Posted in Prose

John Cardinal Onaiyekan’s 2016 Christmas message


+John Cardinal Onaiyekan





Message by +John Cardinal ONAIYEKAN, Archbishop of Abuja


  1. We thank God for bringing us together once again this year for the usual annual celebration of the Christmas season. This celebration of Carol and Readings has become a yearly custom of the NTA and Radio Nigeria and I congratulate them for keeping faith no matter the circumstances around us. Despite the economic down turn and recession, we must celebrate and rejoice at Christmas time, because the core of the Christian message recalls the abiding love of God for humanity. This is brought out very clearly in the gospel of St John – “Yes, God loved the world so much that He gave His Only son.” John 3:16.


  1. First of all, Christmas is a Christian celebration which has a specific meaning for those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God made man, an unimaginable doctrine that is tenable only to those who have received the gift of the Christian faith. The Christian therefore celebrates not only the gift of a wonderful child but also the enactment of God’s greatest plan for humanity, His becoming man and living among us. “The word was made flesh, he lived among us.” John 1:13. St Paul made this clear when he said: “When the appointed time, God sent His Son, born of a woman.” Gal. 4:4. That woman is the Virgin Mary, the young girl of Nazareth. Already in the Old Testament, the Prophet Isaias foresaw that a “The Virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel.” Is. 7:14 Matthew quoted this text in his story of the annunciation of the birth of Jesus in Mat. 1:23, adding that Emmanuel is “a name which means ‘God is with us’”. Mat. 1:24. Christians therefore have a profound spiritual motivation for celebrating Christmas.

Christmas however, is a celebration for the whole world because it is an essential part of the Christian faith that God’s love embraces every human being. That is perhaps why the Christmas mood spread all over the world in these weeks, as we see decorations and shopping sprees in all the great capitals of the world.


  1. We should not forget that it was not so at the beginning. When Jesus was born over 2000 years ago, it was an obscure event. Only Mary, Joseph and a few shepherds were aware that a great thing had happened to our universe. But today there is a general mood of joy, of peace and of sharing. Even if for many people, the reason for this season may be forgotten or entirely unknown, our faith in the Lord Jesus is that the Lord of history is in charge of his creation in us and despite us.


  1. In Nigeria, we thank God that Christmas has become a popular celebration, involving all our fellow citizens. The government grants a two-day public holiday to enable everyone celebrate, both Christians and non-Christians. It is a good thing that Christians celebrate with their neighbours who are not of the same faith.

Everyone must share in this mood of joy, peace and hope. It is a mood of God being with us. It is joy in the midst of challenges and economic recession, hope against every despair and faith to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel of a rather somber environment. It is a season for sharing, for expressing solidarity and for reaching out to others especially to the poor and needy. Perhaps there will be less heavily loaded hampers flying around this year. But there must not be less generosity among us all. Perhaps we must seriously consider this year those with whom we exchange gifts. Jesus said: “If you do good to those who do good to you, what thanks can you expect? Lk. 6:33. For the very fact that there are so many of our countrymen who are in situations of distress and poverty, this is all the more reason therefore why all of us, especially we who are Christians, must reach out to them, wherever we can, at our own levels.


  1. The nation not only celebrates the Christian festival of Christmas but also the Muslim religious feasts. It shows the importance of religion in our land. This is a spiritual asset which should make a positive impact in our land. True religion must be for peace, for justice, for honesty and harmony. Christmas is a time for us to take up anew the challenges of fashioning good relations among our differing religious communities. And this is not only between Christians and Muslims but also within our various religious faiths. It is becoming more and more clear now that if we do not arrive at harmony within our faiths, it will be difficult to achieve peace between our faiths.


  1. This is a task that we must all put our heads to. To do this we must recognize certain realities which are there, not without the permission and the plan of God himself. We must admit that we live in a country where there is a pluralism of religions. It is a fact that we cannot change. The wise attitude therefore, is to cultivate as much as we can respect for our differences and be fair to everyone. Here the golden rule is always valid – “Do to no one what you would not want done to you”.

Our differences however are not the end of story because we do have a lot of things in common. We therefore must try to seek those common grounds in terms of those shared spiritual and religious values which then help us to be able to join hands to face the challenges that afflict all of us, without discrimination or distinction. Whether it is Ebola or Malaria, HIV/AIDS or even corruption, every religious community is challenged to take action with the spiritual resources at its disposal, for the common good of all.

For all this to happen, we need to agree on the place of religion in our nation. The age-old debate of the relationship between politics and religion cannot be avoided. Nor can we make any serious progress as a nation with serious disagreement on this matter. This is particularly crucial in the area of the law of the land. Can we distinguish between the legal civil code that binds each one of us as citizens of the same nation and the religious moral norms which each of us have embraced in freedom as part of his or her own religion? If we sincerely want a nation that is united and integrated, we must work seriously towards one law for every citizen. If we must tell the truth, it must be said that the Sharia issue is still burning. Recent moves in the National Assembly for a drastic review of our constitution to make room for ecclesiastical laws side by side with Sharia is perhaps only the first salvo in a looming religious war that I believe is not too late to avoid. It is therefore indeed about time we begin to think seriously about thoroughly reviewing our constitution in the line of working towards one nation, one law. Despite our pluralism of religions, and maybe even because of this, one law ought to be enough for the entire nation, provided the freedom of everyone is guaranteed. This can be achieved with the following two simple conditions: that the law of the land must not command what religious laws forbid, and that it must not forbid what religious laws command. This leaves everyone to freely follow the injunctions of his or her own religion, without dragging in the state. This is what obtains in many countries which have one law for all citizens of diverse religions. With patience and a modicum of good will, this can be done also in our country, so that we can say good bye to fruitless conflicts over religious laws.


