Posted on Monday, 12 May 2014 08:36

Boko Haram: Will Nigeria survive this? Catholic Bishop of Sokoto

By Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto

Nigerians have been thrown into a vortex of suffering and pain brought about by killings and violence carried out by Boko Haram in Northern parts of the country. Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of Sokoto considers the way forward.

Across Nigeria, human bodies representing men, women, children, of all ages, tribes and religions litter the landscape. Nigerian communities now wear mass graves as badges of their pain. Today, like a piece of silver held on the fire by a refiner, Nigerians have been thrown right into the vortex of suffering and pain.

All the talk about Boko Haram and Christians hating western ways [...] has proved to be nothing but a hollow devilish ritual

Daily, communities and homesteads, properties and livelihoods, and entire future generations, are being blown to smithereens with human life increasingly becoming for us all, harsh, brutish and short. Amidst this gloom, like helpless men and women caught in an inferno, our people are groping in vain for an exit door that is constantly shifting away from them. What have we done to deserve this and when will it ever end? Our cup of suffering daily runs over. Amidst all this, we must search for where the flickers of the light of hope point.

Strange as it may sound, if we follow the refiner's metaphor, it seems that this season of pain could turn out to be a period of purification and of self-cleansing through which God is present and active. This is even more true for those of us who are Christians and who see life through the prism of the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Boko Haram was not about religion

I would therefore like to use this opportunity to call our people's attention to the message I delivered in the wake of the attack on St. Theresa's Catholic Church Madalla on Christmas day in 2012, titled Be Still and Know that I am God (Ps 46:10). I want to hold the same message of hope and appeal against our present despondency and despair. But let me first clear the air on the refiner's metaphor.

Those who know about these matters say that silversmiths always sit right in front of the fire, holding the piece of silver to be refined right in the middle of the fire. The more intense the heat, the better it is for the silver because the heat is required to clear the silver of any impurities.

The silversmith diligently keeps his eyes on the silver and he knows that it is pure and ready when he can see a reflection of his own image in the silver! Is it likely that the present day occurrences in our land, while certainly not part of God's plan, will be used by God to purify us and prepare our nation for some greatness in the future?

The prophet Malachi said: God sits as a refiner and a purifier of silver (Mal 3:3). It is natural that what we consider to be unearned suffering will elicit confusion and frustration with a God whom we believe to be just. This was the dilemma of Job. However, as human history has shown us, God's faithfulness and love are unconditional and indeed, His foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (1 Cor. 1:25). This is why, the timeless warning, My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways (Is. 55:8) should constantly serve as our shield in our courageous waiting on the inscrutable Lord.

The senseless and mindless nature of the killings, the arbitrary choice of targets, the intensity and scorched earth policy of the violence, have become mind boggling, and have left the nation totally confused and in a state of stupor. All the assumptions we had about causes, effects, or curative factors have proved to be false.

Boko Haram was not about religion and despite their dubious claims to be trying to bring about an Islamic state, the footprints have shown clearly that they are nothing but an evil specie, the worst dregs of humanity who want to do nothing else but destroy our country and our people. This is what we face today.

Sincere, courageous and visionary leadership

All the talk about Boko Haram and Christians, hating western ways, institutionalizing Sharia in Nigeria, has proved to be nothing but a hollow devilish ritual. They have been an expression of our ignorant diagnosis that was merely an extension of our prejudices. The descent of these elements into outright bestiality and criminality, illustrated in their mindless and indiscriminate killings and abductions of innocent children, their looting, and their gang orgies of rape and violence against our innocent people, are a poison in the chalice of our future as a nation. This is why we need some level of sobriety, and beyond politics, what we need now is sincere, courageous and visionary leadership. So far, the politicians have shown themselves to be unable to rise beyond thoughts about the next elections.

Northern Muslims must take up the challenge concerning the future of the region and their religion and how it will contribute to national development and cohesion as opposed to what is now in the popular imagination of Nigerians. This distortion of the genuine values of Islam has widened the space between us. It is the frustration arising from this that has laid the foundation for what Boko Haram exploited.

