Life is cheaper than salt: a Nigerian bishop facing Boko Haram

Life is cheaper than salt: a Nigerian bishop facing Boko Haram

Displaced persons in Maiduguri, who are being cared for by the local Church, in Sept. 2014. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.
Displaced persons in Maiduguri, who are being cared for by the local Church, in Sept. 2014. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need.

.- Bishop Oliver Doeme, who heads the Nigerian diocese which has suffered the most from Boko Haram, has lamented his government's failure to effectively counter the militants, saying human life is being devalued.

“We use to think that salt is the cheapest commodity in the market, well, life is cheaper now especially in the Northeastern part of Nigeria,” Bishop Doeme of Maiduguri wrote in a report delivered recently to his fellow bishops and to Aid to the Church in Need, which is helping him to rebuild Church infrastructure and to care for the thousands of displaced persons in his diocese.

Maiduguri is the capital of Borno State, which is the center of activity for the radical Islamist group whose name means “Western education is sinful.” It launched an uprising in 2009, the same year Bishop Doeme was transferred to Maiduguri.

Bishop Doeme's diocese covers much of the territory of Borno State, as well as the states of Adamawa and Yobe. In May 2013, Nigeria's president declared a state of emergency in those three states because of Boko Haram's violence.

“The last one month has seen the intensification and aggressive devastation of the Boko Haram activities in Northern, Central and Southern part of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri,” Bishop Doeme wrote, noting their “brutality and callousness.”

“Many of our people are being forced out of their ancestral homes, villages and towns. Right now, thousands are living in caves on the mountains, some in the forest; the few who were able to escape are being absorbed by friends and relatives in Maiduguri, Mubi and Yola. Thousands have managed to escape into the Cameroons and are living under very difficult conditions of lack of food, shelter and medication.”

Boko Haram has declared its animosity for Christianity and the Church; eucational institutions; the Nigerian government; and moderate Muslims, attacking all of these alike.

Bishop Doeme commented that “while I refused to believe a single narration of this reality … there is still a religious under-tone to this whole mess. We might shy away from it, we may be silent and unable to speak up or speak out now against the plan to Islamize the Northeast and eventually Nigeria.”

He did acknowledge Boko Haram's targeting of all who oppose their radical Islamist agenda, noting that “both Christians and Muslims are being affected, both Christians and Muslims have been killed; both Christians and Muslims have been driven out of their ancestral homes, villages and towns, Christians and Muslims have been Internally Displaced and are refuge(e)s in their own home state.”

“But what we are witnessing in Northern Adamawa is a clear confirmation and the unfolding of this agenda,” he added. “I am speaking as a leader and shepherd of the Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri and how much destruction and devastation we have seen and are still going through.”

He lamented that his people are dying daily, their homes looted, and “they have become slaves and prisoners in their fatherland … life has become so cheap that it can be wasted any moment.”

Violence continues unabated, Bishop Doeme commented. “In the last one month more Parishes have been closed down and the people and the Priests are on the run.”

He narrated eight attacks on ecclesial institutions in the past month.

First in Pulka, St. Peter parish was burnt down, the rectory looted, and more than 20 “outstation Churches closed and burnt down.” A diocesan hospital was subject to arson. Many people fled to nearby Cameroon, and many youths were captured. “Women who could not escape were forced to convert to Islam and married out to the terrorists; some of the elderly who cannot escape are being killed, some are left to die from hunger and starvation.”

The bishop continued, showing the path of destruction levied by Boko Haram as it advanced along a national highway, the A13. Parishes and rectories have been burnt or requisitioned as operational bases, women enslaved, men conscripted, and some killed. He presented a list of towns and villages under Boko Haram's control: 10 in Borno, 10 in Yobe, and five in Adamawa.

Bishop Doeme noted that nearly 20 priests of his diocese have taken refuge in Yola, the capital of Adamawa.

“Thank God for our brother, Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza who has been kind to accept them and assigned them to parishes within Yola where they can at least eat and sleep.”

He said that his own cathedral city is threatened by Boko Haram, saying it “is sitting on a keg of gun powder … the number of civilians that have migrated into Maiduguri on foot from Bama, Kawuri and Kunduga is suggestive that the terrorists have an upper hand in the fight.”

“We are faced with a huge humanitarian crisis; people are sleeping on the streets in Maiduguri, despite the Seven or more camps within the city for the Internally Displaced Persons.”

The bishop told Aid to the Church in Need Oct. 25 that the Diocese of Maiduguri “has given some relief materials to over 1,500 IDPs and it has joined hands with the Yola Diocese to assist those who have taken refuge there.”

He added that “we are in dire need of external assistance to help alleviate the difficult situation of the refugees, especially of the children who, out of school and vulnerable to diseases, face an uncertain future.”

In his situation report, Bishop Doeme also discussed the Nigerian government's and military's inability to cope with Boko Haram: “What is very worrying and discouraging in the whole scenario, is the attitude of the military whom we mortgage and depend on for security. In the face of these attacks they flee and ask civilians to do the same.”

He said Boko Haram are able to overrun towns “almost unchallenged,” saying their “mastery and tact … is unequalled” by the Nigerian military. The government “cannot safe guard the lives of its citizens,” he charged, adding that “the bottom line is that the government and our political leaders have failed us and we have lost total trust and confidence in our government and our leaders.”

His comments echoed those made previously by such leaders as Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, who has said that “our government has not been able to smoke them out” and “I don't believe that our government is making this a top priority.”

Bishop Doeme continued: “The almost inaction of the government, the lukewarm attitude and the silence of the government is very disturbing. There is a total disconnection between what our so called leaders in Abuja report in the media and the reality on ground.”

On Oct. 17, the Nigerian government announced a ceasefire with Boko Haram, saying that they had agreed to the release of more than 200 girls abducted in April. Boko Haram never confirmed the ceasefire, and by Oct. 23 there were reports that they had abducted dozens of women and girls from two villages in Adamawa.

A presidential spokesman said Oct. 28 that the government is holding talks with Boko Haram, adding he is optimistic there will be a “concrete and positive” outcome.

Since 2009, Boko Haram's attacks have killed thousands; including at least 4,000 in 2014 alone, according to Human Rights Watch. The UN estimates that the attacks have led to more than 470,000 internally displaced persons, and some 57,000 refugees.

Bishop Doeme urged that in light of Boko Haram, Nigerians “come together … forgetting our religious, ethnic, regional, cultural and ideological differences to face this menace,” and urged international assistance: “We are sinking fast in the quick sand, let us swallow our empty pride as Nigerians and ask for International assistance in tackling this problem. After all, if we have been assisting other countries and nations restore peace and Order why do we feel that it is humiliating to ask for help now that our house is on fire.”

He concluded saying that “we will ever remain grateful and thankful to all of you for your prayers, support and closeness in this moment of great trials and tribulations.”

“I as the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Maiduguri the Priests and the lay faithful feel the warmth of your prayers and solidarity. We are committed to witness to the Gospel and pay the price when the time comes.”

Tags: Martyrs, Nigeria, Boko Haram

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