Boko Haram, the militant Islamist group responsible for the violent deaths of hundreds of Christians in Nigeria, has launched another lethal attack in the country’s Middle Belt.
Christians in Plateau state continue to suffer brutal violence
Last week Boko Haram fighters descended on twelve villages in Plateau state. Fleeing from the violence, local Christians took refuge in the house of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. The house was bombed and more than 50 people were burned alive, including the pastor’s wife and children.
Pastor Oritsejafor is president of the Christian Association of Nigeria and is seen by many of the country’s Christians as their symbolic leader. He had also denounced a previous bomb attack by Boko Haram on a church. He appears to have been targeted in this latest incident.
Boko Haram is committed to establishing an Islamic state in the mainly Muslim North of Nigeria and has made clear that Christians are not welcome there, issuing an ultimatum for them to leave and threatening to eradicate them from the region.
But it has also extended its campaign of terror into the Middle Belt, where the population is more evenly mixed between Muslims and Christians. On 10 June this year a bomber killed around 10 people in a church in Jos, capital of Plateau state.
The redoubtable Caroline Cox recently returned from a fact finding visit, on behalf of her charity HART, to the beleaguered Christian communities of Nigeria. Baroness Cox visited Plateau, Bauchi and Kano States and said that “Christian communities are living in siege-like conditions” – with a recent spate of murderous attacks on churches while believers were gathered for Sunday services. Hundreds of lives have been lost.
Responsibility for the attacks has been claimed by an Islamist terrorist group known as Boko Haram – which when translated from the Hausa language means “Western education is sinful” – and it calls for a repudiation of all western ideas and democracy.
Boko Haram became internationally known in 2009 when its Jihadist, holy war, agenda led to the deaths of 1,000 Nigerians. In 2011 it claimed responsibility for around 450 killings and during the first six months of 2012 it has claimed the lives of over 620 people.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide has detailed the systematic campaign of terror being waged by Boko Haram – and about which the world seems largely indifferent. What follows is just a sample of systematic persecution. Imagine for a moment that this was your church, your parish:
• On Christmas Day 2011 over 40 people died in a series of bomb and gun attacks that targeted churches and members of the security services in Niger, Plateau, Yobe, Adamawa and Borno States. The majority of fatalities occurred at St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, Niger State, where bombers in a vehicle hurled explosives at the congregation at the end of Mass.
• In March of this year, in Jos, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside the gate of St Finbar’s Catholic Church. A policeman had prevented him from driving onto the premises. Three of the victims were women who were leaving the church after the first Mass of the day. One of them was pregnant.
• In June at least 18 people died and 32 were wounded when Boko Haram targeted two churches in Bauchi State. The bombing occurred just as the congregation of Living Faith Church was leaving the service. Three other bombers carrying explosives were reportedly intercepted on their way to the Church of Christ in Nigeria and Catholic churches in Yelwa Tudu, but were killed by angry crowds that gathered there.
• Later in June, a suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into an Evangelical Church in Wusasa, Zaria, destroying the children’s church building and killing a child and a young man. Several others were wounded, including many children. Also in Zaria, two suicide bombers in separate cars targeted Christ the King Catholic Church as the congregation was leaving Mass, killing an estimated 16 people and wounding several others. The Anglican Archbishop of Jos, the Most Rev Benjamin Kwashi, says: “Weekends are now a terror for Christians in northern and central Nigeria. My heart truly bleeds at the unnecessary killings.” Boko Haram proudly takes responsibility for these massacres and insists that “Christians will never know peace again.”
Boko Haram is said to be linked to a range of other terrorist organisations, such as al-Qaeda and Somalia’s al Shabaab. Disturbingly, The Nigerian Tribune claims that sources in Boko Haram have confirmed that along with substantial funding from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East they have received financial assistance from groups in the UK. Amazingly, the UK Government has thus far refused to list Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation.
Boko Haram’s strategy is to specifically set Muslims and Christians against one another – precipitating a cycle of retaliatory attacks and violence. The objective is to cleanse whole States of Christians and replace Nigeria’s democratic federation with Sharia-ruled Islamic States. The parallel with the horrific events which led to two million deaths in Sudan – and the partition of the country – are inescapable.
Many Muslims see Boko Haram for what it is. The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubkar, the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims has described Boko Haram as “anti-Islamic” and “an embarrassment to Islam” and the Coalition of Muslim Clerics in Nigeria has called on Boko Haram to disarm and embrace peace. Their pleas have fallen of deaf ears.
Pope Benedict XVI has described his “deep concern” about events in Nigeria and has expressed his hope “that there might be full cooperation among all members of Nigerian society, that they might forgo the path of vengeance, and that all citizens might rather work together to build a peaceful and reconciled society, in which the right freely to profess one’s faith is fully protected”.
