Tuesday, February 19, 2019

RLPB 490. North Korea-United States Summit: Hanoi 27-28 February; (plus Nigeria elections update)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 490 | Wed 20 Feb 2019

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NORTH KOREA- UNITED STATES SUMMIT: HANOI 27-28 FEBRUARY
-- plus Nigeria Elections Update 

-- by Elizabeth Kendal

NORTH KOREA- UNITED STATES SUMMIT: HANOI 27-28 FEBRUARY

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, will host the second North Korea-US Summit on Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 February. The choice of Hanoi is really significant for, like North Korea, North Vietnam has fought a war against the US. Like Korea, Vietnam suffered immensely and was left ravaged by the Cold War conflict. However, unlike Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea), Hanoi is now an ally of the US, 'a major cog in the global trading network', and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Millions of Vietnamese have been lifted out of poverty, despite Vietnam remaining a repressive one-party state. North Korean and United States officials landed in Hanoi on Saturday 16 February to prepare for the summit. Kim Jong-un will arrive on Monday 25 February for bilateral discussions with Vietnamese officials. A key focus of the NK-US (Kim-Trump) Summit will doubtless be Washington's fixation on complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation (CVID) -- a deal-breaker, if ever there was one -- as a prerequisite to sanctions relief.  Pyongyang will continue to press for step-by-step, synchronised confidence-building measures -- a plan supported by neighbours South Korea, China and Russia, and possibly by President Trump himself. [See RLPB 471 (5 Sept 2018)]

Journalists, analysts, diplomats and politicians who say 'nothing has changed -- we've seen it all before,' are wrong. Today's situation is entirely different, giving reason for hope [see RLPB 446 (14 Mar 2018)]. Because virtually all reporting on North Korea is negative (much of it out-dated) few people are aware of how much the situation has changed in recent years. They are unaware that while Kim Jong-un has retained the programs and revolutionary language of his ancestors, he has tweaked the details somewhat. It used to be the case that the central government took all (100 percent) of a farming co-operative's produce before distributing a fixed ration. By providing no incentive to work hard or innovate, the system contributed to famine. In 2012, just months after assuming control, Kim tweaked the system. Since then, the government takes a set quota and the farming co-operative (now defined in such a way that it could be a family) is free to keep and trade everything it produces above that fixed quota. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring, 'Belligerence vs Smart Policy', (19 Feb 2014).] It does appear that every effort is being made to pursue economic reform and raise the standard of living as a prerequisite to increased openness.

On 12 February a delegation of some 250 South Koreans travelled to North Korea's Mount Geumgang (Mount Kumgang) tourist precinct for two days of civilian engagement with North Korean counterparts. The total number of delegates was around 400, with representatives from a wide range of fields, including religion, economy, agriculture, the environment, academia, peace, labour rights, women's rights, youth, art and culture. The aim is to establish co-operative projects, joint symposiums and student exchanges.

Early morning departure for North Korea (12 Feb). (photo: Yonhap)
While about a dozen South Korean journalists were included in the delegation,
US sanctions meant laptops and cameras could not be taken over the border. 

And that is not the only engagement that is happening. On Tuesday 19 February the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a short documentary ['Out of Breath' (29 minutes)] on its Foreign Correspondent program, showing how American, South Korean and North Korean doctors are cooperating in a project run by the Eugene Bell Foundation (a Christian charity) to treat multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis (MDRTB) in North Korea. Dr Stephen Linton is convinced that most people have an image of North Korea that is both wrong and unhelpful. 'What you think you know is not what you will find,' he says. It is a very moving program and shows what is already possible.

There can be little doubt that an intensive and furious spiritual battle is underway over North Korea, and over its integration into East Asia (the spiritual powerhouse of the future!).

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO 

* sustain and richly bless the long-suffering and severely persecuted remnant Church in North Korea.

* interpose himself in the North Korea-United States Summit in Hanoi (27-28 February) and influence proceedings for the benefit of the Church, the nation and the world.

* intervene creatively in the Korean Peninsula, according to his perfect wisdom, in line with his boundless grace, to bring peace, transformation and liberty, to the glory of his name.

May religious freedom be realised. May the Church's days of suffering soon be over. May the Church be free to serve North Korea's 'harassed and helpless' (Matthew 9:35-38) and bring Gospel light to those in darkness.



