north-east is contiguous with Nineveh in northern Iraq and historically home to many Assyrian Christians. Since early 2012 the region has been heavily infiltrated by jihadists entering from Turkey (to fight the Kurds) and coming across from Mosul with a view to establishing a Caliphate. Presented with the options of conversion to Islam, subjugation with jizya (protection money), death or exile, most of Hasseka's Christians opted for exile and fled; only a remnant remained.

source
On Monday 23 February at about 4am Islamic State (IS) jihadists stormed 35 Assyrian Christian villages along a 40km stretch of the Khabour River south of Qomishli in Hasseka Province, forcing some 3000 Christians to flee for their lives. Churches were razed and at least 150 Christians are now captives of IS, which recently called for Christians to be killed (see RLPB 297). IS has reportedly demanded a prisoner exchange with Kurdish forces. If the Kurds do not release their captured jihadists, then the Christian captives will be killed -- and it will be awful. Pray for a miracle and that God's promised presence will be palpable as God dwells with his people. This is the 'sanctuary' (miqdas: place where God dwells) promised to the faithful in Isaiah 8:11-14a. [See footnote.]

FEB 2015 UPDATE -- During February we prayed concerning ...

* NIGERIA (RLPB 295), where elections -- now postponed to 28 March -- threaten to destabilise the nation further.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 296). When Boko Haram attacked Baga in Nigeria's far north-east on 3 January, it razed the town, seized the military base of the multi-national force stationed there and killed an estimated 2000 civilians. From Baga, Boko Haram moved against the Borno capital, Maiduguri, which they failed to infiltrate, though they did capture Monguno on 25 January, along with its large military base [RLPB 294, (27 Jan)]. It also launched attacks in northern Cameroon and south-east Niger. Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have agreed to assemble a regional joint force to tackle the problem and totally 'dismantle' Boko Haram.

UPDATE: On 11 February Boko Haram used two girls as suicide bombers in an attack on Diffa in south-east Niger, killing seven. On 16 February a female suicide bomber was used to attack a bus station in Damaturu, Yobe State. On 21 February the Nigerian Army liberated Baga, scoring a significant victory. There were many casualties and the jihadists were forced to abandon much weaponry. Mopping up continues. On Sunday 22 February a seven-year-old girl died along with seven others when Boko Haram attacked a market in the city of Potiskum, Yobe, using the seven-year-old girl as a suicide bomber. Terrorism continues. US military equipment to aid in the fight against Boko Haram has arrived in Cameroon. On Tues 24 February Chadian soldiers engaged Boko Haram fighters near Garambu in Nigeria's far north-east, reportedly killing 207 jihadists. May the Lord break through his enemies in northern Nigeria.

* In a separate incident gunmen stormed the Hope Academy compound in Emiworo, Kogi State, south of Abuja, on Monday night 23 February and kidnapped American Free Methodist Church missionary Rev Phyllis Sortor. Nothing else is known at present. Please pray.

* LIBYA-EGYPT (RLPB 297), where Copts are imperilled since IS called for a jihad against them on the false grounds that they persecute Muslim women. The beheading of 21 Copts on a Libyan beach -- an act IS described as 'a message signed with blood to the nation of the Cross' (i.e. for Christians everywhere) -- has shattered the Coptic community. However, mingled with the grief is a sense of honour [link includes moving video]. We can assume that in line with Sharia protocols, the Copts would have been given an opportunity to renounce Christ and convert to Islam to save their lives. Instead, they died proclaiming 'Yasouh, Yasouh, Jesus, Jesus'. As several commentators have noted, the Coptic martyrs had the victory that day, dying undefeated. Also, as Sam Solomon (a convert from Islam) notes, 'We know this was not the end of the story, according to the promise of our Lord in Revelation 2:10, "... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown".' 


Art by Tony Rezk source
[Blog by Tony Rezk, "Loving Your Enemies"
Messages from the Bible Society of Egypt: (1) & (2)]

FEBRUARY 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...