The response of Boko Haram has been to continue the violence and the Catholic charity, Aid To the Church In Need, has highlighted a statement by Abu Qaqa, a spokesman for Boko Haram, who says that the attacks will continue and that Christians must convert or be killed: “Christians in Nigeria should accept Islam, that is true religion, or they will never have peace.” In the week after Pope Benedict’s call for religious toleration the Red Cross reported on 58 more killings in Plateau State while the Press Trust of India reported that 135 people were killed.Poignantly, the Nigerian Catholic bishop, Martin Igwe Uzoukwu Minna said: “If we have to die for Christ, we will die for Christ, but why should we be forced to make the choice?” Nigeria’s bishops have repeatedly called for Christians not to retaliate – but following the bombing of three churches on 17th June, Muslim shops were targeted by Christians and the frequent failure of the Nigerian authorities to prosecute and punish perpetrators of violence committed against them has grievously exacerbated the situation.
In such a climate it is inevitably becoming increasingly difficult for Christian leaders to sustain their commendable efforts to prevent retaliation.
With the risk of escalating inter-communal conflict, Boko Haram is determined to destabilise the whole of Nigeria – and to create another Sudan all over again. The world needs to wake up to what is happening in Nigeria – and Britain could take a lead by proscribing Boko Haram and speaking out forcefully against this murderous campaign of terror and intimidation.
http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/hansard/lords/todays-lords-debates/read/unknown/9/House of Lords
Tuesday, 24 July 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Lord Collins of Mapesbury took the oath.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the recent escalation of violence in Nigeria.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford):
My Lords, the Islamist extremist movement known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for many attacks in Nigeria. Ongoing intercommunal tensions have also led to conflict, which has recently been exacerbated by attacks on places of worship such as the one in Kaduna state on 17 June. The British Government utterly condemn such violence and work with the Nigerian Government and international partners to ensure the location of a comprehensive strategy to tackle security threats.
I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. Is he aware that I recently returned from Kano, Bauchi and Plateau states, where Christians are living in siege-like conditions, especially on Sundays, when many have been attacked and killed during church services; where it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian leaders to sustain their commendable efforts to prevent retaliation, with the risk of escalating intercommunal conflict, as happened in Kaduna, to which the noble Lord referred; and where there are concerns over the possible destabilisation of Nigeria itself? Will Her Majesty’s Government raise with the Nigerian Government the concerns of the Christian communities, including the frequent failure of the authorities to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of violence against them?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
I am aware of the noble Baroness’s recent visits and I was very grateful for the very informative report that she shared with Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials on the situation. The British Government are appalled as well as deeply and continuously concerned by what has gone on and by the situation that she described. I can only say that we are fully engaged with the Nigerian Government on these issues and on the essential need to protect minorities more effectively and to bring the perpetrators of violence to justice.
Lord Anderson of Swansea:
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Anelay of St Johns):
My Lords, we are at the beginning of Questions. Perhaps we may hear from the Opposition first. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, will then be next.
Lord Anderson of Swansea:
The Minister will be well aware that Boko Haram is only part of an Islamist tide sweeping across the Sahel. In northern Nigeria, a particular problem is the atrocities against the Christian community—the attempt, in effect, to cleanse northern Nigeria of Christians. What specifically are the Government doing to assist Nigeria, possibly in co-operation with our French colleagues because of the general nature of the problem, and to what extent do we fear for the unity of Nigeria?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
The noble Lord is right that this is part of a larger series of trends and developments, some of them of a very ominous and dangerous kind—not least the instability in Mali and the attacks on Timbuktu that have been very much in the news. All those events reflect and connect with the activities of Boko Haram, to which the noble Lord referred. We are working with the Nigerians at all times to see how we can help them increase security. At the same time we are working with the French and other EU partners to address the whole issue of the Sahel, where all these dangers are arising. The noble Lord is absolutely right to call attention to them.
If I may, I will take that point a little further, although my noble friend has just offered us an answer. What assessment have our Government made of the links between Boko Haram, AQIM in Mali and al-Shabaab in Somalia in their logistical, ideological and political operations?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
We keep a very close eye on this in making assessments, as do our French colleagues—as I just mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—our United States colleagues and others. The precise linkages are fluid and not always easy to identify, but there is no doubt that, where there has been potential instability and turmoil, al-Qaeda, or branches and franchises of al-Qaeda, tend to turn up like flies around any corpses. This is always the danger and we should watch it very closely. As for al-Shabaab, we cannot see a visible connection at the moment, but it too might be involved, although it is quite a long way away.
