The territory of Boko Haram is rather large, but as a ratio compared to the territory of Nigeria it’s still quite small. Twenty local governments out of 770 local governments is really insignificant. But what is significant is that people are dying. They are killing people. Thirteen thousand are dead and so many are displaced.
The tragedy of those who are displaced is that they are not getting much help from the government, again because the government has its complete attention turned to other matters such as the elections. So the religious organizations and a few NGO’s have their hands more than full. That is my view of the situation.
How in your view should the West step in to help?
There are many areas in which the West could step in. First of all, in the charitable angle, by providing resources for people who are displaced, who are dying, health facilities and so on. But the West can also help to stop Boko Haram from their murderous activities. I would imagine that is why the United Nations exists. The fact that this has gone on for so long without a definitive reaction from the United Nations does show one thing: the whole world is in in turmoil. There are all sorts of disturbances all over the world, ISIS, Al-Shabaab, trouble in Ukraine. But there are some countries that can actually do a lot more than they are doing now.
In fact, when the terrorists struck in Paris a few weeks ago, the President of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference, after seeing the outpouring of emotions and the big rally that followed, did criticize the West for that, very strongly, and said: tens of thousands have been dying in Nigeria from terrorism. A few people — one life is bad enough, that’s true — but a few people die in France and the whole world is up in arms against the terrorists. So why in France and not in Africa? And I have not received any answer from anyone.
So we see a complicity in it. We know that it is possible for the more developed nations to find out where the arms are coming from, where the funds are coming from, who are the interests behind this, and help to stop it or at least minimize it. And we hope somebody will do something to help.
Would you classify Boko Haram as a terrorist organization?
Absolutely. But I insist that Boko Haram has been joined by other interests which probably were not terrorist organizations in the first place but are benefitting from the style of Boko Haram. Likely they are doing so in order to get back at somebody or to get some eventual advantage through the violence that Boko Haram uses.
Do you know anything about the girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram last year?
Absolutely nothing. Just rumors. There are rumors that they have been married away, that they have been sold into slavery. The fact that the government has stopped talking about it shows the helplessness of the Nigerian government. There is next to nothing we know about them. In fact, the kidnapping of the girls is a symbol of what has been happening. Many, many more have been kidnapped since. Groups of 90, 70, 50, 100.
Is it generally girls who are kidnapped?
No. Young boys are kidnapped and hypnotized and turned into soldiers and suicide bombers for Boko Haram. Even adults are kidnapped and are probably used for the emotional needs of the terrorists. It is certainly terrible.
Would you classify Boko Haram as an Islamic terrorist organization?
That is a good question. As I told you, I have many, many Islamic leaders who are friends. Several times Boko Haram has claimed to be doing what they’re doing because of Islam. But their style of operation demonstrates they are visually indiscriminate. They kill Muslims and Christians alike. Many credible Muslim leaders have spoken out against them, with a high risk to their lives and to their own interests. The Muslims I know are as embarrassed about Boko Haram as I am. Many Muslims have denounced their methods, and if they could do anything about it they would. Definitely the average Nigerian is appalled by the methods of Boko Haram.
One can actually say, from their indiscriminate methods, that perhaps more Muslims have died from the terrorism of Boko Haram than Christians have. There have been occasions when they have targeted churches and Christian institutions, but it’s not the rule. Take the Kano mosque attack. It was on a Friday when the Muslims where gathered for their Friday prayers. On such occasions they come in the tens of thousands. The Kano mosque is one of the biggest in Nigeria. There were multiple bomb explosions there that killed so many, maimed so many, and caused so much destruction. No one would call that an Islamic terrorist act because it went straight to the jugular of the Muslims. I would call them terrorists who claim to be Islamic, because it would be unfair to the entire world of Islam to say it is Islamic. There are quite a number of Muslims who say Boko Haram is not Muslim. We must respect those people too.
Are you aware of the extent of ISIS activities in Northern Africa?
Not really, but I do that know Boko Haram has been strengthened by other groups coming from the north of Africa and beyond, like those who fought in Libya and who have been fighting in Syria. There have been quite a number of times when the security agencies have arrested Boko Haram terrorists and found that they were not Nigerians at all. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be an attempt made by the terrorists from different parts of the North of Africa and the Arab world — ISIS, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram — to link up, and I think we need to prevent that.