* LAOS: CHURCH LEADERS IMPRISONED FOR PRAYER 

On 12 February the People's Court of Savannakhet Province ruled that five Christian leaders -- pastors (Mrs) Kaithong, Puphet, Muk and Hasadee, as well as lay-leader Tiang -- were guilty of a criminal offence causing death. They had been arrested in June 2014 as they gathered to mourn Mrs Chan's death after a long period of illness and hospitalisation [see RLPB 266 (25 June 2014)]. Because they had prayed with Mrs Chan, the Christians were deemed to have practised medicine without a licence, for which they were issued huge fines and sentenced to nine months in prison. The Christians were denied legal representation. This is gross injustice and abuse of power by authorities who just want to intimidate and persecute church leaders. Prison conditions in Laos are appalling and torture is routine. Please pray.

* PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS FACE FINES AND CLOSURE

BACKGROUND: On 16 December 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed an army-run school in Peshawar (the capital of Pakistan's north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province), killing over 140 students and staff. Schools across the region were subsequently closed so security measures could be put in place. On 23 January 2015 some 300 Muslims protesting Charlie Hebdo magazine attacked a Christian school in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, scaling the walls and forcing open the gates. Armed with iron bars and clubs, they smashed windows and demanded the school's closure; four students were wounded in the pogrom.

The Pakistan government has designated army-run and Christian-run schools to be A+ security risks, passing a law obliging them to implement expensive security measures. As Barnabas Fund (BF) reports: 'These include an eight-foot-high (2.4m) perimeter wall with two feet (0.6m) of barbed wire on top; CCTV cameras; metal detector walk-though gates; evacuation points; and records of staff and students.' Government funding is available, but only for government schools. According to BF, many Christian schools are not being permitted to reopen because they do not meet the new minimum security standards. Those that have opened face government fines and closure. Without a massive injection of funds many Christian schools will be forced to close. [Donate] Pray that the Lord of Hosts will shield his precious children and provide all their needs.

* PHILIPPINES: A TENUOUS PEACE

On Sunday 25 January a fire-fight erupted in Mamasapano in the southern region of Mindanao.  Philippines Special Action Forces (SAF) elite troops had been chasing a 'high-value target' believed to be behind recent bomb attacks in the south, when gunmen from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) opened fire on them. After an eleven-hour gun battle, at least 44 elite SAF commandos and eight civilians lay dead, with many more wounded. The clash comes at a delicate time, with MILF and the Philippines government entering the final stages of a 'peace deal' designed to place a large section of Mindanao under MILF control [to be known as the Bangsamoro Judicial Entity].
Many maintain it is unconstitutional and a betrayal of the Christian population [see RLPB 180 (9 Oct 2012)]. The 'Mamasapano Massacre' puts the peace deal in doubt, especially as MILF is refusing to hand over the killers (claiming the dead are simply 'casualties of war') and refusing to return the weapons it captured (deeming them 'war booty'). Pray for the Church in Mindanao and that the Philippines will know good governance.

* SUDAN: SYSTEMATIC PERSECUTION.

Though the Bahri Evangelical Church in North Khartoum holds documents proving ownership, a Muslim businessman has been given permission to develop the church's land on the grounds that government agents, who infiltrated the church and established an illegitimate committee, sold the  property to him [see RLPB 288 (25 Nov 2014)]. Much of the church has been demolished and numerous believers arrested, including pastors. On 6 January a court ruled in favour of the legitimate church committee. However, the illegitimate committee appealed and the ruling was overturned in the Supreme Court. On 18 February the police issued the church with a court order to relinquish the property. The church's lawyers have lodged an appeal. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Rev Yat Michael and Rev Peter Yein Reith have also been detained while Sudanese Intelligence is waging a campaign of intimidation, vilification and confiscation against Mr Rafat Samir Mussad Obid, the chairman of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC) Council responsible for church buildings and land. This is all part of Khartoum's campaign of systematic intimidation and persecution of the Church and of South Sudanese residing in Sudan. Please pray.

