The other factor was that the religious organizations that could have attenuated the effects in the north were handicapped. The Christian bodies, the Church organizations, didn’t have the freedom they could have. They were handicapped even by the government for many years in northern Nigeria. Legitimately you couldn’t buy land if you were a Christian, and many times the Catholic bishops of Nigeria tried to fight this, but it was getting nowhere. The fact was that in some states of Nigeria you couldn’t own land if you were going to use it for religious purposes. Religious purposes included training people in schools, building facilities for the people, providing a moral education. Since they were limited only to Islamic schools they taught them the Koran and so on, but the moral fiber of society was wearing down.
The reason why this is important is this: I’m from the West of Nigeria, where the Yoruba culture is very strong. In the Yoruba culture there are many Muslims. In my particular area we are a minority of Christians living with a majority of Muslims, but we do wonderfully well together. In my diocese—and I think this is something that hasn’t gotten into the public media enough—I have 17 schools. Seventy percent of the students in my schools are Muslim children and even some of them — not that many, but quite a number — opt to convert to Christianity and their parents don’t have a problem with that. I am telling you the truth.
I have some of the imams and Muslim leaders as such close friends that when they build a new house and want to bless it they invite me to do so. In the Church, when we have a celebration or a ceremony, they come gladly. I have celebrated weddings of Catholic and Muslims. In many areas such as my diocese, Muslims look up to the Catholics for leadership on social issues, justice issues, women’s empowerment, the training of those who will attend university. So there’s a lot of trust between us. There’s a lot of collaboration.
There have been times when I have had to speak on the issue of Boko Haram in the north of Nigeria. I decided to consult with the Muslim leaders who are my close friends. I asked them why they think we haven’t had the same problem in the West that’s happening in the north. They point to one thing: the strong cultural background which unites us, which we have not allowed to be eroded. In the north of Nigeria, on the other hand, Islamic culture has eroded. The Hausa culture has been eroded. Islam is Arabic and it came and engrained itself over the years, but because of that, many of the people are caught in between. Yes, they are Muslims, but there is no underlying culture, no culture of values.
In Yorubaland, human dignity and human life are sacred. Christianity came to baptize that. No one would convince me to accept that Christianity came just for the respect of human life. We had that before. You don’t just go ahead and kill somebody. There are many proverbs which encompass Yoruba wisdom. They say: you don’t fight until the point of death. When you have a fight, a disagreement or a conflict, you don’t go to the point of death, because you never know what happens tomorrow, and who you might need tomorrow.
I think that this lack of a cultural fiber, the maladministration of the past, the dissolution of the premises of a democratic government, and the millions of young people who have been left on the streets with no promise, no capacity at all, already prepared great ground for Boko Haram. It has something to latch on to.
When Boko Haram started in 2009 it was very easy to describe it, even from afar. Now it has gathered many other forces which all hide under the umbrella of Boko Haram. In fact, even the Nigerian president a few months ago said there are different types of Boko Haram: economic, religious, social. He also admitted that in his own government there are people who are sympathetic to Boko Haram. So it has become the umbrella for anyone who is disgruntled or would just like to destroy the moral fiber of society?