200 Girls Still Missing, Victims of Nigeria’s Religious War

Nigerian School Girls KidnappedIn a nightmarish act of violence, Islamist insurgents, members of Boko Haram, forcibly kidnapped 240 girls in the middle of the night on April 14th, burning their school. While a few girls escaped, 200 or so are still missing.

The name “Boko Haram” translates to “western education is a sin,” and the kidnapping of these young girls is a way to put the fine point on what the group detests: education. The kidnapping is also a way to let their enemies know what they want: an Islamic state in Nigeria.

While President Goodluck Jonathan and others have said the struggle with Boko Haram is not a religious war, as the terrorist group targets Christians as well as Muslims, it is impossible to deny the role of religion in the conflict. The fate of these young women who have been kidnapped, and the fact that the government has not been effective in rooting out Boko Haram, lies in religious understandings, and an ineffectual president resting on his Christian laurels.

President Goodluck Jonathan, a pentecostal, has held prayer meetings, called for councils, but remains remarkably silent on the kidnapping. Perhaps that is because he was busy preparing the gold iPhones for his daughter’s wedding which took place right after the kidnapping.

Meanwhile, religious leaders have expressed their disapproval. The Christian Association of Nigeria has called for a three-day prayer and fast for the girl’s safe return. The organization’s most recent posting on Boko Haram was in 2012, stating that their “final warning” to President Jonathan was that he should put an end to the insecurity in Nigeria or face the consequences. Two years later, the president has faced few consequences—except the loss of Nigerian lives to Boko Haram.

The president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) has advised President Jonathan to apply caution in giving amnesty to those in Boko Haram. The PFN’s president, Mr. Omobude, has said that the government “should be more concerned with compensating victims” of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Nigerian School Girls KidnappedSince the beginning of 2014, over 1500 people have lost their lives to terrorist attacks in the northern regions of Nigeria. The same day of the kidnapping, a bomb exploded in the capital, Abuja, killing 70 people and injuring 124 others. Boko Haram has taken responsibility for the bombing. It is clear that the insurgent group is becoming bolder and stronger, with the possibility of growing in numbers with instability in nations near to Nigeria. Add this conflict to the Christian-Muslim clashes ongoing in the in the Central African Republic, and the situation takes on a new urgency.

While pundits may argue about the precise role of religion in this conflict, this latest attack by Boko Haram signals not only an issue for the government and the security of Nigerian people, but a test to the pervasive prosperity gospel that has permeated much of Protestant Christianity in Nigeria.

The paralysis of the Nigerian government and military in dealing with Boko Haram comes out of its overweening reliance on a gospel of platitudes and blessing, while poverty and chaos reign in the nation. With the upbeat gusto of a prosperity preacher, President Jonathan has soft pedaled the crisis while continuing to celebrate birthdays, weddings and an election campaign—even as parents are frightened and grieving for the loss of their daughters.

It is tragic to see mothers of the kidnapped girls willing to go out into the forest, while the President and military men of the nation turn their back on young Christian and Muslim women, kidnapped against their will.

While the men dither, the women organize, offering a sliver of hope. Christian women and Muslim women have condemned the kidnapping. The Nasirullahi Fathi society of Nigeria, a Muslim women’s group, staged a march protesting the abduction, asking for people of all faiths to come together to stop Boko Haram.

And just yesterday members of the Chibok Youth Organization gathered in protest.

No matter what the outcome of these rallies, the fact remains that every day these girls remain in the hands of Boko Haram, the chance that they are being raped, mistreated, and being forced to work for their captors increases. All because someone government official thought they should take a physics exam.

anthea butlerDespite the Nigerian governments bluster, the only weapons they seem to be able to deploy against Boko Haram are prayer, fasting and silence.

Meanwhile, the kidnapped young women are suffering from the effects of a society steeped in religiosity and patriarchy. May someone, anyone except the god of prosperity President Goodluck Jonathan worships, rescue them from Boko Haram.

Anthea Butler
Religion Dispatches

 

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