- Tide of suffering in an unholy war
Jan De Volder
As the Islamist group Boko Haram is said to be surrounding the city of Maiduguri in the latest stage of its campaign of violence against Christians and Muslims alike, an expert on the country considers why the authorities are powerless to halt its progress
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Catholic bishops in Nigeria are holding a holy hour of Eucharistic adoration in cathedrals on Sunday evening in addition to the many prayers and Masses being said in parishes around the country for the release of schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram Islamists.
Muslim and Christian women, including female members of the Knights of St Mulumba, have been demonstrating to draw attention to the plight of some 230 girls kidnapped from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok in Borno state three weeks ago. Yesterday a further eight girls were reported to have been abducted from a nearby village and today another village in Borno state was reported to have been stormed, resulting in an unconfirmed number of deaths.
As the US, the UK and France said they were sending experts to help locate the girls, the Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, said: “We cannot get near to the evil forest where these people operate, not to talk of getting into neighbouring countries where they might have been taken.”
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, expressed frustration at the Nigerian Government’s progress in rescuing the girls, telling Vatican Radio: “We are all ashamed … Up until now we are hearing practically nothing concrete on the issue, I think almost every Nigerian is taken aback. We cannot explain what is happening.”
Fr John Bakeni, secretary of the diocese of Maiduguri in Borno state, said he thought 80 per cent of the abducted girls were Christian. He said the militants had used the girls as human shields and sex objects before dividing them up to cross the border to the neighbouring Niger, Cameroon and Chad. “I am in tears as I tell you this,” he said.
In a video that emerged on Monday, a leader from Boko Haram threatened to “sell” the girls.
Cardinal Onaiyekan told The Tablet that the issue was not about whether the girls were Christian or Muslim so much as the fact that “all these girls have been missing now for more than two weeks … Boko Haram wants to set Christians against Muslims but we believe in one Nigeria where diverse peoples can live together”.