It is ten years since the inception of terrorist activities by the Boko Haram Islamist group in Nigeria. This group of radical Islamist, whose principal goal is to create a strict Islamic state in the North of Nigeria started in 2009 and have continued to carry out deadly attacks, ravaging entire villages, killing and maiming people indiscriminately, bombing and burning down churches and public places, kidnapping especially women and girls who were forced to convert to Islam.
The North East of Nigeria has been the hotbed of this terrorist group affecting the Catholic dioceses of Maiduguri, Yola, and Taraba. Of these Dioceses, the worst hit has been the Diocese of Maiduguri, as the terrorists have their main base in Borno State (Maiduguri is the capital of Borno State). In this interview with Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic bishop of Maiduguri Diocese, Msgr Oliver Dashe Doeme speaks about the current situation and the progress made by the Church through the years.
How is the Church in Maiduguri diocese faring at the moment after ten years of Boko Haram terrorism?
For the past ten years, the Church in the Catholic diocese of Maiduguri has experienced severe persecution in the hands of the dreaded Islamic sect known as Boko Haram. Colossal destructions have been caused to lives and property by the sect members. Boko Haram means Western Education is evil and since Christianity has a link with western education, it should be eliminated. But at the moment, things have improved greatly. Many of our people who were displaced have returned to their ancestral homes. The faith of the faithful is becoming stronger. Some of the destroyed structures have been rebuilt. Despite all, we give thanks and praise to God for his mercy and kindness towards His children in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri. To God be the glory.
One of the rebuilt structures is the diocesan St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It was destroyed by Boko Haram and on the 10th of July 2019, was dedicated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, Archbishop Antonio Guido Filipazzi. What does this mean for the Church in the diocese of Maiduguri?
Our cathedral and other structures within the compound were affected by two separate bomb blasts that occurred outside the fence in 2012. Thanks be to God, no life was lost because there were no people around the cathedral premises. But the cathedral church, the priests’ residence, and our diocesan secretariat were badly affected by the bomb explosions. The dedication of the newly rebuilt cathedral in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri is a clear sign that victory has been won by God for his people and it marks the beginning of the Church’s recovery from the crisis. In 2014, over half of the areas covered by our diocese were under Boko Haram control. At that time, we would have never imagined that by now we would have a new cathedral standing in Maiduguri city. Even though some of our lay faithful fled the diocese and up to now some have not yet come back. Those on the ground have been very supportive of the church. Amazingly, the parishioners in St. Patrick cathedral Maiduguri were able to raise up to three-quarters of the funds realized for the building of the new cathedral. We thank the international foundation ACN for her support. The greatest asset the Church possesses in the midst of this persecution is the faith of the people.
Boko Haram also destroyed many of the structures belonging to the church in different parts of our diocese. Could you give figures of diocesan structures affected by the insurgency?
The list is very long, to summarize: Our Minor Seminary in Shuwa. It was turned into a camping ground by the terrorists, where they gathered people who were conscripted and kept their loots. As they departed the seminary, they set most of the structures ablaze. Thank God it has gone through stages to reconstruction thanks as well to the support of ACN. Also, our Catechetical Training Centre located in Kaya was destroyed in 2014 and was heavily looted by the terrorists. Furthermore two convents, two mission hospitals, over 15 mission schools, more than ten priests residences, and over 250 parishes and outstation churches.
You mentioned that a number of the faithful, religious and Priests were displaced from their homes, parishes, convents, and places of assignment. Have they all returned?
The peak of the attacks of Boko Haram on our people was in 2014. In that year, the sect members took over many areas covered by our diocese. As a result of this, more than 25 priests were displaced, over 45 religious nuns were sacked from their convents, over 200 catechists were driven away from their places of work, and more than 100,000 Catholics were sent running from their ancestral homes. But we give thanks to God for the tremendous improvement in the security situation. All the priests have come back to their places of apostolate. There are some of our priests who are out on mission both within and outside our country. Out of the 44 parishes and pastoral areas that we have in the diocese, only three parishes are still not functioning because of some pockets of attacks that occur there. Some of the religious sisters have come back to their convents, but others have not come back because their convents have not been rebuilt. More than 90% of our lay faithful have come back to their communities. To God be the glory.
What is your message to ACN and benefactors?
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has been the backbone of the Church in our diocese. Without the support we have received from ACN, the church in our diocese would have long collapsed. ACN has assisted and is still assisting the diocese in areas such as sponsoring our annual priests’ retreats, training of our priests, training major seminarians, mass stipends, rebuilding our minor seminary and rebuilding of priests residences among others. We are indeed grateful to the staff of ACN and the numerous benefactors of ACN, for the tremendous support they have been giving the suffering Church in the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri: The suffering Church is praying for all of you. May the good Lord who can never be outdone in generosity reward you all with his peace in this world and eternal life in his Kingdom.