The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has addressed an open letter, dated 11 May 2014, addressing the abduction and possible forced conversion to Islam of the Secondary school girls from Chibok, Borno State. In his letter he specifically addresses the scope and limits of foreign intervention with regard to dealing with Boko Haram. The Cardinal is internationally recognized as a balanced and moderate voice in issues relating to Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Boko Haram: scope and limits of foreign intervention
“The tragic drama of the abducted secondary school girls of Chibok, Borno State at the hands of Boko Haram has shocked the whole world. This has focused very unsavory global media attention on our nation. It has in particular concentrated much publicity on Boko HHHHH Haram, a publicity which they have always reveled in but which in this case may have gone beyond what they bargained for and which may now boomerang against them. This “unconscionable crime”, to use Mrs Obama’s rather unfamiliar language, has to say the least, cast our government in very bad light. Whether this verdict is deserved or not, the government has to do something visible about the crisis on our hands. And quickly too. This perhaps explains why our government is accepting assistance from various foreign nations, from USA to China, from France to Israel. As a Nigerian, I am saddened and ashamed. But it seems clear that we have reached the stage where we have to swallow our pride and stop bragging and pretending to be what we are not.
In itself, there should be nothing wrong with seeking and accepting foreign intervention, especially since it is now clear that the Boko Haram has international connections. It is therefore not only a question of “assisting Nigeria”. It is also in the interest of the international community to join hands with Nigeria to deal with a dangerous virus that is infecting and attacking the entire international community, starting from our nearest regional neighbours.
So far, we have been hearing much about military action. To the extent that the Boko Haram is killing, abducting and bombing, it has to be effectively and appropriately engaged. But there is a limit to how far we can go with military action alone. One only needs to imagine the awful military dilemma of rescuing 200 girls from the hands of heavily armed terrorists and bring them back to their families, safe and sound. The complexity of the Boko Haram phenomenon therefore calls for coordinated action at different levels and in various areas of attention. The political and socio-economic issues are well within our ability as a nation, if we can only summon the political will to act together across political and ethnic lines to save our nation.
But there is also the religious dimension which in my view has not been given adequate attention. This is where I believe we should welcome with deep gratitude the strong messages of solidarity with our nation and vigorous expressions of condemnation of the Boko Haram by the global Islamic community at the highest level. The Islamic Fiqh Academy, based in Saudi Arabia, has declared:
“This crime and other crimes committed by the likes of these extremist organizations contradict all humanitarian principles and moral values and violate the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah”.
The OIC, now called “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation”, a body well known to us here in Nigeria, has come out not less forcefully in its condemnation, through its “Independent Human Rights Commission” (IHRC). Their statement issued from its headquarters in Jedda merits a long quotation.
“The IHRC is extremely saddened by the misguided claim of the Boko Haram that the abduction of the girls and threat to sell them off as ‘slaves’ is in conformity with the injunctions of Islam. This is not only a violation of international law and human rights law, but also a gross misrepresentation of Islam, which enjoins its adherents to go to any extent in the pursuit of knowledge. The Commission joins the international community in unequivocally condemning the barbaric act … and urges the leadership of Boko Haram to immediately release the abducted girls to enable them join their families and continue with their education.”
With such statements at such high Islamic levels, there is no more room for any Muslim or anybody in Nigeria to suggest any kind of alibi, excuses or justification for the “unconscionable crimes” of Boko Haram. I believe such powerful statements are also great encouragement to our many Muslims who have been speaking loudly against the terrorists, at times at great risk. We think of the imams who have been hunted down and murdered by Boko Haram for preaching against their demonic activities. It is a good sign that many Nigerian Muslims have been making similar statements. It is time for all of us to call Boko Haram by its proper name, “mindless bigots, misguided persons masquerading as adherents of Islam” – as General Buhari branded them recently.
One may suggest that these global Islamic organizations could go further than issuing statements of condemnation. They could do more to support the efforts of the Nigerian Muslims to discourage and knock out radicalization and all forms of extremism in the Nigerian Muslim community. Could they also reach out to the foreign supporters and inspirers of our terrorists to leave us in peace? What about facilitating dialogue with Boko Haram?
Finally, I believe that we Christians, despite all the hurts that we have suffered, should resist the temptation to turn a deaf ear to what the Muslim world is saying. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are singing the same song of peace as the Muslim leaders. This is significant. Muslims and Christians in Nigeria must find it in their hearts to pick up the chorus. When the girls are back home, and the Boko Haram are disarmed, (I say “when” not “if”) there will still be the tedious task of dialogue, reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and peace, for which the force of religion will be most needed. This will demand that religious communities join hands and call on the One God who takes care of us all. It is then that it may well be that this horrible episode, as President Jonathan believes, would “be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria”.
May God bless Nigeria, and bring back home our daughters.”
John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria