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A special Report by ICC
04/07/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – As President Goodluck Jonathan faces pressure from Islamic leaders to provide amnesty to the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, peace in Nigeria remains elusive and Christians remain one of the group’s chief targets.
A few weeks ago, Abubakar Sa’ad, the Sultan of Sokoto, in northwest Nigeria, asked the federal government to grant members of Boko Haram a “total and unconditional amnesty” for the sake of peace in the country. President Jonathan rejected the suggestion, calling for the group to come out into the open and enter into negotiations with the government. Their comments have ignited a national debate on whether justice should be given up for the sake of peace.
On March 4, Boko Haram rejected rumors of an alleged ceasefire with the government, reaffirming its commitment to use violence and terrorism to destabilize the Christian-led government and turn northern Nigeria into an Islamic state under Sharia law. After so-called commander of Boko Haram, Muhammed Abdulazeez Ibn Idris, offered a truce to the national government, it was quickly disavowed by the self-proclaimed leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, who threatened to kill Idn Ibris for making the offer in the first place.
In January, the group said: “We will consider negotiation only when we have brought the government to its knees…You don’t put down your arms in Islam, you only put them aside.” Its followers are said to be influenced by the phrase in the Quran that says: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors.”
Anti-Christian Terror
On Christmas Eve in 2012, for the third year in a row, synchronized attacks against churches and Christians were carried out, taking the lives of pastors and church members in different regions and burning homes and churches to the ground. Christians have been a growing percentage of Boko Haram’s victims since 2011. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), a research project to catalogue Nigerian political violence, at least 37 attacks have occurred at churches and 21 at mosques.
In the past few months, scores of Christians have been killed, hundreds have been injured and thousands have been displaced because of Boko Haram, who have vowed to eradicate Christianity from the country and are determined to see radical Islamist rule enforced in the nation.
Ever since it began its violent campaign in 2009, the terror outfit has used gunmen on motorbikes to kill police, politicians and anyone who criticizes them, including clerics from other Muslim traditions and a Christian preacher. It went on to employ suicide-bombing in a nation where suicide is culturally anathema. On Nov. 25, 2012, eleven Christians were killed in a suicide attack on a Church in Jaji.
Since August 2011, various factions of the faceless terrorist group have planted bombs almost weekly, in public or in churches, in Nigeria’s northeast, according to a special report by the United States Institute of Peace. The group even broadened its targets to include setting fire to schools. In March 2012, around a dozen public schools in Maiduguri were burned down during the night.
Common Mission but not Monolithic
Boko Haram, loosely translated from the local Hausa language, means “Western education is forbidden.” While “Boko” originally means fake, it came to be identified with Western education, while “Haram” means forbidden. It was formed in 2002, as a religious complex with a mosque and an Islamic school, but the school doubled as recruiting ground for jihadists.
The confusion over the ceasefire and failed negotiations stem from two factors: the group’s cell-like structure and the scant information about the identity of its key leadership. With a number of factions operating as Boko Haram outfits, there is no guarantee that when someone claims to speak for the group, they are speaking for all the members, as illustrated in the confusion over the ceasefire.
Furthermore, little is known about Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, including his age, where he was born, or if he can speak English, according to Council on Foreign Relations, an independent non-partisan think-tank. The movement has issued no formal manifesto, even though its various factions share the common agenda of enforcing Islamic law in northern Nigeria. Some are said to be keen on imposing it throughout the country, even in areas where Christians are the majority.
The situation is further compounded by the indiscriminate violence of the government soldiers in their fight against Boko Haram, often killing innocent civilians and employing the practice of extra-judiciary killings with impunity; which only garners more local support for the insurgents. A recent report by the Network on Police Reform found that 7,198 people were extra-judicially killed by security forces in the last four years.
After five years of unrelenting violence, a fruitless civil war and failed negotiations, the Christian-led government of President Jonathan is under heavy pressure to find a quick way to bring peace in war-torn Nigeria, without denying Christian victims their day in court. However, even if somehow peace prevails, he will be left with the daunting task of addressing the crippling poverty and pervasive corruption in the country that presently make Boko Haram’s political rhetoric all the more attractive to the poor and the oppressed. It’s an overwhelming situation for the president who will need the prayers of the church and support from his international allies to help lead Nigeria into a better future.