In an emphatic appeal, the Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria has called for Catholics all over the world to pray the rosary to stop the growing Islamist extremism in Africa. In a video message recorded for Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) on the occasion of the presentation of the Religious Freedom Report 2021 in Great Britain, Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme said, “For those who wish to help alongside aid organisations such as ACN, I ask that you pray for the end of violence, and pray particularly the rosary.”
The faithful in his diocese have been praying to the Mother of God for years. “Through fervid prayer and devotion to Our Lady, the enemy will certainly be defeated,” the Bishop said. His diocese of Maiduguri is one of the dioceses in Nigeria that is most severely beleaguered by the terrorist activities of Boko Haram.
The Islamist group Boko Haram has been terrorising Nigeria for years. According to Bishop Doeme, up to 12,000 Christians in the country have been killed by terrorism since June 2015. However, Christians are not only being targeted by Boko Haram, they are also plagued by violent attacks carried out by Islamic pastoralists from the tribe of the Fulani as well as by IS splinter groups such as ISWAP (Islamic State West African Province). “The religious component in this conflict is clear,” the Bishop commented with regard to the Islamic background of the different groups.
However, Muslims are also being targeted by the violence. “The Muslim council of the state of Adamawa, for example, has reported that 5,247 Muslims were killed by Boko Haram between 2013 and 2017.”
The violence stemming from Islamist extremism has long since spread far beyond the borders of Nigeria. “The Sahel region has become a safe haven for groups including Boko Haram that have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.”
Chad, Mali and Niger are fighting the spread of extremism as well and other countries in Africa are also affected. Bishop Dashe explained, “Following the defeat of Daesh/ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Africa has become the new epicentre of extremism. It will require international collaboration and the states of Africa working together to defeat the common enemy!”
According to ACN’s recently published Religious Freedom in the World Report 2021, in the period under review Nigeria was again one of the countries in which Christians and Muslims are hardest hit by Islamist terrorism. According to the report the United Nations estimates that two decades of Boko Haram-related violence have resulted in about 36,000 casualties and the displacement of two million people. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that half of the 40,000 people registered as missing in Africa were originally from the northeastern part of Nigeria, where Boko Haram is keeping the people in a constant state of terror. According to the report, Boko Haram’s objective is to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state. However, Muslims are also not safe from the cruel violence of the extremists because the brutal attacks are being carried out in parts of the country that are majority Muslim and most do not share the ideological fundamentalism of Boko Haram.
For several years, climate change and an ever-growing scarcity of grazing lands have led to an increase in the number of reported attacks carried out by Muslim pastoralists from the tribe of the Fulani, particularly those directed against Christian farmers. According to the Religious Freedom Report, these attacks are increasingly showing radical Islamist tendencies.
The report found that large parts of Africa are moving into the focus of transnational jihadist networks such as IS and al Qaeda. These networks are joining forces with local armed militia groups and – backed by the ideological and material support of the Middle East – are fostering their radicalisation in order to set up “provinces of the caliphate” along the Equator; a crescent of jihadist violence which today extends all the way from Mali to Mozambique in Sub-Saharan Africa.