A Christmas Eve attack by Boko Haram – that left at least 11 dead and two church buildings razed to the ground – has prompted a Nigerian bishop to issue a rallying cry, insisting Islamist violence is doomed to failure.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri said he was undaunted by the attack in Pemi, near Chibok, where in 2014 more than 270 mostly Christian schoolgirls were kidnapped.
Speaking after the Christmas Eve attack in which a priest was abducted, Bishop Doeme said: “One thing that Boko Haram will never take from us is our faith.
“We will never allow our faith to be taken away by any evil. Our faith is becoming stronger and stronger. 100 people were baptized in one parish on Christmas Eve. People are so committed.”
Despite a period of violent conflict that has, according to Nigerian human rights organisation Intersociety, killed up to 12,000 Christians since June 2015, Bishop Doeme said that Boko Haram’s actions were in fact strengthening the Christian faith.
He said: “Last year in my diocese we had more Catholics than when there was no Boko Haram crisis. As long as the kingdom of God continues, no evil human forces will overcome it. Over 200 churches have been burned down, as well as schools, but we will not be defeated.” He added: “We are a people of faith and, in terms of the Church, Boko Haram is not the only evil we have faced. We are deeply devoted to Mary. God will crush Boko Haram in his own time.”
It is not the first time Islamist groups in Nigeria have mounted an attack over Christmas, and in 2019 Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) beheaded 10 Christians on Christmas Day while Boko Haram killed seven during a 2019 Christmas Eve raid.
Bishop Doeme told ACN: “Boko Haram are against the Christians. The attacks are to make the communities scared and to spoil the Christmas celebrations. They don’t want Christians to enjoy Christmas.” He added: “The government is struggling to contain Boko Haram. There are saboteurs who leak information to Boko Haram even when they are in the bush.” Bishop Doeme ended by thanking ACN and its benefactors for their support: “Our greatest support comes from ACN and without ACN the diocese will collapse. We will continue to pray for you and cherish you.”