Lack of international concern over Boko Haram

6 Aug 2009

Christians in the northern Nigerian city of Maiduguri are expressing increasing dismay at what they perceive as a lack of international concern for the suffering of their communities.  As funerals continue, local estimates of the death toll rise to over 1000.

During last week's violence, Islamist Boko Haram militants attacked both government and Christian targets, killing individuals and taking many civilians captive for possible use as human shields against government forces besieging their compound in Maiduguri's Railway District. Once in the camp, male captives were given a choice between conversion to Islam or death, while women and girls were kept on as hostages. Survivors of the siege informed CSW sources that the Boko Haram leader, Yusuf Mohammed, personally oversaw the forcible Islamisation of hostages, and the execution of anyone who refused to convert.

Yesterday, Maiduguri's Good News Church held a memorial service for one of these hostages. Pastor George Orji was beheaded in the Boko Haram compound, and his body left in a mass grave there.  He leaves behind a heavily pregnant wife, and two children aged two and four.

On 4 August around 3000 people took part in the funeral service for Rev Sabo Yakubu, the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) church pastor whose heart was removed from his body by Boko Haram militants. Three other Christians whose charred remains were found in the ruins of Jajere National Evangelical Mission were also buried on that day. One of the bodies is thought to be that of Pastor Elijah Samuel, who was hacked to death by militants.

Over 800 people are now officially estimated to have died in last week's violence. This number is likely to rise as many missing civilians are now presumed dead and possibly buried in mass graves dug by the authorities in a bid to avert the spread of disease. Earlier CSW was informed that a University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) worker had estimated that around 1000 corpses were deposited in the hospital mortuary on Monday 27 July alone. The number of people displaced during the violence also remains unclear, but is thought to be in the thousands.

CSW sources also report that a total of 20 churches were destroyed during the violence.  In February 2006 Maiduguri was the scene of the infamous "Cartoon Riots" during which 57 churches were destroyed and over 60 Christians were killed. Surviving victims of that violence have still not received compensation.

Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi said: "It is unfortunate that the mayhem unleashed on the Church is systematically downplayed in the media. The first victim was the ecclesia, which was subjugated and sacrificed prior to any attack on the establishment, yet no report is pointing to Christians as the number one target before all others. We will continue to speak out."

There are growing concerns that the furore surrounding the death of the Boko Haram leader may be obscuring the suffering inflicted by the sect on northern civilians, and may eventually raise him to iconic status. Yusuf Mohamed was reportedly killed in questionable circumstances on July 30 while in police custody. Local sources report that pictures purportedly of his bullet-riddled corpse show one of his arms was practically amputated by gunshots.

Tina Lambert, CSW's Advocacy Director said: "We are disturbed by indications that the Boko Haram leader may have been killed extra-judicially. A full investigation into this claim is needed but it is vital that this does not  inadvertently obscure or detract from the appalling nature of the crimes committed by this sect against innocent civilians.  There is an urgent need to assist and compensate the deeply traumatised victims, and for action to ensure a definitive end to the cycle of deadly religious violence in Northern and central Nigeria".

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