Beyond relying on governments, the Muslim elite must rise beyond their pretention of wanting Sharia while they themselves live by different standards in Abuja or Dubai. A new generation of honest and courageous leadership that can rise beyond politics and face the self-programmed ticking time bomb in the region is urgently needed as the zero hour approaches.

Christians must place the pain of our country beside the cross of Jesus our redeemer, the Lord of history and the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the defining line of our faith and its meaning must never be lost to us. The road that lies ahead is long, very long indeed. It is tortuous and painful with many of the signposts of hope, broken or missing. There is hunger and thirst in the land. There are oceans of uncertainty, desperation and fear. There is a rich harvest of death as corpses are now part of our landscape.

Lessons from Biblical Israelites

However, we must believe that beyond this long night, there will be a bright day. We know this because the history of our salvation tells us so. Even from the story of the Israelites as told to us in the Bible we can glean a few lessons.

We know that Moses used the rod to part the waters to set God's children free (Ex 14:21). We know that God used the deadly snakes whose bites instantly killed its victims to redeem His people when He commanded Moses to make a bronze snake, the forerunner of our cross of salvation (Num. 21:6). God turned the staff of Moses into a snake when it mattered (Ex 4:3).

We know that God who asked Abraham to offer His only son had plans higher than Abraham could understand and provided for him at the most crucial moment (Gen 22:12ff). We know that from the desert God offered His people bread to eat (Ex. 16). We know that from the rock of impossibility, the Lord offered His people fresh water to drink (Ex 17: 6, Num. 20:11).

We know that in the end, it was not the armies that brought down the walls of Jericho; no, it was the march of the priests as they blew their trumpets (Jos 6:20). We know that the rattling of gun-fire does not herald the presence and power of God; rather, the faithful voice of God came to a frightened Elijah from the gentle breeze (1 Kgs. 19:12).

The cynics among us say that our days as a nation are numbered. Even the optimists ask wearily, how long will this darkness last? How long before our enemies laugh us to scorn and ask where is their God (Ps. 13:4). But we know that God who shut the lion's mouth to
acknowledge Daniel's faithfulness (Dan 6:6) is our redeemer and He lives (Dan. 6:6, Job 19:25).

We know that God kept Joseph safe because He had plans higher than the jealousy and treachery of Joseph's brothers (Gen. 37). We know that God rescued and vindicated Susannah from the gallows of the unrighteous (Dan 13). We can go on and on, but the point is simply that the God we serve, the creator of the universe cannot be mocked (Gal 6:7).

Will Nigeria survive this? Of course we will. And this assurance should make us hold our heads high and hope. God did not give us this great nation, with all the resources, the beautiful and extraordinarily talented people, without a purpose.

Like Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones, from Anchuna, Asaba, Benin to Damaturu, Gusau or Mubi, from Port Harcourt to Yenogoa, Yola, Zungeru, we know these dry bones will all come together by the power of the One who has allowed all these dead bodies to litter the valley of decision. They will come together because the Sovereign Lord has commanded the wind to come from every direction to breathe into these dead bodies, and to bring them back to life (Ez.37: 9).

Our nation will come together and we will gain our laughter back because, our shame has been taken away and our enemies turned back (Zeph. 3:15). Then, we who sowed in tears yesterday will sing as we reap (Ps. 126:5)

If only today you would listen to my voice

In conclusion I want to salute the bravery of all our people who have been bonded together in death across religion or status. Beyond the shenanigans of politics, we have to salute courageous leaders and ordinary citizens who continue to choose peace and love although their homes and farms have been turned into ovens of death.

We salute those Governors, Local Government Chairmen, Traditional rulers, Religious leaders who have stood by their people and served as towers of strength. We salute them for braving the thorns of suffering and reaching for the roses of hope. They will not be shamed.

The resurrection assures us that Jesus is the refiner and the purifier. This race is not for the faint hearted but we must reach the finish line because the Lord has assured us that we can run and run, but we will never be weary nor require rest (Is 40:31).

As our title suggests, the Psalmist has warned us: If only today you would listen to my voice and harden not your hearts (Ps 95:7). May His face shine on our nation for ever (Num. 6:25).

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