Nigerian pastor: 'Boko Haram are political thugs'

People gather at the scene of a car bomb explosion, at the market in Maiduguri, Nigeria in July, which was blamed on Boko Haram militantsAP Photo/Jossy Ola

A senior pastor who has witnessed dozens of his church members be killed or kidnapped has condemned Boko Haram as "political thugs" who are exploiting religion in an attempt to destroy Christianity in Nigeria.

Dr Obed Dashan, of the Church of Christ in Nations based in northern Nigeria, said it was only his and his people's faith in God that had allowed them to keep going.

"If you do not have faith in these difficult times you will not survive," he told Christian Today on a visit to Britain. "We have kept faith. God has been very good. He has sustained the Church in all of these difficult times. That is why we pray for Muslims. We love them. We do not like what they are doing.

"The Bible teaches us to love those who hate us. Part of what sustains us is that we love them, pray for them and still trust that somehow, some day there will be an end to all of this."

He was speaking as news emerged of further atrocities committed by Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group thought to be responsible for more than 10,000 deaths in Nigeria since 2009.

Dr Dashan, speaking from the church's London base near Hammersmith, west London, added: "I live in Jos. We have people in all the Boko Haram infested areas. People have been killed. We have lost members. We have lost pastors. We have lost property. It is difficult to keep track of numbers but I would put it at more than 100 people. Some were children, high school children.

"It is very difficult to say whether it is religious or political. If you look at the history, we think it is religious. But it has put on the face of politics as well."

He referred to the Sokoto Caliphate, the unifying Islamic empire in Northern Nigeria which arose at the start of the 19th century and became a powerful force in sub-Saharan African through to the British conquest in 1903. "In 1804 there was a definite commitment to Islam, starting from the north to the south. People today are following a particular script that has been out there for many years. Boko Haram have come in as political thugs, taking religious tools to destroy Christianity and the churches. If they find Muslims who are against them, they will kill them also."

The Church of Christ in Nations has 2.5 million members across six states of Nigeria.

The church is receiving support from the charity Release International, which helps persecuted Christians in more than 30 countries around the world by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners and their families and by supplying Christian literature and Bibles and working for justice.

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