The Lord Bishop of Durham:
My Lords, I have made nearly 70 trips over the past 30 years to Nigeria, many of which in the past few years have dealt with conflict management. Do the Government also remain committed to working with private and civil society organisations, particularly the churches and religious leaders—I am thinking of organisations such as the one run by the bishop of Kaduna, Bridge Builders—which in many ways have been especially effective in dealing with an issue that has religious elements?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
The answer to the right reverend Prelate is indeed yes. To reinforce the point, although there are different religious groups in Nigeria we have always seen it as a state of tolerance rather than religious intolerance. That is not the main cause of the violence and horrors that we have seen recently, which arise much more from the provocations and extreme violence of organisations that have intruded and invaded, such as Boko Haram.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead:
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House appreciates the efforts made by Her Majesty’s Government so far in trying to resolve some of these problems. Are the Government aware of the reports of the well-armed mercenaries who are operating in the attacks on Christian churches? If they are, are they doing anything to find out the source of the supply of the sophisticated weaponry that is being used against Christians?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
We are aware of reports. We always seek more information. These are very important matters in which we take a very close interest. We take a particular interest in the arms trade issue, which we will discuss later on this afternoon in this House.
Is my noble friend aware that although we in this country are very alert to Boko Haram and to the religious imbalance in this conflict, the media constantly report, particularly to other Muslim countries, that this is a reciprocal fight in which Christians and Muslims are equally engaged? How does he square that with the fact that it is almost always Christian churches that are blown up and Muslim mosques that are left untouched?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
I cannot comment on the balance or lack of balance in any media reporting, but of course it is not always balanced, although my noble friend is right to say that there is no equality of violence. However, there are reprisals and it is true that mosques have been attacked as well as churches. We have no doubt that the new levels of horror, violence and atrocity that have been imported into northern Nigeria are initiated and have been provoked by Boko Haram.
Lord Alton of Liverpool:
My Lords, given that 600 people in Nigeria have already been murdered this year by Boko Haram, which states that it wants to extinguish all reference to western ideals, including democracy, why have we not proscribed it as a terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom? Has the Minister had a chance to look at the information which I have sent to his office about the links between funding organisations in the UK supporting Boko Haram?
Lord Howell of Guildford:
On the first point, it is not HMG’s policy to comment on which organisations may or may not be considered for proscription. On the funding issue raised by the noble Lord, I am very grateful to him for doing so. We were not aware before he raised it of the suggestion that funds were going from UK groups to Boko Haram. I have brought it to the attention of officials who are examining the issue, and I will write to him about it.
DHI Exclusive – Nigerian Islamist group must be formally proscribed as terrorists: Lord Alton and Baroness Cox
Embargoed until 1700 GMT
Rome, 24th July 2012
In response to the unrelenting campaign of terror and bloodshed waged against Nigeria’s Christians, the British Parliament’s Cross-Party Working Group on Human Dignity today called for the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, to be put on the proscribed list of terrorist organisations.
Boko Haram, which translates as ‘Western education is sinful’ is waging an increasingly violent campaign of slaughter against Nigeria’s Christian population, with 700 killed this year alone. In addition to attacking Christians at worship, Boko Haram have also targeted state officials and police officers who do not support their demand for a strict Islamist state. In a state with a delicate balance of 50.4 per cent Muslim’s and 48.2 per cent Christians, Boko Haram advocates the most strictest implementation of Shariah Law nationwide.
The increasingly sophisticated nature of Boko Haram’s attacks, coupled with the Jihadist ideology behind the group, has led to international calls for Boko Haram to be officially proscribed, in what has long been evident, as a highly dangerous terrorist organisation. The call from the British Parliament’s Cross-Party Working Group on Human Dignity adds to the pressure on Britain and the United States to take a stand against Boko Haram. Earlier this month, the US State Department designated three Boko Haram leaders as ‘foreign terrorists’ – but stopped short of officially defining the organisation itself. Furthermore, General Carter Ham, commander of US Africa command, has highlighted Boko Haram as one of the top three ‘most dangerous’ groups in Africa, with undeniable links to al-Qaeda, sharing weapons, explosives and funds.
Following today’s House of Lords debate on the escalation of violence in Nigeria, led by Baroness Cox of Queensbury; Lord Alton, Chairman of the British Parliament’s Cross-Party Working Group on Human Dignity, speaking in the name of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute explained his group’s decision to press the British Government in proscribing Boko Haram;
“With regular attacks against Christian communities since 2009 and the increasing signs of Boko Haram’s deeper coordination with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now is not the time for inaction. By proscribing Boko Haram, we would not only demonstrate Britain’s unrelenting commitment to the global response against Jihadist terrorism; but also give further international support to the Nigerian Government for their counter-terror response.
“The Dignitatis Humanae Institute welcomes the appeal to take a long overdue action, and to add Boko Haram to the proscribed terror list. Repeatedly in our history, the world has witnessed the consequences of allowing religious persecution and reigns of terror to fester in Africa; we should not allow Nigerian Christian’s to be abandoned to this religious cleansing.”