  1. We need therefore to promote and strengthen interreligious structures and initiatives. We should be building bridges rather than erecting more walls. Already we have a lot of informal bridges all around us, as most Nigerians relate quite well with their neighbours of other faiths. But formal structures have to be consciously promoted. Here the role of the Nigeria Interreligious Council, (NIREC) cannot be overemphasized. Nor can we delay indefinitely its resuscitation, so that it can once again be a forum for our efforts at promoting national religious harmony.

Interreligious dialogue is very important but not enough. We must also promote intra-religious harmony. Intra-religious dialogue demands that we acknowledge pluralism and differences even within our faiths. The Christian community must accept the challenge of working towards ever greater unity, as much as we can, rather than acquiescing, or even encouraging and maybe celebrating our present state of scandalous dividedness. We ask God to show us the way to sort out the problems that have been bedeviling the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) in the past few years. For this crisis to end, all hands must be on deck, and every stake holder must take up its own responsibility.

Within the Islamic community, I beg to be allowed to strongly encourage that differences should also be recognized and taken on board, within the greater Islamic community. The recent crisis with the Shiite group is a cause for concern, not only for Muslims but for the entire nation. If there are other Muslim groups, they too must have a right to free expression and an opportunity for them to play their own role for the building up of our nation. Every religious group must be seen as seeking ways to serve God and through God serving our neighbor, within the ambit of the law of the land. It is the duty of the state to protect all genuine religions, and be very slow to ban any, no matter how inconvenient.


  1. Our country is in serious political, economic and social difficulties. We seem to have remained largely in the mood of political polarization typical of election campaign period. After the election which took place almost two years ago, campaigns are now over and we should by now be fully in governance mode. All hands must be on deck to face the many great challenges that are weighing heavily on our nation. We must forever ban the attitude of “winner take all”, which also tends to provoke in the losers the counter mood of “pulling them down”. The winners cannot rule alone and the losers must be prepared to cooperate with those who now have the duty to lead the nation in the way forward. Our geographical, religious and ethnic identities, all crisscross. This in itself is the gift of God for us to be able to bring down walls of division. The scandalous social disparity between the rich and the poor in our country has led to an intolerable yawning gap crying to be filled. Poverty and unemployment has been growing, leading to despair and frustration in many quarters, especially among the youth. Dishonesty and corruption have hardly visibly reduced. Our overwhelming problems require our common action from the different agents and stakeholders in the society.


  1. At this Christmas, we must accept the message of peace, peace by all means, including by the route of love, of humility and simplicity. It is of course the duty of government to make and enforce laws. But the endemic corruption in our land may be calling for some amount of negotiation towards repentance, refunds and possible amnesty. The limits of the route of tribunals are getting more and more obvious. The war against corruption must be waged with all possible weapons.


  1. It is the duty of the government to secure the land against armed insurrection. We congratulate our government for major progress made in dealing with Boko Haram crisis in the North East. Mr. President has reason to boast that Boko Haram, from the Military point of view has been “technically defeated”. But it is not yet all over. This is because there is a limit to how much arms and guns can do in this matter. We need to put more efforts in dialogue and political discussions leading to reconciliation. Here the role of religion for positive action must be more consciously exploited. Religious communities and leaders must come out to play their role, which is often very efficient and very cost effective, in comparison with budgets for military action.

We pray that soon, the millions of our country men, women and children still living in camps as Internally Displaced Persons, (IDPs) will be able to return home, a home that will be secure and ready to receive them. At the same time however, more should be done to give them a viable option of settling elsewhere in the country. For example there are many IDP camps all around Abuja. Those who have been languishing in these camps for more than two years have every right to ask for resettlement within the Federal Capital Territory. It is affront to human dignity to leave people to rot away in such camps. After all, almost all of us here have come to settle here from different parts of the nation. Why not them the IDPs? There is certainly enough space for them within the FCT, and the funding can be sourced if government would only muster the political will to embrace them, as fellow Nigerians.

  1. In the meantime, however, while we thank God that the Boko Haram in the North East has been “technically defeated”, another almost equally serious security challenge has been building up all over the nation. I am referring to the bands of heavily armed bandits who have gone on rampage for the last few years. They are often called “Fulani Herdsmen”. At times, we are told that they are foreign bandits who have invaded our nation. Whoever they are and wherever they are coming from, they have now constituted themselves into a major national security menace, which requires an effective action from our armed forces. They have been destroying farmlands, attacking villages and settlements, occupying captured ancestral lands and they have killed thousands of Nigerians. For example, only recently, my Episcopal colleague, Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Bagobiri, Catholic Bishop of Kafanchan, in the South of Kaduna State, issued a very moving press statement with the following gruesome statistics, for only within his ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan: 53 villages torched, 808 lives lost, 57people injured, 1422 houses destroyed, 16 churches demolished, 1 primary school knocked down, and property “conservatively” valued at 5.5 billion Naira destroyed or looted! This is horrendous. No wonder that my friend and brother, the Sultan of Sokoto, Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar, has been quoted to have compared them to terrorists.

Reports from kidnapping victims have also confirmed the rumours that they have been responsible for much of the kidnappings going on in many parts of the country. This must stop. The authorities must take effective action, so as to defuse the rising tide of resentment and hatred in many communities against the Fulani herdsmen and all who are considered related to them. More ominously, some communities are already thinking and talking of arming themselves for self-defense. This is very bad news. May God show us the way forward.

