Protect us – One archbishop's plea as Nigeria elections loom

St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Enugu, Nigeria was vandalized Nov 4, 2013. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need/www.kirche-in-not.ch.
St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Enugu, Nigeria was vandalized Nov 4, 2013. Credit: Aid to the Church in Need/www.kirche-in-not.ch.

.- As Nigeria's general elections draw near, the archbishop of the central city of Jos warned candidates not to put political agendas over people's safety and urged more rapid solutions to Boko Haram violence.

“This is a time in Nigeria that calls for genuine, authentic patriotism, because the attacks seem to be ongoing and destruction and displacement seem to be becoming a regular phenomenon,” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama told CNA Nov. 22.

“We are hoping that Nigerians who care for the good and the profit of Nigeria and Nigerians will do everything possible by transcending narrow political interests in order to genuinely seek solutions to end the phenomenon of Boko Haram.”

The radical Islamist group Boko Haram began its deadly insurgency in 2009, killing over 4,000 people in 2014 alone, according to Human Rights Watch. The group has been threatening to cross into Cameroon, which shares a 300-mile border with Nigeria.

With violence continuing to grow rather than abate, the Nigerian government's inability to contain the group has drawn heavy criticism.

Boko Haram captured the town of Chibok on Nov. 13, and the Nigerian army retook the area three days later. The group also overran the predominantly Christian community of Mubi Oct. 29, forcing over 50,000 people to flee.

“The attacks seem to be endless and without any sense,” Archbishop Kaigama said. He noted the many people who have been displaced due to the continued conflict, including Muslims that don't share Boko Haram's extremist ideologies.

Fear has become the everyday experience of the people, he said, explaining that the government's efforts to control Boko Haram will only be believed “when we see that these attacks and territorial expansion stop.”

As violence continues to unfold in the country, Nigeria's leaders are intensely campaigning for their general elections, which are set to take place in February.

According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, the country’s presidential and national elections will take place on Feb. 14, while elections for the Governorship and State House of Assembly is set for Feb. 28.

With many politicians busy with campaigns and strategizing for the elections, Archbishop Kaigama lamented that “they have not given sufficient attention to the safety of the people who are being attacked by Boko Haram.”

“There is more interest in who gets what position. That is all that matters. They spend a lot of resources on this…and when you compare that with the thousands of displaced people, you wonder what our politicians are struggling to have power for,” he said.

The archbishop voiced his hope that politicians, traditional leaders, tribal elders, and members of both the People’s Democratic Party and All People's Congress of Nigeria would forget about political aspirations and put the safety and interests of their citizens first.

In a recent meeting held between Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan and the bishops of Nigeria, Archbishop Kaigama recalled how “we had to remind them that things are not good; that there is fire on the mountain.”

He said that if the ongoing violence – mostly limited to Nigeria's northeast provinces – is not contained, it will spread and “de-civilize” the entire country.

“We are just waiting to see what can be done and what is being done,” the archbishop said, noting that despite the bleak situation, Nigerians are maintaining a spirit of optimism.

“We believe that with the pressure being mounted on the government and the security agents that something is being done,” he said, but called for the government to show the physical evidence that they have won back some of the towns that they have claimed to regain.

At this point it’s not enough simply to be told, he said, explaining that once the elections are over the hope is that government will put forth more decisive means of putting the threat of Boko Haram to an end.

“I don’t see this progressing beyond the Northeast. We are quite optimistic that this will not last too long,” he said. “We are not giving in and we don’t believe that Boko Haram will have the last laugh.”

Tags: Violence, Nigeria, Boko Haram