This report is contributed by Mark von Riedemann of Aid to the Church in Need.
The Nigerian bishop whose diocese has been hardest hit by Boko Haram expressed confidence in his country’s newly elected president, Muhammadu Buhari, to lead the fight against the jihadist organization.
Bishop Oliver Doehme of the Diocese of Maiduguri made his comments in a meeting with members of the European Parliament, an encounter made possible by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“The presidential election was unexpectedly peaceful,” the bishop said, adding that “the massive turnout at the polling stations was a clear indication that the people wanted change. Outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, in a moment of precarious transition which could have destabilized the country, showed statesmanship by conceding defeat even before the final results were officially declared. This was the fruit of prayer.”
Security issues top the country’s agenda, and nowhere more than in the northeast of the country, where the government’s presence has been scarce. The situation was made worse by Muslim leaders, who, angry at the 2011 election of Jonathan, who is Christian, allowed for the free movement of Boko Haram militants in the region.
Bishop Doehme told European legislators that “Boko Haram has one agenda—to Islamicize the northeast and eventually all of Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest population. The destabilization of Nigeria would risk a spiraling of religiously motivated violence throughout the continent. This goal, highlighted by the pledge of allegiance Boko Haram made to ISIS and the group’s stated intent to establish a radical Islamic caliphate in Nigeria, is very real.”
Recently, however, Nigerian military and a Joint Task Force consisting of soldiers from neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger have been successful in driving back Boko Haram forces and liberating communities. The Joint Task Force has closed cross-border escape routes, allowing for a more effective strategy to fight Boko Haram. Many wonder why this approach was not implemented earlier.
“In the wake of the military successes, many displaced people are coming back, but they return to find nothing in their homes. The villages are wiped out: houses have been burned to the ground, animals stolen, and the crops destroyed. The rainy season has started but they have not been able to plant.
“Our needs are overwhelming. The Church structures, too, have not been spared. Over 250 church buildings have been razed, among them 20 schools destroyed – all of which served mainly the Muslim population. We have nothing and need everything,” the bishop said, adding that 70,000 of his faithful have been displaced.
Thus far, violence unleashed by Boko Haram has claimed more than 11,000 lives, displacing 500,000. Bishop Doeme reported that “young boys captured were forcefully conscripted as Boko Haram fighters; girls were forced to convert and marry the terrorists and the elderly were left to die of starvation. This has affected every village that has fallen into their hands.”
Much remains to be done: “Most of the terrorists are still in the bush and the fact that the Sambisa Forest, the hub for Boko Haram, has not yet been recaptured is also worrying. But President Buhari is a military man. He is a Muslim—but he has indicated that he is the president for all Nigerians regardless of religious tradition,” the prelate testified.
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)