Sympathizers in Nigeria's high-ranking positions stall fight against militants, priest says

St Leo the Great Catholic Church in Enugu Nigeria was vandalized Nov 4 Credit Aid to the Church in Need wwwkirche in notch CNA Catholic News 11 9 12 St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Enugu, Nigeria was vandalized Nov 4, 2013. | Aid to the Church in Need/

Boko Haram sympathizers and others who support Nigeria being an Islamic State are stalling the fight against militants in the West African country, a local priest has said.

According to Fr. George Ehusani, a priest of the Diocese of Lokoja and executive director of the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, many of those secretly backing the activities of militants in Nigeria occupy key positions in various sectors of the country.

In a July 22 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Ehusani said that the sympathizers are thwarting every effort to defeat the militants by either supporting them materially or leaking key information pertaining planned offensives from the country’s military ranks.

“There are people who may not be as radical and as brutal as this Boko Haram or these violent bandits, but who share their sentiments, who share some of their ideological orientations, who sympathize with them; people who believe that Nigeria, or at least most of Nigeria, the Northern part of Nigeria, should be fully Islamic,” Fr. Ehusani says.

He adds, “There are people of that orientation in government. Everybody knows that there are people of that orientation in schools and colleges. There are people of that orientation in the military forces, in the security forces.”

“There are allegations that when plans are made as to how to swoop on these people and end this menace, the plans will leak out from the highest military command,” the priest said, adding, “The plans will leak out to the terrorists.”

Because the sympathizers occupy key positions in government and other influential positions in the public and private sectors, Fr. Ehusani says they are treated “with kid gloves”.

“We can see the lack of action, the inaction and treating these criminals with kid gloves all these years. We can see that some people in high places in government sympathize with these bandits and these criminals, and they will not easily allow, let’s say, the Nigerian air force to go and bomb their enclave,” he says.

The priest asserts that the government has been “more unwilling than unable” to fight the militants who continue to wreak havoc against populations in Nigeria, most of them Christian.

He finds it baffling that the Nigerian military has been able to quell violence in the neighboring countries, only to appear defeated by militants.

“Many of us are at a loss,” Fr. Ehusani said, asking, “How can a country that has trained military, trained army, navy, air force that has done very well in international peacekeeping, one that has done very well in helping to quell the crisis in Sierra Leone, in Liberia… say they cannot quell this Boko Haram problem?”

The priest said that Nigeria played a principal role in bringing to an end the 11-year war in Sierra Leone and in many other countries, including Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Fr. Ehusani says that militants are establishing territory in many places, especially in the north of the country, where many places have their specific flag.

“As we speak, swathes of territories in Northern Nigeria are no go areas except for them; meaning swathes of territories that I as a priest, as a Christian, cannot go into because they have taken over; they have hoisted their flag,” he stated.

He explained that in Borno state, for instance, there are vast territories where citizens are forced to pay taxes to Boko Haram and other bandits so as to be allowed to carry on legitimate activities like going to their farms.

“I am not able to give you the number or the geographical dimension or size but there are swathes of territories here and there where the average person cannot go to, that even government officials cannot go to,” he said, adding, “If the governor of the state wants to go there, he will need a battalion of the military to be able to go to that area.”

He noted a November 2020 incident in Zabarmari in Borno state. He said at least 39 farmers were killed, and “their offence was that they went to the farm.”

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He says that although many of those killed were Christians, Muslims were also victims of the violence.

Fr. Ehusani told ACI Africa that over time, militants who only targeted Christians have started killing Muslims who refuse to be part of them.

In the beginning of the Islamist attacks, only Christian places of worship were being burnt down, the priest recalled. With time, he said, the attacks degenerated and now, everybody who is not part of the militants is targeted.

“When it started, even the moderate Muslims either were too scared to speak out or they sympathized with these people. So, they kept quiet. So, part of the ways in which this thing became a wildfire is that at the beginning in 2009, 2010 and 2011, many moderate Muslims in Northern Nigeria kept quiet,” he said.

Fr. Ehusani said in reference to the Muslims, “At that time they thought that it is only us Christians who will be victims. Now when you ignore a wildfire, it will consume you yourself.”

“It is no longer just about Christians,” he reiterated, explaining that “Today, even mosques are being ransacked. Islamic schools have been ransacked.”

He said that when the attacks began, militants picked out Christians on abducted buses, killed them, and allowed Muslims to go. But “now they will kidnap everybody in the bus and ask for ransom. And if they don't get the ransom, they kill all of them.”

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The priest expressed concern that militants in Nigeria are evolving in their tactics and are accessing sophisticated weapons.

He explained that “Just four days ago, the criminals downed an air force plane. So, we're no longer just dealing with ground level troops anymore. We're dealing with people who have the capacity to either launch grenades, rockets or something to bring down a fighter jet.”

The leadership of Nigeria  “as presently constituted” has failed in protecting its people, he asserted, noting that at the moment the people can only trust in God.

“God alone is our trust because the government as presently constituted cannot even protect its own government officials not to talk of protecting Christians,” he said, adding, “Christians are the most vulnerable now since most of these bandits are determined to bring about Islamic rule.”

“As a Christian living in Northern Nigeria today, I do not have anything to look up to as anything coming from the government to be able to protect me,” Fr. Ehusani said.

He referred to the July 16 murder of Major General Hussaini Ahmed, saying, he “was brutally shot and killed on the road that he was traveling two hours away from Abuja.”

Fr. Ehusani said Ahmed’s sister, who was travelling with him, was kidnapped.

“He was brutally shot and killed, a major general in the army, former provost Marshal; and we have had such high-level people that are just killed like chickens,” the priest said.

He posed: “So, what kind of hope do you think that I have if I step out of my house that I cannot be killed? That's why I say to your question, I look up to this sky from where does my help come from. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. That’s all we can say as Christians in Nigeria today.”

The people have unceasingly reached out to the international community for help, where the government has failed, he said.

“We have also cried to the international community that, even if the government does not ask for help, see the number of people who are dying. Can you imagine that over 1,000 people are being killed every month, and we are not at war?”

He added, “There is no declared war. There is what is called low intensity conflict and high intensity conflict. By the time you have more than a thousand people having been killed every month, it is no longer low intensity. It is a high intensity conflict.”

The priest expressed regret that despite what has been described as a genocide in Nigeria, the government has done little to show concern.

The prayer chanted by Christians in Nigeria, the priest said, is, “Lord help us because the government of the day cannot help us.”

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