  1. My dear listeners and viewers, fellow Nigerians, we all come from families. In our families, which are the most important social unit, we accept one another; our parents as well as our siblings, as gifts of God. We have not chosen them. God has given them to us. The same family attitude ought to be extended to our national belonging. Despite all debates about whether or not it was a mistake to have put us together in one country in 1914, the fact is that we are already together. To separate ourselves now would be indeed a herculean task. It would be wiser, and far less cumbersome and problematic to put all our efforts together to accepting one another as God’s gift, in the same nation given to us by God. We must do our best to live in peace and harmony, not only despite our differences but also because of our common values and common challenges.


  1. Let me conclude with the wise words from a great politician, diplomat and intellectual of our neighbouring nation of Benin Republic. His name is Professor Albert Tevoedjre. He says:



“Faced with the impossibility of placing a soldier behind each citizen to guarantee his or her safety, the only credible sustainable option is to strengthen all the mechanisms that enable us to LIVE TOGETHER, despite all our differences.”

Happy Christmas to everybody.

And may the Lord God bless our nation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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No Easy Choices – Boko Haram: Which Way Forward for President Goodluck Jonathan


Henry Mgbemena

In light of recent developments in America and President Jonathan’s statements indicating military actions against Boko Haram may be looming, I just couldn’t resist writing this sequel to my last blog #Bring Back Our Girls: Eyes on the ball Mr. Chief of Defense Staff!. On May 31, 2014, President Obama released five top Taliban commanders held in Guantanamo prison in exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan since 2009. The prisoners swap has generated a lot of debates, with opponents querying the rationale behind the deal and likely impact on US war on terror. This incident got me thinking about the dilemma President Jonathan finds himself over the Chibok girls’ abduction. I maintain my earlier submission in support of whatever decision he takes in resolving the impasse and hope he makes the right call which only posterity shall tell. As an experienced hostage negotiator, I know that in every hostage incident management, all options remain on the table until the hostages are safely released. Though each situation is unique, approaches defer based on personalities involved, value placed on the hostages and assessed likelihood of a successful military tactical release. My intention here is simply to highlight how other countries have dealt with similar situations in the past and to analyze the likely effect each approach will have on Nigeria.

Israel is a country that highly values her citizens and will go to any extent to secure their freedom with proper strategic appreciation of each situation. In July 1976, Israel refused to concede to hijackers’ demands to trade 53 Palestinian militants detainees for 95 Jewish passengers and French crew taken hostage on Air France flight 139 diverted to Uganda. Israeli military commandos launched Operation Thunderbolt, struck with precision and rescued 102 hostages. All the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed. In October 2011 however, Israel changed tactics and agreed to exchange a soldier captured by Hamas in 2006 for a whopping 1027 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, not minding that the released prisoners were responsible for the deaths of 569 Israeli civilians. 

On the other hand, Algeria is a country known for their hardline approach to terrorism as a result of bitter experiences from fighting terrorists and rebellions since the 1990s. In January 2013, militants loyal to Mokhtar Belmokhtar opposed to French military involvement in Mali took several hostages in an Algerian refinery in Ain Amenas. Algerian government’s response to the crisis was typical of its history in confronting terrorists; favoring military action over negotiation. Algerian Special Forces used helicopter gunships to bomb the location regardless of the hostages that were used as human shield by the terrorists. The attack left at least 23 hostages dead and all 32 militants killed—I leave it to your judgment as to whether or not the government’s determination to stamp out terrorism is worth the supreme sacrifice the innocent hostages had to pay. 

The ball is in now in President Jonathan’s court and  this is surely a test case as whatever step he takes will define his counter terrorism strategy. Hopefully his decision will not be based on emotions, devoid of political undertones, well thought-through and communicated. And above all, the security of the entire citizenry should be paramount. Perhaps he should take this opportunity to ponder over other Nigerian hostages all over the country and those incarcerated without trials in countries like China, Thailand, UAE, Saudi Arabia…the list is endless. Can this situation define the value the government places on Nigerians?

We all sympathize with the families of the Chibok girls who would prefer President Jonathan to strike a deal to secure their freedom. But if he deals and frees the girls, will that win the war against Boko Haram? Since Israel traded one soldier for over a thousand Palestinian, they still maintain an upper hand in the conflict and may have arrested more than the number of militants released from 2011 till date. Even though President Obama has been criticized for his decision to trade the Taliban prisoners, I believe he must have critically examined it and certain the benefit outweighs likely negative impact on America’s overall counterterrorism strategy. He must have surely placed a value on the life of the soldier who has been with the Taliban for five years—a possible source of vital intelligence? My take is if President Jonathan decides to deal, it should be followed by a very robust game plan to strike a bigger blow on Boko Haram.

What if President Jonathan decides not to deal? I know it is a difficult call to make knowing that the lives of innocent children are involved. But is that not what it takes to be the Commander-in-Chief of a country of over 150million people at war? Two key issues that should be considered is do we have the military capabilities to carry out a precision attack like the Israelis or Navy Seal Team Six that snuffed out life from Osama bin laden or are we adopting the Algerian formula? Is it a correct assumption that we don’t have that precision capability based on the statement by the military that they know where the girls are but not ready to use force for fear of casualties? How then does this tie up with comments by Senator David Mark that Nigeria will not negotiate and that of President Jonathan that all is set to deal Boko Haram a deadly blow? Is this a pointer that he is deploying foreign boots on the ground? 