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Update: NIGERIA ELECTIONS
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Five hours before the polls were to open on 16 February, Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that the polls would be postponed by one week. The presidential and national assembly elections will now be held on Saturday 23 February, and the governorship and state assembly elections on 9 March. INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, told a news conference: 'Following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan, and the determination to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, the commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible.'

Detailed report by ICG (19 Feb)
While the presidential candidates are blaming each other for the delay and crying 'conspiracy', the INEC chairman's claim seems reasonable considering that in the past week two electoral offices (complete with many thousands of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were burned to the ground and a shipping container load of PVC readers was destroyed just days before those machines were to be distributed to polling booths [see RLPB 489 (13 Feb)]. Some election observers have expressed doubts however, that the INEC will be able to do all that needs to be done before the 23 February polls, including auditing ballot boxes.

With tensions soaring, the postponement could have been enough to trigger communal violence. Nigerians, however, heeded calls to remain calm; surely this is an answer to prayer. It is of great concern that President Buhari has declared that anybody who tries to interfere with the election would do so 'at the expense of his life'. The opposition has objected, slamming Buhari's rhetoric as 'a licence to kill'. It seems highly likely that when the results are announced, the loser will immediately cry foul. If Buhari cries foul, Muslims will surely riot. If Atiku cries foul, that too could trigger Muslim riots! The situation facing vulnerable Christian communities and ethnic Igbo throughout the North and Middle Belt is very serious indeed. In praying for peace we are praying for a miracle. The peace to date is nothing short of miraculous.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO INTERVENE

* so that Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission will be able to do all the work it must for free and fair elections.

* so that peace will hold, no matter the result; may the Lord's hand of protection be over his precious and faithful people.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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 NORTH KOREA-US SUMMIT in HANOI 27-28 FEBRUARY
-- plus NIGERIA'S POSTPONED ELECTIONS.

A second North Korea-US (Kim-Trump) Summit will be held in Vietnam on 27-28 February. Washington continues to insist that complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation be a prerequisite to sanctions relief. Meanwhile, Pyongyang continues to press for step-by-step, synchronised confidence-building measures -- a plan supported by its neighbours South Korea, China and Russia, and possibly by President Trump. The goal must be peace and trust; only then will the situation improve significantly. Economic reform is underway, as is cross-border engagement with South Korea -- including religious engagement -- and co-operation with foreign Christian charities. We must keep praying that our sovereign God will intervene with a miracle: to bring peace, openness and liberty to North Korea and its Christians. Also, may peace, unity and righteousness prevail in Nigeria following the 23 February and 9 March elections.

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For research purposes, all Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletins are archived at Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin.

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

RLPB 489. Praying Through Nigeria's General Elections (cont.)

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 489 | Wed 13 Feb 2019

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS
            -- continued from last week's RLPB 488 (6 Feb)
 -- Elizabeth Kendal

As Nigeria's General Elections loom, one cannot help but feel a dreaded sense of déjà vu. Tensions soared and conflict loomed back in March 2015 as Muhammadu Buhari (a Fulani Muslim from the north) ran for the presidency against the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian from the south). Feeding off and fuelling the northern Muslim desire for a northern Muslim president, Buhari warned that violence would erupt and blood would flow if he were denied the presidency. [See RLPB 295 (4 Feb 2015)] Christian fear escalated, especially through the Muslim-dominated North and volatile Middle Belt. As it turned out, Buhari won the 2015 presidential poll, in large part due to the influence of his running mate, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who, as a senior pastor in one of Nigeria's largest Pentecostal denominations, influenced many Christians to vote for Buhari. When the results were announced, outgoing president Goodluck Jonathon conceded defeat with grace and dignity and appealed for calm in the national interest. [See RLPB 307 (29 April 2015)

April 2011.
Muslims riot after Buhari loss.
The fear that hung over the 2015 presidential poll was not unfounded. Previously, in April 2011, when Muhammadu Buhari lost the presidential poll to Goodluck Jonathon, Buhari immediately cried foul and claimed the polls (deemed free and fair) had been rigged against him. With that false claim Buhari triggered the worst outbreak of electoral violence in Nigeria's history. For three days Muslims rioted across the north, burning, looting and killing; it was a rampage of terror that cost the lives of more than 800 mostly Christian Nigerians.

