One day after bombings in his city killed nearly 120, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, has called on the international community to take tangible steps in helping to defeat a radical Islamist group.
Two bombs went off in Jos, capital of Nigeria’s centrally located Plateau State, on May 20. One blast was in a market, and the other was outside a nearby hospital. At least 118 people were killed, and 56 injured. The second bomb, set off half an hour after the first, killed rescue workers.
Archbishop Kaigama told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need May 21 that “the international community can help in a number of important ways. The sale of arms is of grave concern. In short, the (government) needs help in cutting the supply lines of Boko Haram and others.”
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful,” launched an uprising in 2009 and hopes to impose sharia law on Nigeria. It has targeted security forces, politicians, schools, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.
The group “is faithful to its target of eliminating and destroying Christianity from parts of the country,” commented Archbishop Kaigama. “The only difference is that we are not just seeing Christians dying and being abducted, we are seeing attacks on Muslims who (Boko Haram) considers are not Muslim enough.”
Boko Haram’s attacks have killed thousands since 2009, including at least 1,600 in 2014 alone. The U.N. estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons, and some 57,000 refugees.
While the militants have not claimed responsibility for this week’s bombings in Jos, they have acknowledged being behind a string of earlier attacks. They were also blamed for attacks on two villages in Borno state May 19 and 20 which killed 27.
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan called the attacks in Jos a “tragic assault on human freedom” and said his government “remains fully committed to winning the war against terror and … will not be cowed by the atrocities of enemies of human progress and civilization.”
Jonathan has been criticized for his government’s failure to do enough to block Boko Haram.
Archbishop Kaigama commented that “the problem is that the government thought that they did not have to apply all the force that was necessary to defeat them but they have been proved wrong,” adding that the government had done “too little, too late” and now “lacked the capacity” to deal with the Islamists.
“All the money used for the military has not been used properly,” he asserted. “Quite a lot of the budget was used for security but we do not see the fruits.”
He went on to appeal for concrete aid in such areas as intelligence gathering, border protections, and countering arms sales.
“While we appreciate what has been done recently with so many coming together in solidarity with us – and it really is great that the whole world is talking about it – what we need to do is work together to find solutions and put economics and other interests to one side.”
Boko Haram has drawn increased international attention since its April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, from their boarding school in Borno state.
The U.S. has deployed 80 military personnel to neighboring Chad to assist in intelligence gathering in northern Nigeria and surrounding areas, and is sharing intelligence with the Nigerian military.
Chad, Niger, and Cameroon have also pledged to join a force countering Boko Haram.
Both the U.S. and the U.K. are flying surveillance aircraft over Nigeria; a U.K. spy plane broke down on Tuesday, but has been repaired and is again operational. Israel has sent intelligence experts and specialists in hostage negotiation to help rescue the abducted schoolgirls.
After years of receiving requests from human rights and religious freedom organizations, the U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization late last year. The designation allows the U.S. government to freeze or seize its bank accounts, to deport its members and associates, and to sanction the group’s supporters.
On May 22, the U.N. Security Council approved sanctions against Boko Haram including an arms embargo and asset freeze.
Jos itself has been relatively peaceful for two years: “People were beginning to move freely from one end of the town to another without fear,” said Archbishop Kaigama.
“We thought we had moved beyond all this (violence) and so to wake up to this is very demoralizing. It is very tragic and unexpected,” he said of Tuesday’s bombings.
This is not the first time Archbishop Kaigama has appealed for peace and international aid. The prelate, who has led the Jos archdiocese since 2000, had told Vatican Radio in July 2012 that he and his priests were discouraged by foreign governments’ silence regarding the violence there.
A peaceful resolution “cannot be left to just one country,” he had said, urging a “collective effort.”
Many countries had issued travel warnings for their citizens, but otherwise remained silent.
And yet, Archbishop Kaigama told Vatican Radio two years ago, “this is the time we need them to express solidarity, that human show of love and support.”