Aleteia

On the Ground with Boko Haram

Albert Gonzalez Farran UNAMID
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An interview with Father John Idio of Nigeria.

The kidnapping of nearly 300 girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram has made headlines around the world. In this exclusive interview, Father John Idio, parish priest at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Asipa, Ibadan, Nigeria, details the oppression and violence to which Christians have been subjected by the Islamic terrorist organization, Boko Haram. He goes on to explain the group’s ideology and its possible ties to Nigeria’s government.  

How close have you been to those who have suffered at Boko Haram’s hands?

Boko Haram carried out their attack at the Nyanya bus station during the morning rush hour on the 14th of April. My uncle is the Parish Priest of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Nyanya. He narrated to me how terribly he felt during the bombing of the Nyanya motor park. The explosion literally shook the foundation of his church, although there wasn’t any physical damage. Some of his parishioners who had just finished the morning Mass and were going back to their houses or businesses were affected by the blast. There was another bomb blast in Nyanya again on May 1 at the same spot that the other one happened. My uncle is at a loss as he is not sure where they will strike next. He wants the government to assist and mobilise more security agencies in Nyanya.

Would you explain the strain of Islam embraced by Boko Haram?  The group is often simply described as Islamic militants.  What do they actually believe?  

Boko Haram is a Hausa phrase figuratively meaning that "Western education is a sin." It proposes that interaction with the western world is forbidden. So their aim is to put a stop to “Westernization.” To achieve this, its members are trying to establish a "pure" Islamic state ruled by sharia. They want full Islamic law enthroned in all northern states in Nigeria and eventually to make the whole of Nigeria an Islamic country.  Before his death, Mohammed Yusuf, the former leader of Boko Haram, had reiterated the group’s objective as being that of changing the current education system and rejecting democracy. The objective of this group, opposing Western education, is contradictory to the life that the members live. The founder Its founder Muhammad Yusuf was himself a highly educated man; he had a graduate education, spoke proficient English, lived a lavish life and drove a Mercedes-Benz. He was a controversial cleric.

The Nigerian government has been unable to bring peace to the areas where Boko Haram has operated for years. Is this for lack of resources? Or, does Boko Haram enjoy a substantial amount of support among Nigeria’s Muslim population, causing the government to hestiate?  

The Nigerian government is just unable to stop Boko Haram from killing innocent lives and Nigerians are losing confidence in the government. The inability for the government to contend with Boko Haram is not due to lack of resources. Nigeria has a vibrant army with a reputation of getting its duty done with efficacy. So the unavoidable questions are: what is the cause of the pervasive security inability to curb Boko Haram or eliminate its threat altogether? Why are the government, the army and the security agencies powerless and helpless? Considering how effective the attacks of Boko Haram are, I have a feeling that Boko Haram has sympathisers in the government and security agencies.

Recently, I read that a high profile Boko Haram member, Ahmed Grema Mohammed, is also an officer of Nigeria’s Immigration Services. He was arrested  and he confessed to be actively involved in the killings of some senior civil servants, security agents, and politicians in Damaturu who spoke against the activities of Boko Haram. But we know that in Nigeria many people are arrested in connection with Boko Haram, but not charged in court and not prosecuted. At the end, they are set free.  When government officials are part of the country’s problem, it is always difficult to solve it. There are many government officials, military personnel, top influential Muslim leaders and even ex-presidents and governors that are supporting Boko Haram. In this sense, Boko haram is a dangerous political tool.