The President’s comment is indeed a very welcome development but hastily communicated knowing that surprise is a key principle of war. I saw the documentary on the killing of Osama bin Laden and was struck by the top secret nature of the entire operations. Only a handful of people in the Obama cabinet knew about the operation, to the extent that the deputy National Security Adviser was not told until the last minute. The Navy Seal Team Six that carried out the attack only knew their target just before boarding the aircrafts, and President Obama only announced the mission after the body of Bin Laden was subjected to a DNA test and confirmed a match. I think President Jonathan spoke too soon but hopefully, the Generals may still find a way to carry out the tactical but we should all continue to pray for the soldiers that will be involved in “Operation Deadly Blow”.

Can President Jonathan do it the Algerian way? How will Nigerians and the international community react to such an outcome especially since the hostages are children? I still remember the September 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis and how Russia was criticized for the rescue mission that left over 380 people dead. How will the Government handle the fallout from such a situation considering the poor public relations record in the overall Boko Haram saga? I believe a dynamic government-media partnership is what we need rather than total media blackout. Nigerians need to be kept informed and prepared for whatever it takes to defeat these fanatics because that is the only way to garner their support. Terrorism is a cancer that requires a long battle, especially when it has metastasized like Boko Haram. No single deadly blow can do the magic as demobilization, de-radicalization, reconciliation and reintegration strategies still need to be worked out.


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Letter 4 from Rome: 27 May 2014

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja.


“Terrorism has no place in Islam….We must rise up as always, with one voice to condemn all acts of terrorism, condemn those terrorists wherever they are and try our best as Muslims to ensure peace reigns in our community”.


This is the core of the message of the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’adAbubakar III, and President of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) during a special prayer session last weekend organised by the same NSCIA at the Abuja National Mosque, an event that was widely covered by the Nigerian media. It was also given very wide and positive media coverage here in Rome, starting from the Vatican Radio. I congratulate the Sultan for his bold statement. This has given me the courage to voice out, with all good intention, a reflection that has been going through my own mind for some time now.


            For a long time, we used to pride ourselves as Nigerians for the generally good relations between our two major religious communities. We described ourselves as “the greatest Islamo-Christian nation in the world”. This is to highlight the fact that there is no nation in the world with so many Christians and so many Muslims living together in almost equal numbers and largely peacefully.


            We saw cases of “inter-religious” conflicts with loss of life and property. But we tended to dismiss them as anomalies occurring a few days in the year. We attributed this anomaly to the actions and utterances of a small group of extremists on both ends of the religious divide. At other times, we blame the manipulation, misuse and abuse of religion by people with other aims and objectives, political, ethnic and social. Often, all these factors merge.


But we soon began to wonder at the chronic repetition of such “anomalous” incidents. The role of religion became ever more evident, whether directly or indirectly. Most of the violent religious conflicts featured Muslim extremists targeting Christian objectives. It has also been largely a Northern affair. The records on this are clear.


            All this has become drastically exacerbated with the emergence of the Boko Haram. They have raised the level of destruction and ruthlessness to inhuman dimensions. They have also been carrying out their murderous activities calling the name of “Allah” and giving Islam a bad name. We do not know how many they are, but they are enough to constitute a major danger to the entire nation. Like poison, you need only a little portion to kill many people. They have also become a cause of concern for the international community, having now acquired the dubious merit of a mention at the United Nations’ Security Council.


            How do we get out of “this very serious situation” as the Sultan rightly describes our present predicament? The abduction of the over 250 school girls is no doubt very serious, and we pray that our daughters will return home soon. But it is only a tragic symptom of the wider issue of terrorism, which needs to be addressed from the roots. The complexity of the problem calls for many sided approaches, military, yes, but also political and economic. Beyond all this, the religious dimension is what I particularly want to draw attention to in this reflection. The government must key this dimension into its strategies for a lasting solution to the problem. Government should abandon its tendency to close its eyes to the religious issues. Too little effort is being made in this direction.


            The Muslim community has come out several times in the past to condemn the Boko Haram. That is commendable but not enough. It is also certainly not helpful to maintain that the terrorists are not Muslims because they are doing things that are clearly contrary to what the majority of Muslims hold. If there is ever to be any channels of dialogue and peace-making with the group, it will necessarily involve Muslim elements with access to them, people they respect and will listen to. We see here the wisdom and importance of the call of the Sultan.

            To go beyond mere condemnation, it seems to me that there is an urgent need for an in-house dialogue within the Nigerian Muslim community. Such a dialogue would make it possible to courageously and sincerely deal with currents and movements that create the kind of religious climate and atmosphere in which Boko Haram and similar groups emerge and thrive. It is not enough to condemn market bombing, killing in villages and places of worship and abduction of innocent schoolgirls. All this is expected of any right thinking person. But it is also necessary to condemn extreme and intolerant religious positions and attitudes which make peace with others impossible. It is not enough to merely tolerate people of other faiths, considered perhaps as undesirable. It is also necessary to respect the religious convictions of everyone and accept the reality of our multi-religious nation as being in the plan of the One God whom we all worship. Our freedom of religion has to do with freedom to speak the truth of our faiths. It cannot be license to insult and denigrate others, less still to foment violence and hatred. It is surely the duty of the state to enforce and ensure good order and deal firmly with all trouble makers. But it is the greater duty of religious authorities to promote peace and harmony among God’s children in our nation.

