This report is contributed by John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need.
The bishop whose diocese in northeast Nigeria has been hardest hit by Boko Haram wants Western governments to commit military power to defeat the increasingly powerful and ruthless organization.
Describing how the group is strategically superior to the Nigerian army and is now recruiting in countries across North and Sub-Saharan Africa, Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri said that Western military intervention was the only viable option in the fight against the militants who have now allied themselves to the Islamic State.
In an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the bishop charged that Nigeria’s military is weakened by incompetence, corruption as well as infiltration by Boko Haram elements. He argued that Boko Haram’s capture of the
strategically important city Baga means that the terrorist group is poised to become a threat well beyond Nigeria’s borders—as evident in its recruiting efforts in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Libya.
Bishop Dashe Doeme, whose diocese is in the very heartland of territory controlled by the militants, said: “The West should bring in security—land forces to contain and beat back Boko Haram. A concerted military campaign is needed.”
He said the situation had become so critical—with more devastating Boko Haram attacks last week south of the regional capital of Maiduguri—that it calls for an intervention along the lines of the French campaign of early 2013 that pushed jihadists out of Mali.
The bishop said the attacks on Baga revealed the ineptitude of the Nigerian military; he called for senior officers who failed to do their job properly to be sacked “as a lesson to the others.”
He added: “Among the soldiers, there were sympathizers with Boko Haram—some of them were even Boko Haram members and many of them just ran away.”
The bishop also called for strong measures against foreign backers of the Islamist terror group. “The [Nigerian] government knows who are sponsoring Boko Haram,” the prelate said, though without offering specifics.
The bishop described how within five years the Boko Haram threat has decimated his diocese, destroying 50 churches; in addition, 200 churches have simply been abandoned.
He said that 1,000 of his faithful have been killed, many of them by Islamists. Bishop Doeme said: “The [extremists] point a gun or a knife at them saying that if they do not convert they will be killed. Some of them have been killed for refusing to convert.”
Since 2009, nearly 70,000 of the 125,000 Catholics in Maiduguri have fled their homes. The bishop urgently appealed for help for these faithful. Half of all diocesan priest have also left the area, many of them finding refuge in the neighboring Diocese of Yola.
He said: “The threat we face presents a very bleak future for the Church. Many of our members are scattered and others have been killed. In some areas there are no Christians any more. But the Church belongs to Christ. The Church will remain strong and many of our people have returned after land has been taken back by the Nigerian soldiers.
“The most important thing is to pray for our people; I know people are praying for us and I am very grateful. I want people to pray the Hail Mary – our mother Mary has been championing our cause. We have a lot of devotion to the Blessed Virgin.”
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)