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Footnote: For more on God's promised presence and the Isaiah 8:11-14a text, see 'Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today', chapter 3: 'A Paradigm for Threatened Christians' . See also, 'The Promise Presence' (pdf).
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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Monday, February 16, 2015

RLPB 297. Libya-Egypt: a call to jihad against Copts

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 297 | Tues 17 Feb 2015

LIBYA-EGYPT: A CALL TO JIHAD AGAINST COPTS

By Elizabeth Kendal 

On Thursday 12 February, after Islamic State (IS) published issue 7 of DABIQ (the official IS propaganda magazine), its photographs of 21 Copts (native Egyptian Christians) dressed in orange prison suits on a Libyan beach went viral on social media. The Copts in the photographs were those referred to in RLPB 294 (28 Jan 2015).  The fate of the Copts was unclear as the article did not say they had been executed. On Friday 13 February the families of the pictured Copts demonstrated in Cairo. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered that urgent assistance be rendered to Egyptians wanting to be evacuated from Libya. A committee established in January to investigate the kidnapping of the Copts stepped up efforts to clarify the situation and uncover their fate.  


On Sunday 15 February Islamic militants associated with Islamic State's Wilayat Tarabulus (vilayet / province of Tripoli) released a video showing the 21Copts being beheaded simultaneously. It is IS's largest mass beheading and the first such terror statement to be performed outside the IS 'Caliphate' in Upper Mesopotamia. The footage, entitled, 'A message signed with blood to the nation of the cross,' opens with a scrolling caption referring to the hostages as 'People of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church'. 

Before the killings, the militant spokesman, standing with a knife in his hand, declares in a North American accent: 'All crusaders: safety for you will be only wishes, especially if you are fighting us all together. Therefore we will fight you all together until the world lays down its burdens and Jesus, peace be upon him, will descend, breaking the cross [symbol of Christians], killing the swine [food of Christians] and abolishing jizya [protection money for Christians -- signalling the end of 'protection'] [see Hadith]. The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama Bin Laden's body in, we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.' The 21 Copts are then laid face-down on the sand and simultaneously beheaded. The militant spokesman then points northward across the Mediterranean and declares: 'We will conquer Rome, by Allah's permission.' Meanwhile, a scrolling caption on the video states: 'The filthy blood is just some of what awaits you, in revenge for Camilia and her sisters.' As soon as the footage was verified as authentic, Egypt's President Sisi announced seven days of national mourning. Egypt's military response has begun. 

The reference to 'Camilia' refers to a lie propagated by Islamic propagandists. When Camilia Shehata went missing in July 2010, her husband (a Coptic priest) reported her disappearance to the police, frantic that she might have been kidnapped by Islamic fundamentalists for forcible conversion. His fear was reasonable as this is a well documented common occurrence in Egypt, practised by Islamists in co-operation with fundamentalists in the security forces and local government. As it turned out, Camilia had simply gone to stay with relatives in Cairo after she and her husband had argued. When she returned home with police, Islamists propagated the lie that Camilia had converted to Islam only to be forcibly re-converted by the Church which was now holding her against her will. To quell the rumours, Camilia appeared on national TV declaring that she had never converted to Islam but that did not appease the Islamists. Just like the blood libel lie (which claims the Jews use the blood of Christian children in their rituals) has been used to incite hatred and violence against Jews, the Camilia lie is being used to incite hatred and violence against Copts. The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) used the Camilia lie to justify its deadly 31 October 2010 siege and bombing of a Chaldean Church in Baghdad which claimed the lives of 58 Chaldean Christians and left more than 70 with terrible injuries. [See RLPB 082 (17 Nov 2010).]