            Every effort in this direction deserves the encouragement of the entire nation, starting with government. The Christian community too should welcome and support such efforts, with a view to “close ranks as Nigerians”, as the Sultan has wisely suggested. In this regard, we must say that this is hardly the time for the Nigerian Inter-religious Council, (NIREC) to go into a slumber. We should all wake up to salvage our nation, before it becomes too late.  

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Letter 3 from Rome: May 19th 2014

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja.


The world renowned Catholic prelate, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze, once defined dialogue as “You talk I listen; I talk and you listen.” He certainly knew what he was talking about, because he was for many years the President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the agency of the Holy See for dialogue with people of other faiths. There has been much talk about dialogue not only in the past few weeks with the abduction of over 250 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, but since more than three years ago. Unfortunately, there has been quite a lot of ambiguity and confusion in what we mean by dialogue, leading to inconsistency in the practical steps that have been taken. It is no wonder that little or no progress has been made in this line. It seems to me that the major short coming is that there is too much talking and not enough listening, on all sides of the discussion.


Dialogue means talking and listening across lines of differences, seeking common grounds on which to build some measure of agreement. It does not ignore nor deny differences, but rather seeks to honestly identify the point of difference and how to live with such differences in order to avoid conflict, especially violent conflict.


We have been following with grave concern the deep dilemma of government as regards whether and to what extent it can engage the Boko Haram in dialogue over the release of the abducted girls. But would like to say that what looks now to be confusion and contradiction is in the nature of dialogue. On the one hand, the government is right to reject the demand of Boko Haram to swap the girls for their imprisoned comrades. There is no parallel between innocent schoolgirls and terrorists detained for violent and heinous crimes. Besides, no government can ignore the unspeakable consequence of setting such a precedent.


But on the other hand, government cannot abandon our girls in the forest or wherever at the hands of their abductors. There must be a way of bringing them back home to their families, safe and as sound as possible. At this moment of writing, we have no news yet of their whereabouts. And even if and when we find where they are, rescuing them by force of arms would entail the kind of danger and risk that even the parents of the girls would be unlikely to sanction. The only option left therefore is some form of dialogue and hard bargain that would bring the girls back without setting a dangerous and unacceptable precedent.   


It is here that we might evoke the wisdom of Cardinal Arinze’s definition of dialogue. Boko Haram has spoken and government has listened. The government has spoken. Let us hope that Boko Haram is listening. In this game of haggling, it is possible that the last word has not yet been said by either party. Are there no other less obnoxious demands that Boko Haram can make? They may well be ruthless and wicked, but they are certainly not foolish. Are there no other options which government can offer? The dialogue has started. I would like to hope that neither side has considered the dialogue closed.


Whatever the case, to make any progress calls for great wisdom and patience. There is also need for effective and mutually trusted intermediaries, people who can listen to both sides and talk to both sides. This is obviously not a matter for publicity, least of all for scoring political points. The scarce success of the famous “dialogue committee” formally inaugurated with pomp and pageantry some time ago should teach us that this is not the best way to go. Perhaps a small group of carefully chosen wise men and women, including religious figures, especially of the Muslim faith, working quietly in the background, with deep sense of patriotism and honesty, devoid of all sectional political agenda, might be in a better position to achieve some success.  


Some days ago, the French President, Mr. Francois Hollande, called a summit of the heads of state of Nigeria and its neighbours. Also in attendance were high level representatives of the European Union, the USA and UK governments. The purpose we are told was to improve cooperation in dealing with the Boko Haram which has become a regional and even global menace. For as long as they continue killing, raping and abducting innocent people, destroying property and causing general insecurity, they should expect more intensive and coordinated military action against them by Nigeria, her neighbours, and the international community. But the loud noise of guns and bombs on and from both sides need not smolder the necessary quiet and salutary whispers of dialogue and background negotiation, which in the long run would be in the best interest of all concerned. Is there any head of state able and willing to call a summit that would provide an effective forum for serious dialogue that would include also elements of the Boko Haram? That line of action, no matter how unlikely, should not be rejected outright.


President Jonathan said in Paris that “the abduction of young innocent school girls in Chibok represents a watershed and a turning point”. The unknown plight of these girls and the anguish of their parents touch the heart of everyone. We pray for their safe return. The dialogue for their release would be only a starting point for the larger objective of convincing the terrorists, with both “stick and carrot”, in their own interest, to cease fire and embrace negotiation, for the peace and progress of our great nation. For this we should pray, even if it requires a miracle.

God bless Nigeria – and bring back our daughters.

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 Letter 2 from Rome, May 11th 2014

By +John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja.


The tragic drama of the abducted secondary school girls of Chibok, Borno State at the hands of Boko Haram has shocked the whole world. This has focused very unsavory global media attention on our nation. It has in particular concentrated much publicity on BokoHHHHH Haram, a publicity which they have always reveled in but which in this case may have gone beyond what they bargained for and which may now boomerang against them. This “unconscionable crime”, to use Mrs Obama’s rather unfamiliar language, has to say the least, cast our government in very bad light. Whether this verdict is deserved or not, the government has to do something visible about the crisis on our hands.And quickly too. This perhaps explains why our government is accepting assistance from various foreign nations, from USA to China, from France to Israel. As a Nigerian, I am saddened and ashamed. But it seems clear that we have reached the stage where we have to swallow our pride and stop bragging and pretending to be what we are not.

