Abuja, Nigeria, Jan 26, 2015 / 17:02 pm
Against the background of continuing attacks by radical Islamist group Boko Haram, bishops in Nigeria are appealing for military aid from Western governments, as well as solidarity and prayer from around the world.
In the past week, Boko Haram has: captured nearly 80 people in Cameroon, freeing 24 of them; seized control of Monguno, a city of more than 100,000 located 85 miles northeast of Maiduguri; and twice attacked Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state.
"The West should bring in security – land forces to contain and beat back Boko Haram. A concerted military campaign is needed," Bishop Oliver Doeme of Maiduguri told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need just a week before the insurgency attacked his city on Jan. 24 and 25.
Much of the territory in the Diocese of Maiduguri is now controlled by Boko Haram. The group has destroyed 50 churches, Bishop Doeme says, and many more churches have been deserted. Of the diocese's 46 priests, 20 have been displaced, many to the neighboring Yola diocese.
On Jan. 23, Nigeria's national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, told the BBC that Nigeria and its neighbors were in "good shape" to fight Boko Haram, and that the assistance of U.N. or African Union troops was unnecessary.
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos told Vatican Radio Jan. 23 that he was "quite surprised" at Dasuki's assertion, "because the people are still dying and being displaced so if the government cannot adequately control the violence, I think there is need for international assistance."
Bishop Doeme added that the Jan. 7 razing of Baga revealed the Nigerian military's "ineptitude,"Aid to the Church in Need reported, adding that he called for senior officers who failed to do their job properly to be sacked "as a lesson to the others."
"Among the soldiers, there were sympathizers with Boko Haram – some of them were even Boko Haram members and many of them just ran away," Bishop Doeme said.
This weekend's attacks on Maiduguri were repelled by government soldiers, and a 24-hour curfew has been relaxed. Hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties in the city where thousands of people displaced from elsewhere in Borno have fled for refuge.
Archbishop Kaigama called the situation "very dangerous and very disturbing, because once they capture Maiduguri…then you can be sure that all of the areas around will easily fall to them."
He said military intervention, not diplomatic, is needed, because "we are dealing with a group that has lost all rationality and kills people at will…whether they are Christians or Muslims, they kill them indiscriminately," adding that dialogue "cannot happen in such circumstances."
Elections in Nigeria are scheduled for Feb. 14, though Dasuki has suggested that the vote be delayed. Goodluck Jonathan, who has been president since 2010, is running for re-election against Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress.
In the run-up to the election, Archbishop Kaigama lamented that in Nigeria, "politics is not used for the purpose intended."
"Most of our politicians don't see the common good and the interest of Nigerians as number one priority. They see themselves and their positions in power as the primary considerations. We hope that this will change."
He urged unity among Nigerians, saying that "when we lack political unity, religious unity, ethnic unity then it is easier for Boko Haram to penetrate and achieve the kind of negative results they are achieving," adding that the solidarity seen in France after the attack on Charlie Hebdo, which killed 17, is what is needed in his own country.
"This is needed in Nigeria. To go beyond politics, beyond our narrow religious confines, beyond our narrow ethnic groups and really uphold the common good and speak out against evil, against terrorism, against inhumanity and be together as one people. This is what we desire now."
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, Christian minorities, and moderate Muslims in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north.
A state of emergency was declared in Borno in May 2013, as well as in the neighboring Yobe and Adamawa states. The U.S. recognized Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization in November 2013, after a lengthy advocacy effort from human rights and Christian groups.
Boko Haram's attacks have killed thousands since 2009, including at least 4,000 in 2014, according to Human Rights Watch. More than 1.5 million have been displaced by the group.
"The threat we face presents a very bleak future for the Church," Bishop Doeme said. "Many of our members are scattered and others have been killed. In some areas there are no Christians any more. But the Church belongs to Christ. The Church will remain strong and many of our people have returned after land has been taken back by the Nigerian soldiers."
"The most important thing is to pray for our people," he concluded.
"I know people are praying for us and I am very grateful. I want people to pray the Hail Mary – our mother Mary has been championing our cause. We have a lot of devotion to the Blessed Virgin."