The article in DABIQ asserts that, like the October 2010 attack on the Baghdad church, the capture of the 21 Copts in Sirte, Libya, was 'executed in revenge for Kamilia Shehata, Wafa Constantine, and other sisters [i.e. Muslim women] who were tortured and murdered by the Coptic Church of Egypt'. It says that while 'the kuffar' (unbelievers / Christians) are divided and hostile towards each other, they 'have allegiance to each other in the face of Islam'. Consequently, revenge may be taken on any Christian 'anywhere in the world'. 

DABIQ criticised al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri (an Egyptian) for his ruling that Copts should not be targeted as the battle is against America and because the Copts are 'our partners in this nation [Egypt], partners whom we wish to live with in peace and stability'. It seems IS is offering to support Egyptian Islamists in a jihad against the Copts as a means of turning them against al-Qaeda and drawing them into the IS fold. The article states that IS in Iraq targeted the church in Baghdad as at that time there was no way to hit the Copts directly. Now however, IS has provinces (wilayats) in Sinai and Libya, 'allowing it to easily capture the Coptic crusaders'. The article then closes with the ominous call: 'Finally, it is important for Muslims everywhere to know that there is no doubt in the great reward to be found on Judgment Day for those who spill the blood of these Coptic crusaders wherever they may be found.' 

Breaking News -- Tuesday 17 February: Libyan Herald and Stratfor Intelligence report that 35 more Copts have been kidnapped in Libya in locations controlled by Ansar al-Sharia and Islamic State. Libya’s internationally recognised government (now based in the eastern city of Tobruk) is participating with Egypt in airstrikes on the IS stronghold of Derna. But Libya Dawn, the Islamist group in control of Tripoli (Libya’s capital in the west), has vowed to retaliate against the airstrikes and given Egyptians 48 hours to leave the country.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* the 'God of all comfort' (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) will pour peace and comfort into the shattered hearts, families and communities of Upper Egypt as they mourn the loss of their loved ones. 'Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.' (Jeremiah 17:14 ESV)

* the Spirit of God will guide Egypt's religious and civic leaders (Christian and Muslim), including President al-Sisi, so there will be no jihad against the Copts; may the Lord intervene in Egypt and Libya so that any violence against the Church will be quickly contained and justice upheld (Isaiah 59:15b-19). 

* the Lord Jesus Christ will redeem all suffering and build his Church in Egypt (Matthew 16:18); the Lord of Hosts (the commander of heaven's angelic hosts) protect and provide for his imperilled people.

~ ~ ~ ~

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE  
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COPTS IMPERILLED IN LIBYA AND EGYPT

On Sunday 15 February Islamic State (IS) released footage of the mass beheading of 21 Copts in Libya by soldiers of the Caliphate in IS's Wilayat Tarabulus (province of Tripoli). Referred to as 'Coptic crusaders' and 'people of the cross', they are executed it is stated in revenge for 'Camilia', a Coptic woman who Islamists falsely claim converted to Islam, only to be captured by the Coptic Church and forcibly re-converted. The story is a fabrication, a lie much like those used to incite violence against Jews. In a call that is doubtless aimed at inciting jihad against the Copts, IS has called for Copts to be killed 'wherever they may be found'. Another 35 Copts have been kidnapped in Libya. Please pray for Egypt, her Church and for Copts everywhere.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

RLPB 296. Nigeria: Boko Haram to face regional force; polls postponed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 296 | Wed 11 Feb 2015

NIGERIA: BOKO HARAM TO FACE REGIONAL FORCE; POLLS POSTPONED
By Elizabeth Kendal

Boko Haram mimics Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: seizing territory, declaring a Caliphate, taking 'infidel' women captive, telling Christians to convert to Islam or get out and rejecting borders imposed by former colonial powers. In Nigeria's north-east state of Borno, over 1.5 million Nigerians have fled Boko Haram terror. Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, now hosts over a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) more than doubling the population of the city, which is straining Maiduguri's facilities severely. There are more than 87,000 Nigerian refugees in Diffa, south-east Niger (one-sixth of the population); some 47,000 in north Cameroon's Maroua refugee camp; and when Boko Haram sacked Baga in January, killing 2,000 people, some 14,000 fled across Lake Chad into southern Chad. These IDPs and refugees are totally destitute and the communities hosting them are under immense strain.

