Boko Haram’s January attack on Baga and its sustained control of several towns in northeastern Nigeria make credible February presidential elections impossible, Nigeria relations expert Adeniyi Ojutiku told Baptist Press.
“There is no way there can be … free, fair and credible elections while Nigeria is engaged in war against terror, because people cannot feel free to be able to cast their ballot,” Ojutiku said after Boko Haram’s January attack on Baga and surrounding towns that killed about 2,000 and displaced 30,000 more.
“So whatever the outcome, the result of the election is going to be in disputation,” Ojutiku said. “Whatever party loses is going to claim it was not free and fair, so it will again lead to an escalation of the Boko Haram crisis.”
In addition to Baga, Boko Haram has established caliphates in towns covering some 20,000 square miles, including Gwoza, Damboa, Bama, Mafa, Dikwa, Kala Balge, Ngala, Marte, Abadam, Mobar, Kukawa, Guzamala Gubio, Magumeri, Chibok, and Askira/Uba in Borno state; Madagali, Michika, Mubi South, Mubi North, Hong, Gombi and parts of Maiha in Adamawa state, and Gujuba and Gulani in Yobe state, according to an Ojutiku associate in Abuju, Nigeria.
In elections slated Feb. 14, Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party faces a strong challenge from a Muslim candidate, Retired Gen. Mohammad Buhari of the All Progressive Congress, a political party formed in 2013 from three ethnically and regionally based parties, according to news reports.
“If [Buhari] loses, the north is going to boil with human carnage. If he wins, and Jonathan loses, the [deep] south where all the oil revenue of Nigeria comes from, is going to cordon off the oil revenue of Nigeria and Nigeria is going to topple into serious economic crisis,” Ojutiku predicted.
A Jonathan victory, Ojutiku said, would incite Boko Haram to escalate attacks and become more genocidal, killing non-indigents in northern Nigeria, including Christians who migrate from the south in search of employment.
“That was what led to the fourth Nigerian civil war. The Nigerian civil war was because the northern Muslims began to kill the Southern Christian Ibos,” Ojutiku said. “There is going to be a repeat of that event because this time they are going to just go after the southerners, the people who have migrated from the south to work in the north.” While oil is concentrated in the south, the revenue does not benefit southern Nigerians, Ojutiku said.
“We have two possible scenarios it seems like we cannot avoid. So whoever wins, whichever wins, there is going to be a crisis situation in Nigeria,” Ojutiku said. “Going into the election, people are already killing each other … destroying each other’s property.”
Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist in Raleigh, N.C., has founded Lift Up Now, a grassroots outreach to reform his homeland economically and spiritually. A Lift Up Now representative from Nigeria, Ojutiku said, will speak during a Jan. 27 congressional hearing on the Nigeria elections, hosted by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
Another Lift Up Now supporter, Emmanuel Ibrahim, a member of the Church of Christ in Nations Church in Abuja, Nigeria, told Ojutiku that many members of the electorate in northeastern Nigeria have been displaced from their homes, their polling places and voting identification cards destroyed.
“Most of the electorates have been dispersed from their homes, local governments, states, [and] the country to refugee camps scattered all over Cameroon, Chad Republic, Niger Republic and the internally displaced persons camps in Maiduguri, Yola and Gombe,” Ibrahim emailed Ojutiku. “The question now is where are all these eligible voters who have become Internally Displaced Person’s in their own country going to cast their votes?”
Internally displaced persons not only have no locations to cast their votes, but likely do not have copies of their voter credentials issued in 2011, as their belongings were destroyed in Boko Haram attacks, Ibrahim wrote.
Boko Haram, seeking to establish Sharia law, had killed thousands of Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians in attacks targeting religious communities in Northern Nigeria since 2012, according to news reports, with the death toll calculated between 10,000 and 12,000. An estimated 1.5 million Nigerians have been forced to flee their homes, according to September 2014 figures from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Boko Haram intensified attacks in Nigeria after Jonathan declared a state of emergency in northeastern Nigeria in May 2013 and has become more indiscriminate in attacks that originally targeted Christians.
“The crisis has escalated beyond just killing Christians,” Ojutiku said Jan. 12. “Now there is evidence that this very radical Islamic sect is now devouring their own moderate Muslims. Initially, yes, Christians, but now they are more indiscriminate.”
The U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram an official foreign terrorist organization in December 2013, giving the U.S. added power to weaken the group. The European Union followed in June, designating the jihadists a terror group.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)