THE whereabouts of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in
northern Nigeria remain unknown a month after their kidnapping.
Never the less, the Archbishop of Canterbury has cautioned against
military intervention by Western nations to find them.
Writing in the Church Times (below),
Archbishop Welby says that defeating Boko Haram, the Islamist
militants who snatched the teenagers from their school in Chibok,
would take a combination of local police work, winning the hearts
and minds of Muslims in the region, and economic development.
He also writes: "External intervention is always difficult. In
the first place, our history as the colonial power, and the role of
the USA in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes both countries (and indeed
much of the 'Christian West') suspicious for many Muslims."
Since the global campaign on social media to raise awarenessof
the schoolgirls' plight - #BringBackOurGirls - Western nations have
pledged assistance to Nigeria. On Tuesday, the United States
revealed that it was flying surveillance aircraft and sharing
satellite photos with the Nigerian government.
A group of advisers from the FBI, defence, and state departments
have also been sent to Nigeria to assist in the search for the
girls. The UK government has also sent a team of experts, as has
France and China.
Some, including the US Senator John McCain and the Conservative
MEP Daniel Hannan, have advocated sending soldiers or special
forces to rescue the schoolgirls. Archbishop Welby said, however,
that, while it was right to offer advice and support, military
action would be extremely difficult.
"We need to offer help humbly and respectfully to a people of
suffering in a country of great talent and potential. Above all, we
are called to identify with the poor and suffering in prayer."
Before his present appointment, Archbishop Welby travelled to
Nigeria on several occasions to help reconciliation efforts with
various groups, including precursors of Boko Haram. Speaking to
Radio 4 on Sunday, he also said that even though Boko Haram was a
disparate and "irrational" group, the Nigerian authorities should
try to negotiate with them.
"[Boko Haram] are very difficult to deal with and utterly
merciless. [They] have a very difficult inner core and negotiation
there is extremely complicated, though I think you need to
On Monday, Boko Haram released a video showing 136 of the girls,
dressed in hijabs, and offered to exchange the girls for captured
Boko Haram fighters in prison. The group claimed that the girls,
who were mostly Christians, had converted to Islam.
In the video, the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, said:
"I swear to almighty Allah, you will not see them again until you
release our brothers that you have captured." Mr Shekau had
threatened to sell the girls into slavery in a previous video last
The response from the Nigerian authorities has been confused.
The the interior minister rejected any prisoner exchange, while a
government statement suggested that all options remained
Archbishop Welby said on Sunday that the Anglican Church in
Nigeria had been working for years to counteract the violence of
Boko Haram. "Archbishop Okoh and his bishops have worked very well,
though great suffering and sacrifice of life, to work with Muslim
groups that are seeking reconciliation. The vast majority of the
population are not involved with Boko Haram, but are terrorised by
Primates around the Anglican Communion have also spoken out
against the kidnapping, including those of Southern Africa, Brazil,
and Canada. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the
United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, said in a statement
that the Church was horrified that those who should be addressing
the crisis were "look[ing] the other way".
"I pray that all Episcopalians, and all people of faith and good
will, will pray and plead with their political leaders to find the
kidnappers, liberate these girls, and restore them to the safety
As the global spotlight on Boko Haram intensified, clashes
between Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria continued. The
advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported on
Monday that violence had broken out in southern Kaduna state, in
the north-west of Nigeria.
A dispute between Muslim and Christian youths had led to the
demolition of a church; and then two mosques had been burnt down in
retaliation, CSW said. The predominantly Christian area had
suffered violent attacks since 2011, and some felt that the
security forces did not provide adequate protection.
'External intervention is always difficult'
Justin Welby sets out the
challenges that are presented in tackling Boko
BOKO HARAM was established in north-eastern Nigeria in
the first years of this century. Called by a variety of names, it
formed cells in different parts of the north-east, and carried out
progressively more serious terrorist attacks mainly in the northern
part of Nigeria, with the highest intensity in Borno state and the
next-door states of Yobe and Adamawa. There were also major attacks
in Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Abuja, and other places.
I spent a certain amount of time in these areas between
2005 and 2011. Groups have, at various times, fled the perceived
(by them) corruption of the cities, and set up communities in the
Bush. From time to time they clash with police or others, and they
are easily radicalised.
On one occasion I met with one of these communities for
a day's discussion, sitting on the floor of the mosque, talking
about politics, theology, and how to lead a good life.
High-technology IT, very conservative attitudes to women and to
education, as well as a fear of outsiders, combine to create a
potent mix, easily dominated by a charismatic leader.
Boko Haram's stated aim is to establish a radical and
extremist Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria. The Caliphate
would next be extended to the rest of Nigeria, and beyond.
Well-armed and funded, they have attacked Christians and their
churches, as well as Muslims and mosques
where they have encountered opposition. A number of Anglican
dioceses have been especially severely affected.
They have also targeted government institutions -
especially the police. There is the belief by many, including
President Goodluck Jonathan, that members of the group exist in
various parts of the Nigerian society, including the armed
THE latest abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, who
were in the middle of their examinations, has rightly earned robust
international condemnation, including by several Primates of the
Anglican Communion. The Church of Nigeria is intimately involved,
through interfaith dialogue and other efforts, in seeking a
Any approach to tackling the problem will have to
combine police action, "hearts and minds" approaches to convince
local populations that it is possible to oppose Boko Haram, and
careful spiritual and economic development. It will take a long
time. The area is vast, with poor communications.
The sources for the impact of Boko Haram are economic,
historical, religious, and ethnic. Youth unemployment affects the
majority of young people in the north-east. Power is erratic,
industry is declining, and agriculture is poor, besides being
affected by southward expansion of the Sahara. There is a perceived
lack of good development, and much corruption.
EXTERNAL intervention is always difficult. In the first
place, Britain's history as the colonial power, and the role of the
United States of America in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes both
countries (and indeed much of the "Christian West") suspicious for
many Muslims. In the period after 9/11, a huge proportion of
children in some areas were named "Osama" in support of Bin
In the fighting of recent years, the Nigerian Army has
been put under very severe pressure, and there have been reports by
international agencies (always strongly denied) of human-rights
External help should involve advice where it can be
offered, support for those who are displaced, expertise in training
and development, and, above all, support for reconciliation, which
will be long and difficult.
The crisis has claimed many lives. We need to offer help
humbly and respectfully to a people suffering in a country of great
talent and potential. Above all, we are called to identify with the
poor and suffering in prayer - and then to act as God calls us to
be the answer to the prayer we pray.