For four years now, President Buhari's Fulani-dominated administration has favoured the Fulani at every turn. In early 2017, as the nation marked the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the Biafra War, ethnic Igbo pro-secessionist groups in Nigeria's south-east escalated their activity in protest of the deepening marginalisation the Igbo were experiencing under the Buhari government. Fulani Muslim youths in the north responded by threatening to ethnically cleanse the 'ungrateful and uncultured' Igbo (a mostly Christian people indigenous to the south-east) from the north. [See Religious Liberty Monitoring (RLM), 'The Kaduna Declaration;Nigeria in the Shadow of Biafra' (6 July 2017).] While northern Muslim leaders did ultimately manage to pacify the northern Muslim youths and prevent bloodshed, ethnic and religious tensions have remained high. Many Igbo are convinced they simply cannot live in a nation dominated by Fulani and so continue to agitate for secession; some have called for a boycott of the 16 February polls.

Consequently, it was very strategic of Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate for the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP), to choose an Igbo man as his running mate. Peter Obi (57) served as Anambra State governor until 2014 and has been a leading figure in Nigerian politics ever since. A devout Catholic with a reputation for careful economic management, Obi is married with two children; his elder sister is a nun and his younger brother is a priest. No Igbo has been either president or vice-president since Alex Ekwueme was deputy to Shehu Shagari, who was ousted in December 1983 in a military coup led by then-general Muhammadu Buhari. Furthermore, Atiku's fourth wife, Barrister Dr Jennifer Atiku, a US-educated lawyer and Ibgo woman, is campaigning for her husband across the south-east. The Igbo will not boycott this presidential poll; rather, they will come out en masse to oust Buhari.

Election monitors are arriving in preparation for the big day. Meanwhile, two offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) have been burnt to the ground in the space of a week -- one in Plateau (North Central / Middle Belt) and one in Abia (South East), resulting in the loss of thousands of permanent voters' cards (PVCs) and hundreds of ballot boxes. Further to this, a shipping container full of PVC readers and other electoral materials has been burned in Anambra (South East).  Foreign diplomats in Nigeria report they have never known such a flood of hate-speech, doctored photographs, falsehoods and accusations. Tensions are soaring and the threat of serious, widespread violence is very real. In a superb article by Jeremy Weber, with photography by Gary Chapman (Christianity Today, Nov 2018), the General Secretary of Nigeria's five million-strong Evangelical Church Winning All denomination, Yunusa Nmadu, gives voice to the widely held fear that Nigeria is teetering on the edge of civil war. 'We are on the precipice,' he warns. 'I am not a prophet of doom, but it looks like we are very close to it.'

As noted in last week's RLPB 488 (6 Feb), Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) 'came to power in 2015 promising to tackle corruption, improve security and revive the economy. Instead, corruption has flourished, security has deteriorated to crisis levels and consequently the economy has stagnated. The result is widespread disillusionment, displacement and despair.' Indeed, Buhari's presidency is widely acknowledged to have been a total disaster. Any progress that was made was made in his absence, during his 'medical leave', when VP Osinbajo, a graduate of the London School of Economics, stepped in as Acting President. Consequently, when Nigerians go to the polls on Saturday 16 February, it is difficult to imagine that a majority would want to give Buhari another four years in office. It is also difficult to imagine that Buhari, should he lose the election, would concede defeat with grace and dignity and appeal for calm in the national interest; that would be a miracle! If Buhari loses (as is probable) it is more likely violence will erupt as it did in 2011, only this time it could well be much worse as there are far more firearms available now. In the event of violence, much will depend on the course that the demoralised Nigerian military ultimately takes.

Benue family, displaced by Fulani violence.
(Photo: Gary Chapman, Christianity Today, Nov 2018)


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* God, in grace and mercy, will intervene in Nigeria for the benefit of the Church and Nigeria's 'harassed and helpless' masses (Matthew 9:36): may the elections be free and fair, and may the results come with the miracle of peace. 'For nothing will be impossible with God' (Luke 1:37 ESV).

* the Spirit of God will awaken Nigerians to the reality that ultimately the remedy for corruption is not more law or more police, but the cleansing and transformation of the human heart -- something Islam does not offer, but the Lord Jesus Christ does. Pray for awakening throughout Nigeria.

* Jesus Christ, Yahweh Sabaoth (the Lord of hosts), will protect, preserve, sustain, encourage, bless and continue to build his Church in Nigeria; may the forces of darkness arrayed against her be frustrated as God fulfils his purpose for her to be a praying, missionary Church into the future.


