Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jun 24, 2014 / 16:16 pm
The bishop of a northern Nigerian diocese said at a conference last week that among the factors which has led to violence by a radial Islamist group there is the government's corruption and lack of administration.
"The grounds (Boko Haram) have against the Nigerian state are basically the same as ordinary Nigerians have about the persistence of corruption, the growing inequalities, the fact that the political system is not working and that poverty is increasing," Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto told CNA.
"There is nothing that Boko Haram does that is tolerable … they are purely and simply criminals who are robbing banks and seizing individuals, they're kidnapping young women, they're killing people all over the place."
The bishop's comments came June 17 at the 11th annual meeting of the Oasis International Foundation, which discussed "The Temptation of Violence: Religions between War and Reconciliation."
The Oasis Foundation was founded by Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan in 2004 to foster mutual understanding and encounter between the western/Christian and Muslim worlds. The June 16-17 conference was held in Sarajevo, discussing, in addition to Boko Haram, religious violence in the Middle East; the fallout from World War I; violence in India; and religious-ethnic tensions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bishop Kukah, whose cathedral city lies fewer than 60 miles from the Nigerien border, delivered a paper at the conference discussing Nigerians' plight under Boko Haram, an Islamist group which launched an uprising in 2009 and hopes to impose sharia law on Nigeria. It has targeted security forces, politicians, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north.
Its 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.
On June 23, an explosion attributed to Boko Haram at a public health college in Kano killed eight and wounded at least 20.
In the past week, several villages in Nigeria's northeastern Borno state were attacked by Boko Haram, with dozens of people killed and more than 60 women and children abducted, according to the BBC. The group continues to hold more than 200 schoolgirls, most of them aged between 16 and 18, whom they kidnapped from their boarding school, also in Borno, on April 14.
Bishop Kukah said Boko Haram's prominence in Nigeria's north came against "the backdrop of a state whose apparatus of governance had become very weak while the Muslim ulama (lawyer class) was also losing its credibility and moral authority," calling it a "free-for-all environment."
"Clearly, what is happening today lies in the years of corruption, mismanagement of state resources which has consigned our citizens to a life of misery and squalor," he said, explaining that Boko Haram's references to "justice" and "sharia" are not only driven ideologically but also an expression of "the frustration that has spread across the country."
The bishop's point echoed what has been said by his peers: in May, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos told Aid to the Church in Need that the Nigerian government had done "too little, too late" in responding to the Islamists, charging that "all the money used for the military has not been used properly. Quite a lot of the budget was used for security but we do not see the fruits."
The Nigerian government, Bishop Kukah said, "must act urgently to address the issues of corruption by ending impunity in public life and laying the foundations for good governance."
Nigeria scored a 25 out of 100 on Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, in the company of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Iran, Papua New Guinea, and Ukraine. It had fallen from a 27 the previous year.
Since gaining its independence in 1960, Nigeria has largely been ruled by military juntas. Its democratization began in 1999. Bishop Kukah charged that "successive leaders have done very little to forge a united nation."
"The levels of poverty and misery, the depth of growing inequalities is morally intolerable and there is no way that Nigeria can enjoy peace if it does not address these issues with seriousness," he stressed.
Nigeria's population is nearly evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, with Muslims residing largely in the north, and Christians in the south.
Nigeria's biggest challenge, Bishop Kukah said, is "to rise up and seek to build a country where difference is not an obstacle for the celebration of our common humanity. The goals and ideals of our religions offer us the best option. The challenge is for us to rescue religion and its sacred teachings from the clutches and abuse by fanatics and extremists whether they are in politics or criminal jihadists."
Though he comes from a diocese where less than one percent of the population is Catholic, Bishop Kukah called the threat of Boko Haram a challenge to Nigerians' "corporate existence," rather than "a religious battle between Christians and Muslims."
The means of countering Boko Haram, he told CNA, is "by building local confidence and helping local citizens to trust the government. This is something the government has not worked very hard on in the past."
"Because ordinary citizens have been victims of police excesses and police extortion, there's a loss of confidence with the security agencies. So a lot of the challenges relate to confidence building, and people just getting a sense of meaning in their lives."