By now the ‘Islamic State’ and ‘the Caliphate’ are phrases very familiar globally as the world hones in on the spread of Puritanical Islam particularly in the Middle East. Not much attention is being given to the spread of the Caliphate, an agenda particularly permeating throughout Africa and namely Nigeria these past few months. The world remains silent on the effect IS is having on countless militant Islamic organisations worldwide, nor do they publically establish the connection between this Caliphate Movement (officially known to many as initiating in Iraq) and organisations such as Boko Haram in Nigeria. The key word being connection. Islamic insurgent movements globally are not without their networks and the connection between Islamic State and Boko Haram is no exception.
Both these groups are linked to Al-Qaeda: ISIL emerged as an off-shoot from Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram are known to still be in connection to them. Inevitably then both IS and Boko Haram are of the same ideology despite geographical location and any replication by way of seizing land and beheading of man in Nigeria should come as no surprise. However, Boko Haram hasn’t emerged as a fresh Jihadist organisation as a direct result of the Caliphate Movement. Many are aware they have been in existence for the past 5 years, in a country divided equally between Muslims and Christians. Nigeria’s Muslims are primarily Sunni and concentrated in the north of the country, whereas its Christians predominantly dwell in the Middle Belt and the South.
Designated as a foreign terrorist organisation by the United States, the meaning of Boko Haram translates as ‘Western education is forbidden’. Ignoring the fact they speak english themselves, a Western language however hard they wish to distort the facts. Their goal is to eradicate Nigerian democracy and replace it with an Islamic state governed by Sharia Law and their leader Abu Bakr Shekau reiterated this in his threat to Nigerians on January 28 2012: ‘there are no exceptions. Even if you are Muslim and can’t abide by Sharia we will kill you. Even if you are my own father we will kill you’.
Boko Haram provoked an international outcry on August 26, 2011 with its suicide attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja, but has since made significant changes in its tactics – switching its focus on internally eliminating the Christian factor in Nigeria. Major attacks have frequently been carried out against Nigeria’s Christians living in majority Muslim areas in the north and north-east of the country. Boko Haram’s new phase of anti-Christian attacks can be divided into the following categories:
1) Attacks against local Christians in the Boko Haram core operating area of the Borno and Yobe states, in addition to the adjacent state of Bauchi.
2) Major suicide operations and/or targeted bombings of high-profile Churches in Jos, Plateau State and within the city of Abuja.
3) Violent reprisals against Church/Parachurch personnel throughout the North and Middle-Belt regions of Nigeria.
Boko Haram initiated 2011 with a series of suicide attacks, bombings and targeted murders in Damaturu, Yobe state which killed at least 100. Christmas Day 2011 provided militants the perfect opportunity to target worshipers as they left Christian service. The cities of Jos and Abuja -both containing expatriate populations and cities with wide media coverage -witnessed suicide attacks against its Churches, killing at least 25 on 25 December.
The shedding of Christian blood by Boko Haram continued into 2012, on January 5, 6, 10, 11 and 24 (in the cities of Maidguguri, Adumawara and Jos) , in February 19 (Soleja, near Abuja) until February 25 (Abuja and Jos). The behaviour of Boko Haram indicates a possible civilian war in Nigeria which the world makes no mention of, nor of the militants purposely expelling Christians from mainly-Muslim towns and cities, to the point where much of the Christian population of Maiduguri have been regularly fleeing the city as early as 2010 and 2011.
However, the past 6 months has sparked an unprecedented wave of anti-Christian violence, with thousands finding refuge in neighbouring countries as the Caliphate Movement pervades its way into Nigeria. It has given Boko Haram an ever deeper determination to create a state for Islam and Islam alone. The state of Borno has experienced unbearable suffering at the hands of this militant organisation, from the abduction of the 270 Chibok girls in April to the butchering of thousands of Nigerians this past week.
In the wake of the Chibok abductions 5 months ago, Boko Haram have embarked upon a relentless rampage, seizing churches and occupying lands across northern Nigeria. On June 1, 9 members of a local Church in Attagra village, Borno were killed as gunmen opened fire on a congregation gathered for Sunday morning service. The same day in Gwoshe town, Borno, 2 Churches were torched alongside several homes and local shops. This town is no stranger to Boko Haram violence as 21 Christians were reported to have been killed on 25 May, when militants set upon the Church of Christ in Nations.
