nigeria boko haram

Introduction

 

As the church bolts off further into the third millennium, she is beset by forces, turmoil and conflicts on all sides. The church is being persecuted and is struggling for survival in hostile environments in different parts of the world. The Church in Nigeria has had her fair share of these disturbances particularly in the Northern parts of the country. Violent attacks in these parts have evolved from ethnical clashes which are coloured by religious sentiments to acts of terrorism by sectarian groups masquerading as religious zealots. The dreaded Boko Haram sect has spear-headed terrorist attacks over the course of several years culminating in the infamous abduction of over 200 school girls (the Chibok girls). Their actions are often terrifyingly indiscriminate, slaughtering entire villages seemingly at random; survivors fear for their lives and are hardly able to fully recover from the shock of their ordeal.

As a Dominican youth living in this part of the world, it is often a challenge understanding the situation and offering suitable responses in a bid to reassure victims and others of God’s presence and injecting the fresh air of hope. It, however, behooves every preacher to read the signs of the times and offer favourable response. It is to this end that this article wishes to study the phenomenon of terrorism (Boko Haram) in Northern Nigeria and how this affects preaching and witnessing.

 

Who is Boko Haram?

Boko Haram is a popular sectarian group seeking to undermine the government of Nigeria. The congregation of the people of tradition for proselytism and jihad known by its Hausa name “BOKO HARAM” is a terrorist organization based in North-Eastern Nigeria, Northern Cameroon and Niger Republic founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. The organization seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by Shari’a, putting an end to what it deems as “Westernization”. The group is known for attacking churches, schools and police stations. The group also kidnaps Western tourists and has assassinated members of the Islamic establishment who have criticized the group. Violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency has resulted to an estimated 10,000 deaths between 2002 and 2013.

Traces of Terror

In one assault that killed 25 people in North-east Adamawa State last year, Mrs. Rifatu Bila, a 50 year old wife of a local politician, was told at gun point that she would be spared if she converted to Islam. “The gunmen heard me praying and told me I would be freed if I accept Mohammed”, said Mrs. Bila, whose house was razed during the attack. “He then shot my husband in front of me”. Mrs. Bila was spared as was Andrew a wheelchair-bound employee of St. Joseph’s Minor Seminary a Catholic School another place which was attacked in March, 2013. On both occasions, it seemed the only reason for the gunmen’s mercy was to leave witnesses to their terror. During the Seminary attack, the gunmen wheeled Andrew around the Campus, making him watch as they executed four of his colleagues and blew up the Chapel and classrooms. He was also interrogated about his religion and was warned that it put him in direct danger.

Similarly, Fr. Bekeni buried four of his own parishioners murdered by Boko Haram during his eight-month stint at St. Joseph. He said that the psychological intimidation alone was enough to make him realize why so many parishioners had fled, “It was very frightening up there as the environment was so hostile” said Fr. Bekeni. “I found it made it hard to think clearly, so I would fall back to the sources of the Bible. It made me remember that Christians have historically been persecuted”. Most of the missiles that landed in his compound were thrown by members of the Al-majiri (young male pupils) of local Madarassas, who spend two years being forced to live by begging for alms.

The idea of the Al-majiri program is to encourage self-reliance and to remind youngsters of what it is to be poor. But in a part of Nigeria where most people earn on less than one Dollar ($1) a day, the Al-majiri program raises an army of impoverished street urchins who are easy recruits of Boko­ Haram.

Violence and Emmigration

It is very true that the Boko Haram insurgence is the current plague to Christians in Northern Nigeria, but we must not forget that for decades, there have been constant frictions between Christians and Muslims in those parts, resulting in riots and civil unrests. Therefore, everyday, week and month that passes, Christians in Northern Nigeria live in fear of different forms of hostility, basically because of their choice of religion. The most deadly challenges are those of aggression, conflicts and abduction when all Christians preach and practice is love and peace.

It is safe to say that the hostility of these ‘muslims’ is sometimes so intense and suffocating. This gives rise to fear; fear to declare and live out the Christian faith or even witness to it actively. All these have contributed to the mass relocation of Christians to other parts of the country.

Divine Command to Love: A Strenuous Challenge

In John’s Gospel, Jesus said “now I give you a new commandment; love one another” (13:34). It is becoming increasingly difficult to love someone who hates, hurts and is constantly opposing you. Many Muslims are aware of the Christian call to love and they take advantage of it by striking and then being the first to call out for mercy. This can be a tiring process for Christians, and many have since appealed to more drastic measure in a bid to protect themselves against violence of any kind. But when God gave the command to “love one another”, he did not attach conditions to the way we should express it; he did not exempt anyone from the list of those we should love. Despite hostilities, every Christian is called to show the face of Christ and make Him known and loved. If violence is ever to be an option, it must be in self-defense and applied prudently.

The Dominican as a Witness to Peace

As Dominicans our life is centred on Christ and his message, and this is the rule of faith by which our actions are guided. St Dominic modeled the Order on the apostolic community and its emphasis on prayer, fraternal life, celebration of the Holy Eucharist and sharing of goods in common. In the same way, every arm of the Order tries to reproduce this community of love wherever it finds itself. Since lay persons live and share their lives with the people, we are where the action is and by our words and deeds, we can bring others to Christ. The goal of a Dominican is to seek earnestly and ardently to save the souls of his/her neighbour (cf. Lk 10:27). In a largely Islamic environment, the mode of witnessing must be attuned to the cultural and religious sensibility of people.

The vocation of a Dominican is a response to the call to preach. He or she is called to bring the message of Christ to all men and women of the world. This he or she does in different ways and as a lay person, there is a lot of room for creativity: hospitality, corporal works of mercy, building friendship with non-Christians, initiating and sustaining dialogue, and living according to the values of the Gospel. Even a person’s mode of dressing could present an occasion for teaching about modesty and moderation, an esteemed value in a very conservative Northern Nigeria. These are opportunities to bring the Gospel to a people living in fear and uncertainty and even spreading the tentacles of the faith to persons who are of a different faith or persuasion.

For young people who are often unsure what should characterize authentic Dominican preaching, it is good to note that it should always be:

-       Centred on Christ

-       Faithful to Catholic teachings

-       Born out of Prayer and Contemplation

-       Responsive to the Needs of the Time

-       Shared in a Spirit of Love, and

-       Lived out in Conviction

Conclusion

Despite the threats, bombings, uncertainties of what tomorrow holds for us as Dominicans out here “in the desert”, our preaching mission cannot be abandoned. Preaching is the only adequate response we can give to a territory beset by civil unrest and terrorism. Every encounter with people and situations is an avenue to preach, touch lives, instill hope and brings others to Christ.

HEARTS AFLAME!!!

Blesses Jane of Aza Unit group Gusau, Nigeria.

TESTIMONY

The fear and anxiety was so intense especially at the beginning of this year with the general election approaching and the largely forecasted violence in this part of the country. We could almost taste the fear and it was written on every face. There was so much uncertainty in our hearts about everything including whether we would still live here in this Dominican community after the elections. I was so scared and worried about the fate of Dominican Young Heart Movement in my parish because most members including myself relocated during the election.

All the while we believed God’s will always prevails. The election was successful, we have all returned safely without any violence reported anywhere especially in this part. Even the much anticipated Bokoharam attack hasn’t happened yet. No human can do all these, no one foresaw a violence-free and uninterrupted election, but the Almighty did and kept his children safe. He heard our prayers and cries and here we are today, though struggling to regain what we seem to have lost in the past months on account of fear and tension. It has been him all the way. We are all overwhelmed with gratitude and awe.


Anthonia C. Umenwobi

 
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