In itself, there should be nothing wrong with seeking and accepting foreign intervention, especially since it is now clear that the Boko Haram has international connections.  It is therefore not only a question of “assisting Nigeria”. It is also in the interest of the international community to join hands with Nigeria to deal with a dangerous virus that is infecting and attacking the entire international community, starting from our nearest regional neighbours.

So far, we have been hearing much about military action. To the extent that the Boko Haram is killing, abducting and bombing, it has to be effectively and appropriately engaged. But there is a limit to how far we can go with military action alone. One only needs to imagine the awful military dilemma of rescuing 200 girls from the hands of heavily armed terrorists and bring them back to their families, safe and sound. The complexity of the Boko Haram phenomenon therefore calls for coordinated action at different levels and in various areas of attention. The political and socio-economic issues are well within our ability as a nation, if we can only summon the political will to act together across political and ethnic lines to save our nation.

But there is also the religious dimension which in my view has not been given adequate attention. This is where I believe we should welcome with deep gratitude the strong messages of solidarity with our nation and vigorous expressions of condemnation of the Boko Haram by the global Islamic community at the highest level. The Islamic Fiqh Academy, based in Saudi Arabia, has declared:

“This crime and other crimes committed by the likes of these extremist organizations contradict all humanitarian principles and moral values and violate the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah”.

The OIC, now called “The Organization of Islamic Cooperation”, a body well known to us here in Nigeria, has come out not less forcefully in its condemnation, through its “Independent Human Rights Commission” (IHRC). Their statement issued from its headquarters in Jedda merits a long quotation.

“The IHRC is extremely saddened by the misguided claim of the Boko Haram that the abduction of the girls and threat to sell them off as ‘slaves’ is in conformity with the injunctions of Islam. This is not only a violation of international law and human rights law, but also a gross misrepresentation of Islam, which enjoins its adherents to go to any extent in the pursuit of knowledge. The Commission joins the international community in unequivocally condemning the barbaric act … and urges the leadership of Boko Haram to immediately release the abducted girls to enable them join their families and continue with their education.”

With such statements at such high Islamic levels, there is no more room for any Muslim or anybody in Nigeria to suggest any kind of alibi, excuses or justification for the “unconscionable crimes” of Boko Haram.  I believe such powerful statements are also great encouragement to our many Muslims who have been speaking loudly against the terrorists, at times at great risk. We think of the imams who have been hunted down and murdered by Boko Haram for preaching against their demonic activities. It is a good sign that many Nigerian Muslims have been making similar statements. It is time for all of us to call BokoHaram by its proper name, “mindless bigots, misguided persons masquerading as adherents of Islam” – as General Buhari branded them recently.

One may suggest that these global Islamic organizations could go further than issuing statements of condemnation. They could do more to support the efforts of the Nigerian Muslims to discourage and knock out radicalization and all forms of extremism in the Nigerian Muslim community. Could they also reach out to the foreign supporters and inspirers of our terrorists to leave us in peace? What about facilitating dialogue with Boko Haram?

Finally, I believe that we Christians, despite all the hurts that we have suffered, should resist the temptation to turn a deaf ear to what the Muslim world is saying. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are singing the same song of peace as the Muslim leaders. This is significant. Muslims and Christians in Nigeria must find it in their hearts to pick up the chorus. When the girls are back home, and the Boko Haram are disarmed, (I say “when” not “if”) there will still be the tedious task of dialogue, reconciliation, mutual forgiveness and peace, for which the force of religion will be most needed. This will demand that religious communities join hands and call on the One God who takes care of us all.  It is then that it may well be that this horrible episode, as President Jonathan believes, would “be the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria”.


May God bless Nigeria, and bring back home our daughters.


Posted in Uncategorized

Boko Haram, Chibok and our responses



Regardless of their divergent views on several socio-political issues in the country and irrespective of their religious affiliations, most Nigerians now wish the Boko Haram saga is a bad dream which they long waking up from. It is a plague that has bedeviled them, the blame game era is obviously over and they now demand nothing but focused efforts that will lead to instantaneous demise of the group. Reechoing President Goodluck Jonathan’s Democracy Day speech, all the gains of the past 15 years of democratic governance in our country are threatened by the presence of international terrorism on our shores. It is time for all Nigerians to emulate the Americans after 9/11 and rally round the national flag, bring patriotism to the fore and ensure good prevails over evil.


The US National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) recorded Boko Haram as the third most lethal terrorist group in the world between 2009 and 2013 with over 801 attacks and 3666 fatalities. Taliban in Afghanistan and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were the only two groups ahead of Boko Haram out of over 480 terrorists groups studied. On Nov 13, 2013, the US Department of State announced the designation of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and placed a $7m bounty on its leader Abubakar Shekau. On 22 May 2014, the UN added Boko Haram to the al Qaeda sanction list—in effect confirmed it as an al Qaeda affiliate.


Regardless of the beliefs of Shekau and his infamous cohorts, their callous acts of terror contravene national and international laws and they are solely liable and will be brought to justice for every single life lost in their attacks. Similarly, the Nigerian government has the responsibility for securing the lives and properties of the entire citizenry and if they fail in that role, no doubt about it, Mr. President and everyone else in government are answerable to the populace that elected them into office. But their failures and inactions in no way exonerate the perpetrators of the act.


