Nigerian government leaders are Islamic fundamentalists without bombs, says bishop

THE BEHEADING of 10 Christians by Islamist militants in Nigeria has sparked a condemnation by a bishop who accuses the government of using different methods to achieve the same goal of Islamic dominance.

In the wake of the 2019 Christmas Day killings by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and an attack by Boko Haram on Christmas Eve, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto told Aid to the Church in Need of his disgust with the authorities.

He said: “The only difference between the government and Boko Haram is that Boko Haram is holding a bomb.”

He added: the Nigerian government is “using the levers of power to secure the supremacy of Islam, which then gives more weight to the idea that it can be achieved by violence. With the situation in Nigeria, it is hard to see the moral basis they have to defeat Boko Haram.” He added that the Nigerian government has “created the conditions to make it possible for Boko Haram to behave the way they are behaving.”

On Boxing Day 2019, ISWAP released a video beheading 10 Christians and shooting one Muslim, saying it was revenge for the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghadi, the ISIS leader, and other senior ISIS members killed during US raids in Syria last October.

Images taken from ISIS video, showing hostages and their executioners

The beheadings followed a Christmas Eve attack by Boko Haram in which seven were killed. The UN estimates that more than 2.2 million people have been displaced by Boko Haram’s actions and that between 2013 and 2015, more than 11,000 people were killed by the group.

Bishop Kukah said the Nigerian government gives tacit approval to Islamist groups by appointing hardline Muslims to key government positions. The bishop said: “If the people in power don’t do enough to integrate Christians then they give oxygen to Islamism. A country where everybody in power is Muslim gives vent to the idea that Islam should be supreme.”

Bishop Kukah hit out against Western nations who he said are happy to mine the resources of Africa but not defend its people, saying: “Western nations are not doing enough. They have shown that the resources of Africa are more important than the ordinary people. Clearly, the Western nations could have reduced the influence of Boko Haram by 80 or 90 percent— they have deliberately not done enough.”

Bishop Kukah said that the only thing preventing Nigeria from being engulfed in civil war are the peaceful tenets of Christianity. He said: “Christians have every reason to feel insecure and also there is a general feeling of their marginalization in the political process. If the principles of our religion were different, there would be a civil war by now.”

“It is the glory of our religion that this hasn’t happened. But it is difficult to preach peace in this context. Christians won’t use violence but what will they do?”

—Fionn Shiner