13 April 2017

Nigeria: Boko Haram Insurgency Weighs On Minority Christians Three Years After Chibok

interview

Three years after the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, many are still in captivity. Their kidnappers, Boko Haram, remain active. A local religious leader talks to DW about terror, corruption and politics.

Oliver Dashe Doeme is the Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri, Borno State, in northeastern Nigeria. Borno State has a population of some five million of which approximately 2 percent are Catholic. DW has been talking to Bishop Doeme about the Islamist insurgency and relations with majority Muslims.

Three years have elapsed since the kidnapping of the Chibok girls. How difficult is it to ensure that their friends and families don't lose hope?

We had been hoping that within this period - or even less than one year - that the girls would have been found and brought back. But up to now many of them have not been released. But we are hoping and praying that they will be eventually be released and will come back to their families, just as it happened last year when 21 of those girls came back and were welcomed and embraced by their families.

The Chibok girls are not the only ones missing. There are many others. Do you have any idea how many are missing and is enough being done to bring them back?

I have really no idea of the number. But I know that many thousands of our women and girls have been taken away by the Boko Haram members, especially from many communities here in northeastern Nigeria. Happily enough, a lot of them have come back, have been released, but they are some who are still in the custody of Boko Haram members. The number we do not know but there are still many of them.

Both the current president Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan have made a lot promises with regard to the release of the Chibok girls, not all of which have been fulfilled. Has the leadership let the people down here in the northeast?

One of the greatest problems we have here in this country is corruption. Corruption is a major problem. Boko Haram is not invincible. They are a sect. But this sect has overpowered the whole military of a nation and it has a lot to do with corruption. In Goodluck Jonathan's time, money was given for the purchase of arms to crush Boko Haram but many of the top military officers secreted that money into their private pockets. The arms were not purchased and the soldiers in the field were being overpowered by Boko Haram from one place to another. There have, however, been changes. But since Boko Haram has become very powerful, the war cannot end in one day. But I am very sure that gradually they will be defeated, crushed completely.

Tell us a little bit about the Christian community in [mainly Muslim] northeastern Nigeria. How strong is it and how much has it suffered because of the insurgency over the past years?

The Christians have been badly affected by this insurgency. For no reason. They are innocent and yet because of their faith, they have suffered severely at the hands of Boko Haram members. Because these sect members after capturing many communities, they will drive our people away. They will send them packing, leaving their ancestral homes. They destroy their animals, their vehicles, their houses. And some of their family members have been killed. Over 500 Catholics have been killed. That is not all of the Christians, just the Catholics that have been killed in this insurgency. And some of our youth have been taken away. Because of this, our people are really devastated. They are traumatized.

A lot of churches were destroyed in the region. Has the church received any compensation from the government?

The federal government has not compensated us. The state government in Borno has started rebuilding some of the church so we have to acknowledge that and thank the state governor. Two Catholic churches have been rebuilt.

There have been many attacks on Christians in recent years. What has been the impact on relations between the Muslim and Christian communities in this part of the country?

Obviously, we are human beings and so you should expect that that will definitely taint the relationship between the Christians and the Muslims. When Boko Haram members capture some communities, the Christians will run away but some Muslims will stay back and point out the houses of Christians to Boko Haram members. They will be burning down those houses and burning down our church structures. So when our people have come back, they are not happy. Another war could begin between them and those Muslims. Yet they have been working hard telling them that what you have to do is offer forgiveness. As a leader, as a church minister, I also do my bit by going close to the Muslim leaders, the emirs, the chiefs, the shehu, and make sure that I reach out to them, visit them and relate to them well. Then our followers will be able to see that if their leaders can come together, then they, too, should also come together for the common good, our country and our society.

Oliver Dashe Doeme has been Catholic Bishop of Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria since 2009.

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