CAMEROON: On Thursday 5 February some 800 Boko Haram militants attacked the town of Fotokal, burning mosques and churches, stealing livestock and shooting villagers. More than 90 people were killed and over 500 wounded. A spokesman for the Cameroon military, Colonel Didier Badjeck, reported that Boko Haram used civilians as human shields, making it exceedingly difficult for the army to respond. Eventually the jihadists were forced back across the border.
NIGER: On Friday 6 February Boko Haram jihadists attacked the towns of Bosso and Diffa in the south-eastern corner of Niger, firing mortars into the towns from the Doutchi bridge over the Yobe River (which forms the border). A stray mortar landed in Diffa's central market, killing a child and wounding 20 local residents, six critically. The jihadists also attempted to raid the Diffa prison before the Niger Army repelled them. According to the defence minister, the battle claimed the lives of 109 militants and four Niger soldiers.

REGIONAL FORCE BEING ASSEMBLED: On Saturday 7 February, the governments of Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin agreed to establish an 8,700 strong regional force to finally dismantle Boko Haram. France has sent a reconnaissance plane and ten military advisors to Niger to assist. The regional force is expected to be ready for deployment in March.

CAMEROON: On Sunday 8 February Boko Haram jihadists attacked the village of Kerawa (where they clashed with the Cameroon Army) and the nearby town of Kolofata (where they stole food and livestock). They also hijacked a bus near the border area of Koza, driving it back towards Nigeria with some 20 captives, 12 of whom were subsequently killed after the jihadists decided to keep only the young girls.
NIGER: Early on Sunday 8 February jihadists shelled Diffa again while battling Niger soldiers on the south-eastern edge of Diffa. On 9 February jihadists who had smuggled themselves into Differ the night before attacked the prison again. The Niger government has declared a state of emergency in Diffa, thereby increasing the powers of the security forces and allowing them to search homes.

screen grab from video
VIDEO: On 9 February Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a new video in which he mocked the plans for a regional force, saying Boko Haram would welcome the troops before picking them off one by one. Linking his jihad to the global jihad, Shekau ranted: 'We never rose up to fight Africa. We rose up to fight the world. We are going to fight the world on the principle that whoever does not obey Allah and the Prophet [must] either obey [convert] or die or become a slave [dhimmi].'

NIGERIAN POLLS POSTPONED: On Saturday 8 February Nigeria's National Security Advisor, Sambo Dasuki, urged Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to postpone the elections on the grounds the military could not provide nationwide election security while all available resources were being deployed to the north-east to fight Boko Haram. The INEC agreed and Nigeria's general elections will now be held on 28 March with gubernatorial polls on 11 April. Dasuki vowed there would be no further postponement as all known camps belonging to Boko Haram will be destroyed (supposedly) in the next six weeks. Dasuki's claim there was no political motive underlying his call for a delay has not stopped the Opposition accusing President Jonathan and the ruling PDP of postponing the polls to give themselves more time to counter the ascendency of northern Islamist presidential candidate Major General Muhammadu Buhari and their party. A legal challenge to Buhari's eligibility to contest the election will be heard in the Federal High Court in Abuja on 23 February. There is concern that northern Muslim opposition elements will use the postponement and the legal challenge as pretexts for rioting. Any insecurity can only benefit Boko Haram.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT:

* vulnerable Christian communities across Muslim majority northern Nigeria, south-east Niger and northern Cameroon, as well as throughout Nigeria's mixed and volatile Middle Belt, will know and experience God as their refuge and strength, their very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46)

