UNDERLINING the failure of the Nigerian Government to stop the violent rampage of Boko Haram, a Catholic bishop has called for Western military intervention.
The Muslim militant group’s increasingly deadly assaults and expanded recruitment from countries across North Africa mean “a concerted military campaign is needed by the West to crush Boko Haram”, said Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri, capital of the troubled Borno state.
“The West should bring in security – land forces – to contain and beat back Boko Haram,” he said in an interview on January 19 with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Boko Haram, which the United States has labelled a terrorist organisation, claims it seeks to overthrow the Nigerian Government and create an Islamic state.
More than 11,000 people have died since Boko Haram launched an insurgency in 2009, engaging in a campaign of terror, mass killings and abductions, carrying out suicide bombings, burning villages, and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee. Some reports from human rights groups say as many as 2000 people may have been killed when militants captured Baga in early January, razing thousands of homes in their path.
Bishop Doeme said that of the 125,000 Catholics in his diocese, almost 70,000 had fled their homes and about 1000 had been killed. In his diocese, he said, Boko Haram militants had destroyed more than 50 churches and chapels, and more than 200 churches had had to be abandoned in the past five years.
Doctors Without Borders, which has a permanent base in Maiduguri, estimates between 800,000 and 1.5 million people are displaced, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria.
Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja said Boko Haram was committing “serious crimes, crimes against humanity”.
However, even more serious was the fact that Nigerian Government leaders “continue to do nothing and live as if nothing has happened. It’s not that they lack the means: the money is there and lots of it. What is missing is the sense of responsibility on the part of those who govern,” he told Vatican Radio on January 19.
Bishop Doeme said the Nigerian military was corrupt, complicit and inept.
“Among the soldiers, there were sympathisers with Boko Haram, some of them were even Boko Haram members, and many of them just ran away” during the militants attack on Baga, he said.
The bishop said the Government also knew who was financially supporting the group from abroad.
Boko Haram militants had spilled over into neighbouring Cameroon and were recruiting people in neighbouring countries “enticing them with money, they pay in dollars. And the people, who are without work, follow them,” Cardinal Onaiyekan said.
African nations needed to co-operate, he said, and prayers were urgently needed “so that our Government is able to recognise the seriousness of the situation, so that we can launch not just a military (response) but also a path of political dialogue”.
“That way we can slowly begin to change the mentality of these people who commit these atrocities not just against our country but against human life,” the cardinal said.