Barnabas Edit: World must awake to Boko Haram threat

October 7, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead


Boko Haram militants are wreaking havoc throughout Northern Nigeria

Boko Haram militants are wreaking havoc throughout Northern Nigeria

Nigeria, October 04, 2013: Barely a week goes by without militant Islamist group Boko Haram committing another atrocity in Nigeria. I receive messages on a daily basis from contacts in the country about the latest incident, threat or development.

But you would never know from watching or listening to Western news that such a relentless war is being waged. The major attacks sometimes get a mention, but the week-in-week-out assault on the Christian community rarely interests our media outlets.

The group is popularly known as “Boko Haram”, which means “Western education is forbidden”, but calls itself “Jama’atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda’wati wal Jihad” or “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad”.

It has links with al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, sharing similar goals to those terrorist outfits. Boko Haram is opposed to Western values such as democracy and education, and is fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim North.

They attack anything and kill anyone that they perceive as an obstacle to this goal, even Muslims who do not support their agenda. Their primary targets are the Nigerian authorities and security forces, education centres and Christians.

Around 3,500 deaths have been attributed to Boko Haram since the launch of its violent campaign in 2009. Last year, nearly 1,000 Christians were killed in Nigeria, making it the most lethal country for Christians.

One of the worst incidents this year saw more than 400 Christians incinerated in a suicide bomb attack at a bus station in Sabon Gari, a predominantly Christian neighbourhood in Kano, on 18 March. The death toll was massively under-estimated by the media.



Nigerian Christians are one of Boko Haram’s top targets

Nigerian Christians are one of Boko Haram’s top targets

Incidents from the last week or so are indicative of the nature of the war that Boko Haram has been fighting for the last four years. There are often simply too many attacks even for us at Barnabas Fund, who are particularly focused on the persecution of Christians and related matters, to cover.

In the early hours of Sunday morning (29 September), suspected Boko Haram gunmen launched an assault on the College of Agriculture in Gujba, a rural area in Yobe state. Over 40 male students, mostly Muslims, were killed; some of them were shot dead as they slept. Several classrooms were set ablaze.

A few days earlier, on 26 September, the Rev. Yohanna Agom and his son, Dauda Yohanna, were killed in an assault by around 50 Boko Haram gunmen on Dorowa in Yobe state.

The minister’s other son, Ibrahim Yohanna, managed to escape. He told Morning Star News:

The Boko Haram gunmen woke us up, asked us to lie down in front of the church, and tied our hands with rope. They then set fire (to) the church and our house and killed my father.

A village leader was also killed, and other properties were burned down.

Christians in the Gwoza Hills of Borno state are being mercilessly targeted; many have fled as a result of repeated attacks.

On Tuesday (1 October), over 50 houses and a number of vehicles were set ablaze in an attack on the Christians of Wala village; one man was killed.

It followed attacks on other Gwoza villages last week. On 27 September, a church in Kogum and 17 houses in Barawa were burned down. A police officer suffered broken arms and legs in a severe assault. The day before, two churches in Chikide and Barawa were torched and the pastor of one of them killed.

Over 2,000 Gwoza Christians have been displaced, but they are not safe elsewhere. They are being hunted down and killed in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, and in neighbouring Adamawa state.

In May, Nigerian forces launched their biggest-ever offensive against Boko Haram, imposing a state of emergency – which remains in place – in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. The aforementioned incidents all took place in those states, highlighting the failure of the security forces to regain control.

Christians are also under threat elsewhere in Nigeria. They frequently come under attack in Plateau state in Nigeria’s restive Middle Belt, where the predominantly Muslim North meets the mainly Christian South, as well as in Kaduna state in the North. A security lockdown in Kafanchan, Kaduna state, on 22 September following an outbreak of violence prevented Christians from being able to go to church. Although necessary, such drastic security measures are impeding everyday life.


World leaders, most notably the US, have been extremely slow to respond to the menace posed by Boko Haram. Repeated calls for the group to be labelled a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) have fallen on deaf ears; such a designation would enable the US to deploy measures to restrict the group’s activities.

Boko Haram has been misinterpreted as a disaffected group, retaliating over socio-economic grievances, and dismissed as simply a domestic problem for Nigeria.

The militants’ own statements about their agenda have been ignored or disregarded. Leader Abubakar Shekau, who appears still to be alive following speculation that he might have been killed in August, has made Boko Haram’s goals crystal clear. He has said, “Our creator has commanded us to war against any person that refuse[s] to accept or acknowledge Islam after we have invited him to the faith” and:

What I will tell Muslims in this nation and the world at large is that this war is a war between the Muslims and the infidels. For this fact where ever you are you should know that it is not an ethnic war, it is not an ignorant war, it is not a war for money, it is not a war for any other reason. No it is a religious war!

The British government designated Boko Haram a terrorist organisation in July, and efforts are continuing to get the US State Department to take that important step.

Its reticence is all the more astonishing given that the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security has produced a report entitled Boko Haram Growing Threat to the US Homeland*, dated 13 September 2013, which outlines the danger the Islamists pose to not just Nigeria, but the whole of West Africa and also potentially the US itself.

It calls on the Secretary of State to recognise Boko Haram and their splinter group Ansaru as FTOs, urging the country’s intelligence community to avoid repeating the mistakes it made with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in each case failing to recognise the threat these groups posed until after an attempted attack on the US.

Obama’s administration needs to stop dragging its heels on Boko Haram. The Nigerian authorities are failing to rein in the militants, and innocent Nigerian people are being killed every day. The US president must heed the advice of the Committee on Homeland Security and take action before it is too late.

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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