* the Lord will extend grace and mercy to the innocents and captives trapped in Boko Haram-controlled territories as this conflict unfolds, for they will certainly be exploited as human shields and targeted for 'revenge'. Pray especially for Borno's exceedingly vulnerable Christian communities, for they will be gravely imperilled. (Psalm 46)

* President Goodluck Jonathan and all other Christian leaders and lay-people across the region and  throughout the world will fall to their knees and put their faith in the Lord of hosts who alone can ensure the success of this mission to finally dismantle Boko Haram.

'And David inquired of the Lord, "Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?" And the Lord said to David, "Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand."  And David came to Baal-perazim, and David defeated them there. And he said, "The Lord has broken through my enemies before me like a breaking flood." Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim [the God who breaks through].' (From 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE  
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BOKO HARAM TO FACE REGIONAL FORCE; NIGERIA'S POLLS POSTPONED

An 8,700-strong regional force is being formed to finally destroy Boko Haram. Comprising troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin, the force's expected deployment is in March. Boko Haram has driven some 1.5 million Nigerians from their homes, with around one million in Maiduguri (Borno capital) and some 155,000 in Niger, Chad and Cameroon where Boko Haram has escalated its attacks recently. The Nigerian elections have been postponed to 28 March and the Opposition is protesting vigorously. Concerns are that if opposition elements riot, then the insecurity will only benefit Boko Haram. Pray for the Church in Nigeria's mixed, volatile Middle Belt and for vulnerable Christian communities in the Muslim north. Please pray for the traumatised and devastated Christian communities across southern Niger and northern Cameroon. Prayer: Psalm 46.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

RLPB 295. Nigeria: violence looms ahead of elections

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 295 | Wed 04 Feb 2015

NIGERIA: VIOLENCE LOOMS AHEAD OF ELECTIONS
By Elizabeth Kendal

Nigerians will go to the polls on Saturday 14 February [subsequently postponed to 28 March] to elect federal and state parliaments and a president. On 28 February, Nigerians in 29 (of 36) states will return to the polls to elect state governors. Unlike previous years, these elections will essentially be a contest between the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which has ruled Nigeria since its return to democracy in 1999, and the All Progressives Congress (APC), a new party formed in February 2013 when several PDP defectors joined a merger of four leading opposition parties. There is widespread expectation that this will be the closest contest to date, with a presidential run-off likely. It is also expected that violence could erupt along political lines and quickly evolve into a religious conflict.

Though actually a secular party, the PDP is widely regarded as a Christian alliance with a strong presence in the south. The PDP's manifesto enshrines the principle of 'zoning' or power-sharing, which sees the PDP rotate its presidential candidates between north and south every two terms. In 1999 and 2003 the PDP presidential candidate was a southern Christian. In 2007, when it was the north's turn to field the candidate, the Muslim former governor of Katsina in Nigeria's north won the presidency for PDP. When he died unexpectedly in May 2010 his Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, a southern Christian from the Niger Delta region, assumed the presidency. Jonathan was then elected president in 2011. The Nigerian constitution does not mandate 'zoning' and does allow for candidates to be elected twice. Therefore Jonathan is within his rights to stand for re-election with his current Vice President, Namadi Sambo (60), a Muslim from the volatile Middle Belt state of Kaduna, as his running mate. However, northern Muslims believe it is the north's turn to hold the presidency, not the least because the opposition is playing this card for political gain. Therefore this could see Jonathan and the PDP lose some support across the north.