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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PRAYING FOR NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS

Tensions are soaring ahead of Nigeria's General Elections slated for Saturday 16 February. The threat of serious, widespread violence is very real. Two election offices have already been burnt and hate-speech, doctored images and falsehoods are everywhere. Buhari's presidency is widely acknowledged to have been a total disaster. Consequently it is difficult to imagine that a majority will want to give him the second four-year term he craves. It is also difficult to image that Buhari would ever concede defeat and appeal for calm; that would be a miracle! If Buhari loses (as is probable), then violence likely will erupt as it did when he lost to Goodluck Jonathon in April 2011, only this time the toll could be much higher. Please pray for Nigeria and for her long-suffering Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Monday, February 4, 2019

RLPB 488. PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 488 | Wed 06 Feb 2019

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS
-- Elizabeth Kendal

On Saturday 16 February Nigerians will head to the polls to elect a President and National Assembly. They will head to the polls again on 2 March to elect State Governors and State Assemblies. Those in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will elect a FCT Council. According to Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria has 84 million registered voters, of whom 42.9 million (51.1 percent) are 'youths' (aged 18-35years). While numerous political groups will seek to challenge the major parties, it will remain essentially a two-horse race. The general election will pit the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari (76), against the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (72). 

Muhammadu Buhari (a retired Major General and former military dictator) and the APC came to power in 2015 promising to tackle corruption, improve security and revive the economy. Instead, corruption has flourished, security has deteriorated to crisis levels and consequently the economy has stagnated. The result is widespread disillusionment, displacement and despair. Despite this record of abject failure, and though during his first term in office Buhari spent a total of 170 days absent on 'medical vacation' in London (including a 104 day stretch in 2017), President Buhari is campaigning for a second four-year term.

Muhammadu Buhari & Atiku Abubakar
Threatening to bring down the Buhari presidency and the APC government, however, is the issue of corruption. In keeping with his election promise of 2015, President Buhari  established an anti-corruption commission. The commission has uncovered massive fraud in military procurement. Essentially, government funds are secured on the basis of fake contracts for provisions and equipment which is never delivered -- everything from food and ammunition to firearms, helicopters and Alpha jets, totalling as much as US$15 billion. This goes some way to explaining why Fulani violence has spiralled out of control, Boko Haram is resurgent [see last week's RLPB 487 (30 Jan)], and army troops -- sick and tired of being thrown to the wolves without adequate rotation, food, ammunition, equipment or intelligence -- are demoralised, traumatised and on the verge of open revolt. Enormous efforts are being undertaken to suppress the commission's findings. As the elections approach, the level of panic among senior government and military officials rises.

On Friday 25 January President Buhari took the unprecedented and unconstitutional step of unilaterally dismissing Nigeria's seasoned Chief Justice, Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen (a southerner), citing corruption allegations. He then swore in, as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad who, like Buhari, hails from the north. If the election result is challenged, it will be the job of the Chief Justice of Nigeria to decide the matter. At an emergency meeting in Abuja on Monday 28 January the Nigerian Bar Association agreed to boycott the courts on 29-30 January to protest about what it described as a 'coup against the Nigerian judiciary'.

Both sides are digging in and furiously accusing the other of plotting to rig the elections and orchestrate violence. Both sides appear to be setting the stage so that, should they not be happy with the election result, they can cry 'fraud' and unleash chaos. If violence does erupt it will most certainly run along ethnic-religious lines, especially endangering Christian minorities in the north and Middle Belt. What the military will do remains to be seen.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* intervene in Nigeria to end corruption and forge national unity in the interests of security, justice, peace, liberty and the spread of the Gospel.

* awaken Nigerians to the dangers of hate speech and to the plots of those who would profit from violence without any care for human life; as bloodshed and darkness threaten, may Nigerians choose life and peace.

* raise up Nigerian leaders of integrity -- in government, in the military, in civil society and in the Church -- leaders who will serve the interests of the nation and all its peoples, rather than just themselves. 'Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach [disgrace, shame] to any people' (Proverbs 14:34).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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PRAYING THROUGH NIGERIA'S GENERAL ELECTIONS 

On 16 February Nigerians will vote to elect a President and National Assembly. It is essentially a two-horse race, pitting the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its presidential candidate, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari (76), against the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (72).  Buhari and the APC came to power in 2015 promising to tackle corruption, improve security and revive the economy. Instead, corruption has flourished, security has deteriorated and the economy has stagnated. The result is widespread disillusionment, displacement and despair. Both sides are digging in, accusing the other of plotting to rig the elections and orchestrate violence. If violence does erupt, it will doubtless unfold along ethnic-religious lines, endangering Christian minorities in the north and Middle Belt. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com