Boko Haram Surges

Nigerian Bishops Urge Nonviolence in Dealing With Islamic Militants

KAMPALA, Uganda — While the Islamic State has boldly declared its intention of creating a caliphate in the Middle East, Boko Haram is doing its best to do the same in Nigeria.

With the latest news that Nigerian forces repelled an attack by the international terrorist group on the city of Maiduguri, it is becoming increasingly clear that the militant Islamists are seeking to expand the reign of terror in Nigeria.

At its inception, Boko Haram (translated as “Western education is sinful”) targeted educational institutions and abducted and killed students. Then, in 2012, the militant group added Christians, churches and other Christian institutions to its list of targets.

Not long after, the Islamic militant group began bombing government institutions. Following the inclusion of the Nigerian state on its list of targets, The Christian Post quoted Boko Haram as saying, “The Nigerian state and Christians are our enemies, and we will be launching attacks on the Nigerian state and its security apparatus, as well as churches, until we achieve our goal of establishing an Islamic state in place of the secular state.”

Over the past five years, the group has continued to broaden its range of targets to include moderate Muslims, among others. Targets have included churches, mosques, newspapers, government officials, security forces, banking institutions and influential individuals.

Given the expansion of the group’s violent activity, it is not clear whether the attacks are religiously or politically motivated.

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, told Fides, a Catholic news service, that Boko Haram has made further progress in the sophistication and intensity of the attacks, adding that it is now made up of fanatics who have lost its original goal.

“In the beginning, the aim of Boko Haram was to attack Christians in order to destabilize the community. But now, the ferocity of the members of this movement has no limits, to the point of slaughtering even those who should be their fellow Muslims,” Archbishop Kaigama said.

Spiritan Father Kuha Indyer told the Register that most Nigerians now believe everyone outside of the militant group is at risk of attack.

He added, “Honestly, most Nigerians are realizing, gradually, that Boko Haram is the reign of evil over good, not the terror of Islam over Christianity. How else can one explain the fact that even notable Muslim scholars opposed to the ideology of Boko Haram are also gunned down?”

Quoting a commentary from The Nation newspaper, he said a new consciousness is being created in the minds of Nigerians: “This is the time to unite and live, [rather] than divide and die. It is time to unite against terrorism.”

Regarding whether Christians are at the greatest risk from Boko Haram attacks, the journalist (a Catholic priest) affirmed Christians are naturally at greater risk, but he added Muslims, too, will not be spared.

“Nigeria, being a multiethnic and multireligious country, when a bomb goes off in a police station or a university, you cannot expect that it will affect only Christians,” he said.

Early this year, the Nigerian news source This Day Live noted Boko Haram had targeted some people simply because of their religion or professional occupation and indiscriminately killed and maimed many others.

Echoing the above statements, Archbishop Kaigama told Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity organization, that the repeated attacks in Kaduna and Kano show the fight has gone beyond the religions of Islam and Christianity. The archbishop’s statement came on the heels of the July 27 bombing of St. Charles Catholic Church in Nigeria’s northern city of Kano, which left five people dead and eight others wounded.

Bishop John Niring of the Diocese of Kano could not agree more. He, too, believes that Christians and Muslims are not at war.

After the St. Charles Church bombing, Father Kuha said Bishop Niring addressed a letter to the faithful of his diocese, which read, in part: “Christians and Muslims are not at war with each other. Our country is at war with religious fanatics and criminals, who are killing innocent Nigerians regardless of their religion. Good Christians and Muslims and, indeed, all people of goodwill must work together to identify, isolate and punish these criminals according to the law of the land.”

Church’s Relief Work
Despite the rising concerns over the security of Christians who have, over time, become key targets of Boko Haram, Christian leaders are calling for dialogue. The leaders want the Nigerian president to negotiate with Boko Haram leadership.

“We are living in perpetual fear and tension here in Maiduguri,” said Father John Bakeni, secretary of the Diocese of Maiduguri in Borno. More than 400 churches have been attacked and destroyed since the launch of Boko Haram, according to the Northern Christian Elders Forum, which advocates for peace in Nigeria. About 20 of those churches are Catholic.

Even so, analysts are beginning to question Boko Haram’s commitment to its earlier claims of complete and immediate implementation of sharia (Islamic law) in the whole of Nigeria.

“I think they are hiding under religion to gain sympathy and acceptance for their actions,” Religion News Service quoted Father Bakeni as having said. He added, “Sharia is no longer the bone of contention. What we are witnessing now is [the] wanton massacre and murder of innocent people, Christians and Muslims alike.”

Meanwhile, the Maiduguri Diocese, which covers Yobe, Borno and parts of the Adamawa states in northern Nigeria, remains the most affected area. To counteract the debilitating effect the violence has had on the diocese, the Church has set up a program of hope and rehabilitation for the more than 2,000 women widowed largely by the Boko Haram insurgency in its parishes in the northern states.

Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri told journalists the program was a Christ-like response to a dire situation: “The widows suffer a lot once their husbands are gone; they are neglected, and most of the family members do not come close to them, let alone help them.”

Sister Grace Candiru,

of the Missionary Sisters of Mary,

Mother of the Church,

writes from Kampala, Uganda.