Parents, whose daughters were abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok, Borno State, receiving prayer messages of encouragement sent from Christians around the world; 18 May 2014.World Watch Monitor
It is feared Boko Haram militants have killed at least 200 more people in a wave of attacks launched across Borno state in Northern Nigeria this week.
Three Christian villages – Attagara, Agapalwa and Aganjara – were reduced to ashes. Attackers killed, looted and stole cattle before burning homes and churches, say local media. All the villages are located a few kilometers from the Cameroon border, near the vast Sambisa forest, which hosts several militants’ camps, and where some of the missing Chibok girls were believed to be.
Boko Haram’s tactics of gathering villagers together before killing them were seen between Sunday and Wednesday. From Sunday, at least 200 people were killed; in at least one village gunmen in military uniforms forced people to gather (by appearing to offer protection) before spraying them with bullets. On Wednesday, a group of about 45 people were killed after gathering together to listen to a sermon from militants who pretended to be preachers.
These tactics are not new as the group has killed thousands of people since 2009 in an attempt to create an Islamic state in Nigeria. Reports say at least 3000 have been killed this year alone.
On June 2, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the OIC, Secretary General, Eyad Ameen Madani went to meet President Goodluck Jonathan, to express the ‘unity’ of his organization with Nigeria. This meeting comes alongside increased pressure on the Nigerian government both at home and abroad to do more to tackle the Islamist Boko Haram militants since the abduction of the 276 girls. 57 escaped in the early days of the abduction in April.
Founded in 1969 and headquartered in Saudi Arabia, the OIC is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations – it says it is ‘the collective voice of the Muslim world while ‘ensuring to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace.’
“The OIC has issued statements that are very clear, that these people are outlaws and what they do is criminal act; it has absolutely nothing to do with Islam, Islamic teachings, the religion of Islam, the history, the culture, the civilization of Islam and we should identify them [Boko Haram] for what they are as a terrorist group”, Madani said.
However, the national Secretary General of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Musa Asake told World Watch Monitor that the OIC’s move is late and should have happened years ago.
‘‘Where have they been all this while? These people [Boko Haram] say from day one, they are fulfilling the Islamic call [of jihad] and that they are going to change the Nigeria Constitution and replace it with Sharia [law]. To make this happen, they went on killing innocent people and most of their victims are Christians,’’ said Asake.
He also said he is not convinced by this high-level meeting, saying that “to deny them on paper is not enough” and that the OIC must clearly outline its plan of action to prove their commitment to stop Boko Haram’s extreme Islamist actions.
‘‘They know exactly what to do to stop somebody who is using your name. They should tell us the steps and actions they have taken to show that Boko Haram and its activities are indeed anti-Islam,” said Asake.
The Christian Association of Nigeria Secretary General also declined OIC’s offer to convene an inter-faith dialogue, which was aimed at showing ‘‘many aspects of similarities between not only Christians and Muslims, but between all faiths and convictions.”
Asake said his reason for declining is because such a meeting is ‘useless.’
Meanwhile an internationally renowned Nigerian pastor James Wuye has arrived in Chibok to offer support for the kidnapped girls’ families. Wuye works with a Muslim imam Muhammed Ashafa in the Interfaith Mediation Centre they co-founded in Kaduna, northern Nigeria. The two men travel together speaking of their personal reconciliation across the religious divide: they have won awards for the way they have personally overcome their own prejudices and hatred, to be able to mediate together.
Still ‘hopeful’ for the return of the school girls
Dr Stephen Davis, an Australian Anglican cleric appointed as the Nigerian President’s envoy in the negotiations with Boko Haram remains hopeful that there will be success in getting the girls released. His comments came despite what he said was last week’s ‘unhelpful’ leak of his involvement in the negotiations for their release.
Davis told media the fact that his name was leaked is not helping the negotiations, but that he remains confident nonetheless that they will succeed.
News of his involvement broke alongside the release of a new video showing some of the school girls Boko Haram has taken captive. British newspaper, The Daily Mail and others reported that the video (which has not been released to the public) was taken on May 19 by a Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida to prove that the girls are still alive.
The video is said to show hijab-wearing girls one by one walking up to a spot in front of a white sheet set up between the trees to speak into the camera. Four stated in Hausa that they were taken by force and that they were hungry. A girl estimated to be about 18 apparently said tearfully, “My family will be so worried.” Another said in a soft voice, “I never expected to suffer like this in my life.”
The Daily Mail reports that the girls look healthy, but that it is understood that several pupils are ill. One appears to have a broken wrist. “In the video, eight girls, dressed in their home-made school uniforms of pale blue gingham, plead for release as they stand courageously in front of the camera. They are clearly scared, upset and trying to be brave,” the news report read.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who has come under increasing pressure for his handling of the crisis, is said to have seen this video.
Media then reported on Monday that Dr Davis has quietly been working behind the scenes in the negotiation with Boko Haram for more than a month in conjunction with Aisha Wakil, a Muslim convert to Christianity with known connections to Boko Haram, who is trusted by senior commanders. Dr Davis has undertaken numerous trips to volatile locations in northern Nigeria for face-to-face meetings with Boko Haram commanders.
“The vast majority of the Chibok girls are not being held in Nigeria. They are in camps across the Nigerian border in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. I say the ‘vast majority’ as I know a small group was confirmed to me to be in Nigeria last week when we sought to have them released,” he told British TV Channel 4 on Monday.
“The best way to do this is quiet and quick. But this is now loud and long. There are too many players from the two sides. This noise and clutter slows down the process and muddies the water.”
But he remains confident that negotiations will succeed. “Despite this, every indication is positive. But as we get close to a handover, I am sure that there will be interference from some parties who do not want to see an end to the conflict in the north. That will be the most difficult time.”
Dr Davis told Channel 4 his team had “come within a whisker” of brokering a release three times within the past month, only to have each handover ruined at the last moment. He and others Channel 4 had spoken to, allege that powerful figures with “vested interests” have sought to sabotage a deal.
On Tuesday Nigerian media reported that ten generals and five other senior military officers had been accused of helping Boko Haram. According to the reports the officers had faced a court-martial and had been found guilty of supplying arms and information to the group. Nigerian army spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade denied the reports. However Nigerian Interior Minister Abba Moro told the BBC that the courts-martial were “good news.”
The Channel 4 report pointed out, “There is little fresh intelligence of the condition of the missing girls, although it appears that the 220 kidnapped from Chibok in mid-April are now being held with possibly hundreds of others abducted from villages across northern Nigeria over many months. ‘There are many, many, many more than the Chibok girls,’ said Dr Davis. ‘This has been going on for a long time.’’
By Atta Barkindo (PhD candidate, SOAS, London) Benjamin Gudaku (Eduwatch Consults and Research Centre, Abuja) and Caroline Katgum Wesley.
(Nigeria’s Political Violence Research Network)
(A Report commissioned by the World Watch Research Unit of Open Doors International, a charity which works to support persecuted Christians around the world)