Stories of beheadings and forced conversions to Islam of Nigerian Christian women, before being married off to their captors have poured out from the region in addition to reports of petrol bombs and IEDs being used to decimate persons and Christian property.Eyewitnesses have spoken of Boko Haram’s intent to cleanse Nigeria of Christians and even certain moderate Muslim communities. Reverend John Bakeni of Maiduguri’s Roman Catholic Diocese, told Religious News Service: ‘a good number of parishes in Pulka and Madagali areas have been overrun in the last few days. Many civilians are on the run. Many others are trapped and killed. Life means nothing here. It’s so cheap and valueless’. The usual barbarity against Christians has seen a proliferation of the norm, markedly so since August when Boko Haram’s Shekau announced an Islamic Caliphate. This has led many Church officials to see no difference between Boko Haram and ISIL. Bakeni spoke of the connection between the two organisations: ‘the same ideology runs through their methods and disposition’.
As the civilian death toll reaches 2,000 in 2014 alone, this has provoked national and international outcry. The Gwoza Christian Community Association wrote an open letter to the Borno state Governor, accusing him of not acting swiftly enough to stem the violence; highlighting 46 mainly Christian villages entirely destroyed by Boko Haram members. The open letter can be viewed below.
Desecration of Nigeria’s Christians has led Christian Solidarity Worldwide’s (CSW) Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas to denounce Boko Haram as a ‘relentless campaign of religious cleansing. Boko Haram continues to commit war crimes by willfully destroying Churches. Moreover, the sect has illustrated once again its disregard for every religion and the sanctity of human life, not only by targeting the innocent as they pray but also by indoctrinating vulnerable girls for use as disposable commodities, to fulfill its murderous purposes’.
To date, the Nigerian government and security forces seem incapable of responding to Boko Haram and minimising its bloody trail. In fact certain elements of these security forces and political leaders of the Muslim-majority north are either complicit with the organisation or sit back in utter complacence in the face of terror. President Goodluck Jonathan recently admitted his Cabinet contained apparent Boko Haram collabarators, leading him to sack many of them.
This lack of inability to launch an effective offensive against the militant organisation enable them to be virtually unchallenged. Boko Haram have managed to secure Maiduguri in Borno state, as well as expanding its operating area of the major Muslim areas of northern Nigeria. More towns to add to the creation of a Nigerian Islamic Caliphate. Boko Haram now controls a large swath of north-eastern Nigeria, expanding into neighbouring Cameroon. Last Tuesday saw the capture of Bara and Banki located south-west of Maiduguri.
Hussain Monguno, leader of the civic Borno-Yobe People’s Forum spoke of the bodies that littered the streets of Bama, a city containing around 200,000. A city currently overrun by Boko Haram militants. The Nigerian Emergency Management Agency reported that 26,500 residents have fled Bama this week, joining almost 12,000 who fled Gwoza which was seized by the organisations 2 weeks ago. The UN Refugee Agency stated that nearly 650,000 Nigerians have been forced from their homes, now displaced within their own country. Tens of thousands have been reported to be looking for shelter in neighbouring countries. Human rights and aid workers have estimated that a total of 1.5 million Nigerians have been affected.
Nigeria’s semi-dysfunctional society, lacking in basic security and the rule of law has been exploited by these Islamic militants as there as no real tangible government and security processes against them. This has led to serious and dire consequences. Since the country has shown itself to be generally inept in safeguarding especially its Christian and minority communities, it has resulted in the succumbing to Boko Haram’s henious aims. The establishment of an Islamic Caliphate indicates that the future of Nigeria and its surrounding nations to be in desperate uncertainty. The Islamic Caliphate will only encourage similar vilgilante groups, inspired by the seemingly indestructable Boko Haram.
Christians in Nigeria are living in ever increasing perilous times. And the world is doing nothing about it. Meanwhile the global expansion of the Islamic State goes on…