Nigeria and Cameroon crack down on Boko Haram

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“The army has been more present in our region in the past few weeks,” the Bishop of Yola,a city near Cameroon, where three missionaries have been kidnapped, told “Vatican Insider”.

“When I learnt that three religious were kidnapped in Cameroon, I immediately thought it was Boko Haram that was responsible. All churches prayed for them on Sunday.”

Stephen Dami Mamza is the Bishop of Yola in Northern Nigeria. Yola is a city just 60 kilometres from the Cameroon border and especially the northern region of Cameroon, where two Italian missionaries and a Canadian nun - Gilberte Bussier, Fr. Giampaolo Marta and Fr. Gianantonio Allegri were recently kidnapped.

“The army’s pressure on Boko Haram militia has intensified significantly in our area in the past three weeks. There are many more soldiers here ensuring our safety and things seem to have quietened down a bit. The army has also gained control of villages and has arrested a number of people in recent days who were suspected of colluding with fundamentalists in my diocese.”

So Boko Haram’s men may have been forced to cross the border, seeking refuge in areas that are less tightly protected?

“Yes. Although I think there is a very close cooperation between Nigerian and Cameroonian security forces.”

This isn’t the first time Boko Haram’s men have operated beyond the border.

“Yes, they cross borders often. Arms trafficking seems to be their main reason for doing so.”

What is the reason for these kidnappings do you think? Is it a show of strength or is Boko Haram trying hoping to gain extra funding from the potential ransom money?

“These purpose of these kinds of kidnappings is usually to get money to fund the organisation’s activities. Such actions are more widespread in southern Nigeria. We don’t see this very often.”

Do the locals support these groups and fundamentalists’ actions?

“No, these groups spread fear but the people don’t agree with their ideas. Unfortunately there’s great poverty in our region; there aren’t any jobs. So Boko Haram manages to gather consensus. They exploit people’s despair and misery to get new recruits.”

The Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, recently denounced the difficult relationship between Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims. A national “Interreligious Council” was created but it did little to help the situation. Have you had the same difficulties in your diocese?

“Unfortunately we have. Christians and Muslims still don’t really trust each other. We have experienced many cases of discrimination, particularly in the public institutions. There are slightly more Christians than Muslims in our State, Adamawa, but last year, the public sector hired thirty eight lawyers and only four of them were Christians. The remaining 34 were all Muslim.”

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Davide Demichelis