Nigerian security agencies are receiving a lot of criticism from within and outside the country, especially since the kidnapping of over 200 innocent school girls in Chibok by Boko Haram. In as much as one would like to sympathize with them for facing the wrath of public opinion, I think their public relations strategy is way off the mark! Every young officer in the military is taught that one of the principles of Internal Security operation is winning the heart and mind of the populace: I think the Generals may have forgotten their basic tactics and allowed the terrorists to achieve their ultimate objective of instilling fear in the population. I am convinced Shekau and his troops do not in their wildest dream believe the Nigerian government will succumb to their demands of implementing sharia law in the country, especially when a notable Islamic cleric like the Sultan of Sokoto and the Organization of Islamic Countries have termed their actions unIslamic. They have however, through their carnage succeeded in causing anger, frustration and dissention which can create chaos in the country if not properly managed. In fact, I think Nigerians have been very civil in their approach to the whole issue because there haven’t really been violent anti-government demonstrations which would have been the case in several countries in the world.


My intention is not to query the capabilities of the Nigerian security forces because terrorism is a global phenomenon that has challenged even the best militaries in the world, including the United States and their allies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having also personally experienced the complexities of the war on terror in Afghanistan and Somalia, it will be unreasonable to belittle their efforts. Nigerian military officers are battle-tested and highly regarded for their peacekeeping roles all over the world. Nobody is expecting them to perform miracles overnight when it comes to fighting terrorism which is a global bane that requires concerted international efforts. Thanks to the fact that the government finally agreed to accept international assistance which I must confess I initially felt was not immediately necessary, but with the recent developments, I now agree it’s was a good call by Mr. President.


What is obvious however, and must be said is that Nigerian security agencies are losing the battle of words. Propaganda is a key instrument of warfare and every military outfit in this present Information Age should strive to influence and swing public opinion in their favor, but need to do it the right way, no need to lie because you will surely be exposed!. Not all Nigerians are soldiers that obey the last command— Am not even sure that still applies!. They have the constitutional right to ask questions and query the performance of every public servant paid with their taxes. Come to think of it, who says the military cannot have a civilian spokesperson? Nigeria is a country awash with seasoned public relations practitioners who see things from the point of view of the streets and not the barracks— is there a law that prohibits civilians from heading military public relations outfits? Why can’t they just fight and let the experts do the talking?


Not recounting all the previous blunders, I think it is inexcusable for the military spokesman to give a wrong figure of the number of girls that are missing and even reporting them released when that wasn’t the case. Worst of all,  I think it is a very poor tactical appreciation for a Chief of Defense Staff to address the public and say they know where the girls are because of criticism that the security agencies are not doing enough. That announcement whether true or false is a grave mistake that can cost the girls their lives, or at best retard all progress so far made in freeing them. Ok, let’s even assume it was intended to push the terrorists into a hasty decision of moving the girls, thereby exposing their position, is it a risk worth taking knowing how irrational terrorists are?  The main objective of every hostage negotiation is to buy time and gather intelligence for tactical operations. And if the hostage takers succumb to the psychological strain they are subjected to by a seasoned negotiator and decide to release the hostages in the process, all well and good. I am sorry but I think it’s either the Chief of Defense Staff was ill-advised by his public relations officers or he became too emotional and took his eyes off the ball by his statements. Criticisms will definitely come and you must learn to accept it and make corrections where necessary. Actions speak louder than words; capture or kill Shekau today and you will become a hero, before then, your statements don’t count much so save them, except when necessary and well thought through.  Essential norm in hostage incident management discourages top managers from having direct involvement in tactical negotiation strategies or making public statements. Everything should be left in the hands of the experts, especially the press releases which are supposed to be carefully crafted to reflect what you want the hostage takers to hear.  I think the ball has definitely been fumbled severally, …..but still in play. What is required now is for the military big wigs to remain focused until results are achieved.


On a bigger picture, one question that should also be asked is why Nigeria’s borders cannot be fenced. Even if it’s just the Northeastern borders so as to deny Boko Haram the freedom of movement and access to supplies in that area, why can’t we just do it? Border control is one of the most effective security mitigating measures that has been tested in countries like Israel and America that we should copy. Recognizing possible opposition from selfish individuals, since a state of emergency has been declared in the Northeastern states, is fencing the borders not akin to a tactical security measure that the Commander-in- Chief can task Nigerian Army Engineers to directly implement without any further legislative reviews? That way, we will avoid squabbles and over-inflated billions of dollars contracts by corrupt government officials. In January 2013, Israel finished building the main portion of its borders with Egypt. The 16-foot high fence, which is made of razor wire and reinforced by military surveillance, including motion sensors and cameras, aimed at keeping out both illegal African migrants and terrorists operating in the Sinai. According to the most recent quarterly figures published by the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority, only 36 people have been caught trying to enter the southern border since January as against 10,440 that were caught in 2012(Reuters, Jan 2013). This shows that insurgents and illegal migrants completely avoided the borders knowing they would not be able to penetrate the new barriers.


Military might is not enough to defeat terrorism recognizing that most terrorists long for martyrdom. I want to believe the government is still in dialogue with the right parties that have access to Boko Haram high command and can exert influence.  Concessions are sometimes inevitable in negotiations but I think it is the prerogative of Mr. President as the Commander-in-Chief to deal or not to deal.


I see the willpower in our government and security forces to free the Chibok girls and end this Boko Haram menace. What is now critical is how the situation is handled until when that happens. It took the US about a decade to track down Osama bin Laden but focus was maintained and successes and failure along the way were well communicated to rally support of the citizens. And of course there were several disparate voices along the way.  That is what every Nigerian wants from the government in general and security forces in particular. Not someone whose judgment will be beclouded by the need to defend every criticism….Keep your eyes on the ball Generals, we shall overcome!



