At the centre of the violence is Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist militant group which has become notorious for abducting and kidnapping girls and women. One of the internationally known episodes was the kidnapping of 279 girls—ages 16-18 years—from the Government Secondary School in Chibok town, in Borno State in 2014.
According to Rev. Dr Benebo Fubara-Manuel, president of the Christian Council of Nigeria, the government has not been able to stop Boko Haram, which is now spreading its violence in the southern parts of the country.
“It is difficult to know why they abduct girls and women apart from the evident effort to force them into Islamic faith against every rule of decency even among regular Muslims. Many of these girls are raped and impregnated or forced into marriage at the risk of their lives,” says Fubara-Manuel, who is also a vice president of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa.
Since 2016, the council has been implementing a project in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which focuses on ending violence against girls and women.
“It (the project) is engaging stakeholders, theological tutors, and Sunday school teachers and sensitizing them on the need to put in place modalities that would lead to ending violence against women and girls,” he explains.
Fubara-Manuel believes that the churches have a role in sensitizing communities about violence against girls and women. They can also help clarify theological positions that perpetuate the violence, as well as hold to account the persons who perpetuate the violence.
“Churches have to create environments that allow children to speak freely on the subject and the churches should take the matter seriously,” explains the leader, saying that the churches—working with governmental agencies and nonprofit organizations—can push for policies that help tackle the violence.
At the same time, churches can become centres of rehabilitation or provide such centres for the women and girls who need therapy or any other forms of assistance.
For Rev. Dr Rachel Lateju, executive director of the Women’s Missionary Union of the Nigerian Baptist Convention, the impact of insecurity and violence on women and children is grave. She says many of them are living in fear, while thousands of others are homeless or starving. Others are traumatized, suffering low self-esteem, and many others who are breadwinners for their families have been killed.
Lateju’s organization is for women and children, and according to her, the women and children believe so much in the church and look forward to receiving help from it in times of trouble.
“In recent times, the church has not been silent about the occurrences of violence and insecurity in the country,” she says.
The union has been offering physical, financial, emotional, spiritual and material support—including food and clothing—to the women. The churches are also organising visits where they encourage and provide pastoral support to the victims and organise prayer retreats during which they pray about these challenges.
“They (churches) do not abandon the women and children who are experiencing violence and insecurity in the country. Women’s Missionary Union members go to mission fields and camps for internally displaced people where victims of violence reside,” says Lateju.
Lateju believes that there is an urgent need to end any further occurrences of violence and insecurity in Nigeria, and restore security and tranquillity to the country.
“In achieving this, all hands must be on deck. Everyone has a part to play and it starts from the individual up to the government level,” she says.
This article is part of the WCC article series on Nigeria.