ACN News Brussels/Königstein 29.05.15 .- Nigerian Bishop Oliver Doeme Dash, speaking to Members of the European Parliament at a private meeting arranged by Aid to the Church in Need on Wednesday May 27, expressed his gratitude at the recent peaceful elections and his confidence in President Muhammadu Buhari to end the suffering of his people affected by Boko Haram violence in the North-eastern state of Maiduguri.
“The elections” stated the Bishop,” were unexpectedly peaceful. The massive turnout at the polling stations was a clear indication that the people wanted change. The outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, in a moment of precarious transition which could have destabilised the country, showed statesmanship by conceding defeat even before the final results were officially declared. This was the fruit of prayer.”
Expectations on the new leadership are high and the topmost concern facing the new government is security. This is nowhere more necessary than in the far northeast where the presence of the central government in the capital Abuja is scarce and the local Muslim governors, angry at the 2011 presidential elections of the Christian Goodluck Jonathan, established links with and enabled the free movement of the radical Islamic insurgency group Boko Haram. The new government, unable to control the insurgency, was to be revealed as incompetent provoking new elections.
The local governors, wittingly or not, opened a Pandora’s box. “Boko Haram has one agenda – to Islamise the northeast and eventually all of Nigeria. With Africa’s largest population, the destabilisation of Nigeria would risk a spiraling of religiously motivated violence and its consequences to neighboring countries with the risk to the stability of Africa itself. This goal, highlighted by the allegiance of Boko Haram to ISIS and the intent to establish a radical Islamic caliphate in Nigeria, is very real,” states the Bishop.
Recent weeks, however, with concerted efforts between the Nigerian military and a Joint Task Force consisting of soldiers from neighbouring Camaroon, Chad and Niger, have seen solid gains in routing the terrorists and regaining the villages lost. Where previously the Boko Haram fighters would attack and disappear into the bush across the borders where the Nigerian army was unable to follow, the Joint Task Force has closed cross-border escape routes allowing a more effective response. The recent success of the campaigns, although heralded locally and internationally, have also raised questions among the same communities as to why the recent operations achieving success in a matter of months required seven years of violence and bloodshed.
The hoped for liberation from Boko Haram comes none too soon for Nigeria`s suffering population. The violence has claimed the lives of over 11.000 and half a million have been displaced. Bishop Doeme Dashe states: “The young boys captured were forcefully conscripted as Boko Haram fighters; girls were forced to convert and marry the terrorists and the elderly were left to die of starvation. This has affected every village that has fallen into their hands. In my diocese alone over 70.000 Catholics have fled the brutality. If you extrapolate this to the larger population, it means that over 300.000 people in these states are on the run. It is also important to remember that 99 percent of my diocese is Muslim – those who have suffered the most are Muslims who do not agree with the Islamic version of Boko Haram.”
The Bishop is hopeful that, although the battle is long from over, the new President will continue to dislodge Boko Haram. “Most of the terrorists are still in the bush and that the Sambisa Forest, the hub for Boko Haram, is not yet recaptured is also worrying. But President Buhari is a military man. He is a Muslim but he has indicated that he is the President for all Nigerians regardless of religious tradition.”
Bishop Oliver Doeme Dashe, having informed policy makers, leaves Brussels to return to the ravaged people and landscape which is his diocese today. “With the military successes the displaced people are coming back, but they return to find nothing in their homes. The villages are wiped out: houses have been burnt to the ground, animals stolen, and the crops destroyed. The rainy season has started but they have not been able to plant. Our needs are overwhelming. The Church structures too have not been spared. Over 250 Church buildings have been razed among them 20 schools destroyed – all of which served mainly the Muslim population. We have nothing and need everything.”
Mark von Riedemann.