Christian, Muslim Nigerian Leaders Unite Against Boko Haram: 'This Is Not a Religious War'
Nigerian governors attending a security meeting in the capital, Abuja, agreed that the threat the nation faces from Islamist extremist group Boko Haram is "not a religious war" but still one that has destroyed the lives of Christians and Muslims alike. The meeting represented a display of unity unprecedented in the war to eradicate Boko Haram.
According to Reuters, the meeting this week between President Goodluck Jonathan and 36 governors of states in the nation was fairly representative of the country's demographics, with governors from both the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south in attendance. Much of Nigeria's northern territory has been under a state of emergency since Islamist extremists identifying themselves as Boko Haram members have increased the number of attacks on Nigerian civilians – from bus bombings to the razing of villages and mass kidnapping of girls from secondary schools. Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is sin," claims its objective to be the eradication of Christianity from Nigeria and imposition of a crude interpretation of Sharia Law.
In a statement released after the meeting, the group agreed that Boko Haram was a threat to both Christian and Muslim civilians. "We agreed that the Boko Haram war is not a religious war, and therefore it's a war against all Nigerians and should be treated as such... Both Muslims and Christians are being killed," they declared. The group emphasized the fact that the fight to eradicate the Boko Haram threat "is not a religious war and people should not misrepresent it to be," according to Theodor Orji, governor of Abia.
The expression of unity against the radical terror group is a change in tone from the discord coming from many in the Nigerian government on how to approach the threat. Boko Haram attacks have triggered accusations from both the government and the opposition that either side is subsidizing or morally supporting Boko Haram; some officials in Muslim-populated areas have accused President Jonathan, a Christian, of using Boko Haram as an excuse to target Muslims.
These tensions came to a head during a summit in Washington, D.C., in March, where twelve governors from the mostly-Muslim northern Nigerian states visited the United States to participate in a panel discussion at the Institute of Peace on how to eradicate Boko Haram. According to the Nigerian Guardian, the discussion devolved into shouting matches between the governors and the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye. Some of the governors claimed, the paper notes, that "the Federal Government failed to block importation of weapons into the country" and that "federal security agencies were colluding with backers of Boko Haram to perpetuate the conflict in the North" – essentially accusing President Jonathan of being responsible for the recent surge in Boko Haram activity.
The meeting also veered into topics that had little to do with Boko Haram, including some governors accusing other present officials of corruption, and a scolding from Ambassador Adefuye not to "wash Nigeria's linen in public."
The tone after the private meeting with President Jonathan, which included governors from the south as well as some of the congregation in Washington, shifted dramatically.
Human rights attorney Emmanuel Ogebe tells Breitbart News that public displays of unity on behalf of government officials are both positive and long overdue. "On the ground here in Nigeria, there is the sense that, finally, the ruling class is coming together to fight the common enemy," he tells Breitbart News, adding that "this has taken too long to happen, but it's better now than never." It was, he remarked, certainly an improvement from the "lynch mob" against President Jonathan in Washington last month. Ogebe also noted that excluded from the infamous United States summit were Christian southern governors and that one of two Christian governors from the north was denied a visa to participate in that summit.
Nonetheless, the fact that government officials are "coming to the realization that the threat is not localized to Christians" is a vast improvement from the attitudes that allowed Boko Haram to grow previously, he said. The unity display was a step forward, if "also a step backward because they are not recognizing the threat for what it is." Boko Haram, Ogebe insists, is not the product of poverty. Given their strategic targeting of Christians and highly specific religious behavior, such as the kidnapping of young girls only when deemed old enough to be trained into slave brides, Ogebe dismisses poverty as a suitable explanation for the rise of Boko Haram. "Poverty has never been a driving force for Islamist action," he told Breitbart News, as Islam "has a built-in safety net for the poor: mandatory alms to the needy."
Without emphasizing the religious nature of the threat, there can be no solution, Ogebe concludes. "A proper security response must be premised on a proper problem diagnosis... it may not be politically correct, but [Boko Haram] are religious extremists, and they are waging war against Christians and moderate Muslims."
That many of Muslim background in the Nigerian government have aligned themselves newly with the fight against Boko Haram and chosen to temporarily place greater emphasis on Boko Haram than intra-governmental disputes is nonetheless a positive development for a nation struggling with an Islamist militia threatening to engulf the entire nation.