The APC is widely regarded as a Muslim alliance with a strong presence in the north. While the APC accuses the PDP of pandering to Christians, the PDP accuses the APC of being a 'Muslim Brotherhood' or 'janjaweed' ticket. [The janjaweed are horse-borne militants.] The APC's presidential candidate is retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari (73), a former military dictator who has contested the presidency three times (in 2003, 2007 and 2011). Buhari is hugely popular in the north. In 2011 he campaigned on an Islamist platform, telling Muslims they should not vote for a Christian. Before the 2011 polls Buhari warned that rioting would ensue if he were cheated of his victory by the rigging of polls. Subsequently, 2011 saw the worst election violence in Nigeria's history, with some 800 lives lost over three days. In 2012 Buhari likened the struggle between the predominantly Muslim Hausi-Fulani north and the predominantly Christian Yoruba and Igbo south as a fight between a dog and baboon, warning: 'If what happened in 2011 should happen again in 2015, by the grace of God, the dog and the baboon would all be soaked in blood.'

As in 2011 Buhari is attempting to 'launder' his image of being an Islamic fundamentalist by taking a southern Pentecostal Christian pastor as his running mate. Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (55), a Christian from Lagos State, served as that state's Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice from 1999 to 2007. He is also a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the wealthiest and most popular Pentecostal church in Nigeria with some 23,880 parishes in Nigeria and a membership of 12 million.

clever campaign:
ihavedecided to vote buhari
(no turning back, no turning back!)
While the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) have thrown their support behind the PDP and are endorsing Jonathan for president. Despite this, polls indicate that Buhari is gaining traction in the mostly Christian south. Pastors who support Buhari have been assuring believers that Nigeria simply cannot be Islamised as 'we are too educated'. 

Despite a peace pact between Jonathan and Buhari, hate-speech and incitement are widespread. Ibrahim Shema, the PDP Muslim governor of Katsina state, was filmed in November addressing a political rally in which he likened the opposition to 'cockroaches'. He then asks, 'If you see a cockroach in your house what do you do?' The crowd responds, 'You kill it,' to which Shema adds, 'crush them'. Goodluck Jonathan has poured vast sums of money into pacifying the Niger Delta region; now militants there are threatening to return to conflict if Jonathan is not returned to power. The PDP and APC are accusing each other of fuelling the Boko Haram insurgency, which brings us to the problem of insecurity across the north. How will Nigeria's well over a million displaced persons (IDPs) vote when the electoral law states that voters must vote where they are registered? How will voting take place in war-wracked Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states -- especially in Borno where Boko Haram either totally or partially controls 20 of 27 Local Government Areas? The nation is polarising, the stakes are high, the economy is struggling due to record low fuel prices and there is widespread disillusionment, disappointment and anger.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* draw his faithful believers close, that they may find their security, peace and comfort in him. Pray especially for Christians in the volatile Middle Belt states and for the exceedingly vulnerable minority Christians in the Sharia states of the north, especially if voting does not go the way Muslims want it to go. Please pray for the Church in Nigeria: Psalm 46.

* protect, preserve and provide for his people; may they stand firm in faith and not only endure but shine as lights for his glory. 'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want ...' (Psalm 23).

* use his awesome strength to still 'the tumult of the peoples' (Psalm 65:7).

UPDATE: For election results see RLPB 307 (27 April 2015).
Buhari wins by 3.1 million votes. Jonathan's gracious concession and appeal for peace defuses a tense situation.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE  
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VIOLENCE LOOMS AHEAD OF ELECTIONS IN NIGERIA

Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday 14 February. These elections will be the closest fought yet and it is expected that violence could erupt along political lines and quickly evolve into a religious conflict. Northern Muslims are angry that Goodluck Jonathan (a southern Christian) is standing as the People's Democratic Party's candidate, resulting in Jonathan and the PDP losing support in the north. Meanwhile, the opposition All Progressives Congress's candidate, Muhammadu Buhari -- an Islamist hugely popular in the Muslim north -- has been gaining ground in the south, especially since he appointed a Pentecostal pastor as his running mate. Hate-speech is pervasive, as are threats of violence. Please pray for Nigeria, and especially for the Church in the volatile Middle Belt and in the Sharia states of the north.

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).