THE decisive pronouncements by the Government of the United States and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria over the activities of the Boko Haram militant group easily underscore the rising stakes in respect of the sect’s destructive campaign. The statements mark the widening dimensions as well as the destabilising impact of unrestrained routine destruction of lives and property on the Nigerian state. Other religious denominations had cause too to make far-reaching remarks on the issue, and for quite obvious reasons. The only way the country can avoid the precipice thus threatened is for government to unravel the menace, and fulfil its prime duty of safeguarding Nigerians from harm of any nature.
On its part, the American government declared three leaders of the group – Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Aadm Kambar, and Khalid al-Barnawi ‘global terrorists’ for their role within the Boko Haram group, and their “close links with to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a designated foreign terrorist organisation”. The three persons are thus at the risk of U.S. search and military action. Back here, a communiqué of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria warned of “a nation in danger” as “the situation of insecurity in the land …seems to be going from bad to worse,” and attacks on Christians …put grave stress on the already fragile mutual relationship between Christians and Muslim communities in Nigeria”. Christian leaders warned, ominously, that “the sense of anger and hatred is growing by the day and has reached a dangerous level” and they therefore urged their faithful to “be vigilant, making appropriate provisions, within the law, to defend and protect ourselves and our premises”. The Synod of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) Enugu Diocese, have similarly advised against sending youth corps members to crisis-afflicted states and urged that the youths be allowed to serve in their various geo-political zones. This is a position shared too by the House of Representatives that has indeed directed the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) management to “cancel forthwith, the posting of NYSC members to trouble-prone states in the North-East zone and states with history of bombing and severe security challenges”.
The step by the U.S. indicates greater interest, and involvement, in the hitherto local security problem of Nigeria; and this gives cause for worry not the least for the risk that internationalising the Boko Haram phenomenon can attract. The clear and present danger is that as the government of Nigeria proves incapable to contain the threat to the polity, external forces may, for good or ill, get involved. It cannot be stated with certainty that the country’s long-term interest will be thus served.
There is cause for worry by both government and the people that the leaders of the Catholic Church are moving away, somewhat, from the “turn-the other-cheek” admonition of the faith. Indeed, the times are so trying that the spiritual leaders have need to remind the government of its primary constitutional duty to the citizens; that they feel constrained to go far out of their province to identify to government areas in which “much more needs to be done (such as intelligence gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and security equipment procurement”. Surely something is wrong in governance to necessitate this.
Meanwhile, there are only three states where Boko Haram is consistently active in full defiance of the security resources deployed against it. How this is so defies understanding. The NYSC scheme is an enduring instrumentality for cross-cultural appreciation and, in turn, national cohesion. Going by comments from some influential quarters, Boko Haram is succeeding spectacularly to erode its principle, its implementation, and its survival. This must not be.
Slightly short of advocating reprisal attacks by their long-suffering flock, the Catholic bishops nonetheless warned that, “if there is no clear and concrete sign (of protection of their members) the patience of many Christians will wear out, our sermons of restraint will fall on deaf ears, and those who see violent reprisals as justified deterrence will fall beyond our control”. The collective emotion that underlies the contents of the conference communiqué is to be appreciated, having regard to the seeming inability of law enforcement agencies to curtail the Boko Haram insurgency. However, on the one hand, the Christian leaders must, as they indeed admonished the youths, not grow weary of patience in these times. On the other, President Jonathan should muster the full apparatus of state to restore order to the crisis region, and thus prevent further bloodshed between religious faiths. The Catholic leaders should appreciate that the Boko Haram sect has no support from leaders of the Muslim faith who have denounced its activities times and again. Nevertheless, Muslim leaders should strive to offer much more than verbal condemnation toward resolving the Boko Haram problem. Meanwhile, concerned Nigerians continue to look upon government to live up to its constitutional responsibility to secure their lives and property.