Posted in Uncategorized

Frame and Focus – #ReturnOurGirls


Noel Ihebuzor

The   campaign has been a huge success in calling the attention of Nigerians and the international community to the abduction of Nigerian school children from their school in Chibok. Thanks to this campaign and to its organizers, the world is now aware of what, in reality, is a savage affront to human dignity, decency and freedoms, symbolized by this act of terrorism against innocent and defenseless school girls!  Global reaction to this dastardly act by Boko Haram, a group born from religious extremism and bigotry has been one of shock and outrage. President Obama expressed that sense of outrage and shock clearly in his TV interview on the abduction. Expressions of shock and outrage continue to be heard from all around the world, and understandably too. The abduction and continued captivity of the girls are in utter violation of all international human rights conventions. They also violate all the provisions regarding the protection of civilians in general, and women and children in particular, in situations of conflict. The abduction shocks. The continuing captivity  of these innocent girls is both agonizing and sickening. Their captors should hear this loud and clear – all well meaning Nigerians are united with the rest of the world in wanting these girls returned, safe and sound

Like I said at the start of this write up, the campaign and its hashtag  have been successful but I believe that time has come now for another hashtag  to be added to the existing hashtag. The reason is simple. Both in Framing and Focus, the  hashtag fixes attention and minds on government’s (federal and state, but largely federal) responsibility to do all in its power to bring back the girls. There is also the hint of frustration and anger at government’s slow and ineffective response in the immediate aftermath of the abduction, emotions which are also largely understandable and justifiable. However, the largely government focus of the hashtag takes minds and attention away from the perpetrators of this infamy. It takes attention away from this violation of rights, from this act of sheer terror by a bunch of extremists, the Boko Haram, who are willing to burn and butcher and who will stop at nothing to advance a religious agenda.

It is now time for attention to be turned to and focused on this Boko Haram group too. They invaded and took away the girls. We and the entire world shall hold them together with their sponsors, supporters and apologists responsible for any damage done to any of these girls. They should therefore return them, safe and intact. Returning the girls may even obviate the need for any military engagement and any fire fights that may arise in any efforts to secure the release of these girls.  Military engagement is a strong option in a # mode. Such a mode leans more towards a “search and rescue” mission approach. Such missions have inherent risks of casualties and collateral damage and history is replete with examples of such consequences and societal reactions to them. We want the girls back, safe and alive. Appealing to their captors to return our girls presents therefore a safer option. Incidentally, It is also a strategically more beneficial route for Boko Haram in the long term in terms of image redemption, pardon and possible reintegration into society.

So whilst we encourage our security forces to , we should also frame and focus our tweets on Boko Haram and their sympathisers, sponsors and supporters and ask them to . Let us then adopt this additional hashtag  today and use it not only to appeal to Boko Haram but also to apply pressure on it!


Posted in Prose

The Abducted Children of Chibok


Noel Ihebuzor


The abduction by Boko Haram of children from Chibok is the issue occupying centre stage in politics right now in Nigeria.  Government response to and management of this abduction have not been effective – a large number of the children , we are told, are still with their captors and locating them continues to be a challenge.

Very far away from the scene of this affront to decency and female dignity, especially in Abuja and Lagos, demonstrators and marchers have mobilised under very arresting logos to demand that immediate action be taken to ensure the safe and immediate release of these girls. Dialogues have been held by some of these marchers with government security agencies and a modus operandi for engagement and information sharing was tweeted to have been agreed upon by one of marchers’ spokesperson. But marchers and demonstrators are also using social media to give their cause (and a very legitimate cause for that matter) and themselves considerable visibility. And here they are several steps ahead of government, and whether deliberately or by inadvertence are making government look bad, insensitive and unresponsive.

And this should not and need not be so. Government must join up in these marches and demonstrations, and for two reasons. No wise government should allow itself to be “caught” and cast in adversarial posture to a movement to free children who have been kidnapped by cruel, heartless and scheming persons. So, Government officials, spouses of ministers,  legislators etc should join these marches and protests. Join, ride on the public outrage at this violation of the innocent and channel the outflowing energy to the benefit of your programmes and the peoples. Secondly,  If you are not in a march, your agenda and point of views will hardly ever be recognised nor projected. So Government officials must join up. Strategic considerations suggest joining up.

Joining up will also enable a second and equally important message to be given greater orchestration. “ABDUCTORS, FREE OUR CHIBOK CHILDREN”. This message is just as important as the first which can be summed up as “GOVERNMENT, RESCUE AND FREE OUR CHIBOK CHILDREN”. Whilst the current primary message focuses on the government and therefore presents a good handle for its indictment for its inability to assure the safety and security of persons living within its space, the second opens the way for reaching out to the captors, either directly or indirectly through their community and religious leaders, to free children they have taken captive and hold against their will in violation of all the laws of decent conduct.

Join me in praying for the safe of these children and for purposeful, effective and targeted intervention that would ensure this in the very near future.


Posted in Prose

The precursors of Boko Haram

The article here by Professor Wole Soyinka

Prof Wole Soyinka


see link was written in 2009 but the contents are still very relevant to the challenges we face today. The article is long but it is worth reading in its entirety.

Here is a very revealing excerpt from the paper –

Boko Haram is not really about a detestation of Western or other forms of education, but the expression of a malignant outcrop of fanaticism, intolerance. It is, above all, the will to dominate, to control, to enforce conformity – in this instance, conformity of the most sterile, uncreative kind.

Enjoy the rest of the article.