The Man Who Talks to Boko Haram
Continuing from last week, we shared the story of Dr. Stephen Davis, the Australian who began negotiations to secure the release of the kidnapped Chibok girls last year. Taken hostage on April 14th, 2014, the 232 girls abducted that night remain in rebel custody. Little is known about their whereabouts or the circumstances of the captivity in which they have been living for the past year.
Observers have described Nigeria as a country with one of the world’s most complex political landscapes. Members of the same political parties fight each other in partisan wars that are fueled by a culture of extreme corruption. Nigeria ranks as the 38th most corrupt nation among the 136 listed on the 2014 world corruption index. Though Davis was not the first to accuse Nigerian politicians of supporting Boko Haram, his detailed allegations received enormous media attention.
In Nigeria, there was a chorus of support for Davis last year, including calls for formal investigations into former Borno State Governor Modu Sheriff, whom the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) dropped from the ballot as its senatorial candidate following Davis’ allegations. Davis implicated Sheriff in the funding of the rebel group Boko Haram for political gain.
At the same time, in corners of Nigeria, media spread wild speculations that Davis was somehow plotting with Boko Haram and that his revelations were an attempt to discredit President Goodluck Jonathan prior to the election. Although State Security Services (SSS) promised to investigate the fresh accusation against Sheriff, it instead started arresting people associated with Davis.
The SSS arrested staff members of a charity called the Shehuri North Community Development and Youth Empowerment Association located in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri. The workers have been hold without formal charges since October. The SSS also arrested Junaidu Idris, a resident of Maiduguri, who had previously helped Davis in peace discussions. Needing a Kanuri speaker to translate, Davis had asked Junaidu to accompany him on the trip to Borno for the planned hand-over of the girls. “The SSS arrested Junaidu for providing such support to efforts to return kidnapped girls to their families,” Davis said. “He, too, has been held without charge and without access to legal counsel.”
Davis said the arrests are an “expected strong response from powerful and wealthy people who have a lot to lose.” Davis also asserted that any confessions made by those arrested have been made under threat.
Almost a year after making his allegations public, Davis told World Watch Monitor that, despite the media criticism, and the arrest and extrajudicial detention of people associated with him, he stands by his assertion. “I have learned years ago as an expert witness that the guy on the other side’s job is to destroy your credibility,” he said. “They spend all their time destroying your credibility, so they do not have to contend with your evidence… If you worry about defending your reputation, you are back fighting where they are comfortable and they have strength,” he said. “Jesus didn’t do this. The New Testament is not full of Jesus walking around justifying himself. He carried on with the work.”
Davis said he maintains contact with factions within Boko Haram. Recently, he received a message from one of his contacts in the group which read, “Moving a large number of girls across the border from Nigeria into Niger.” When Davis asked why, the source replied, “The contract is almost over.”
Davis said he believes the statement to mean that after the Nigerian presidential election was held on March 28th, the contract to hold the girls would expire. “A contract! This proves yet again that politicians are paying money to create this sort of mayhem – paying to have people slaughtered!” Davis exclaimed.
Davis also asserts that the media plays into the hands of the terrorists by redistributing graphic videos captured during raids, and called for a campaign to ensure social media platforms and news media do not host or distribute Boko Haram propaganda. “The world’s media… is starved of dramatic footage. In the world’s media, the terrorists have the most efficient distribution network for their propaganda. The terrorists are delighted that the world’s media show these terrorist ‘victories’ which intimidates the general population and attracts more recruits. We should not give them the notoriety they crave,” he said.
A critical part of the strategy to defeat terrorist groups like Boko Haram and the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Davis said, should be to isolate them from media outlets and to take down all content that could sustain and perpetuate terrorist activities.
Even as he advocates for a media blackout on graphic Boko Haram atrocities, Davis said the worldwide church must make more noise about it. “I have visited many villages and towns attacked by Boko Haram. I have seen firsthand the devastation and talked to families in the attacks. These are tragic stories of loss of life, slaughter, rape and the worst abuses of human life one can imagine,” he said.
“The Christian churches and congregations around Gwoza on the Cameroon-Nigeria border have been decimated, with many congregations killed in their churches.” Davis said that when he asked the local Bishop how many people were killed in the most recent attack on Gwoza, the bishop replied, “We have yet to see any living.” And there have been several other attacks on Gwoza.
Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi said the effects of the attacks, destruction, violence and displacement perpetrated on the church is unquantifiable. By his count, the Anglican Church in Nigeria has lost 60 churches in its province covering the northeast. In one area, 36 of 42 churches have been destroyed. Davis further pointed out that the report relates only to the Anglican Church. Catholic and Pentecostal churches would be similarly affected.
“People in the north of Nigeria face unbelievable hardship. Some women walk all day to get a bucket of muddy water. People are thin as rakes because there is not enough food. You wonder what the future holds for a child born there. But they go on. There is hope and a desire to live. They don’t despair. Those who have the least in Nigeria are not the ones who despair over their general living conditions, the lack of water and the lack of food… It is the war and terror that causes them despair,” Davis said.
Father, we continue to pray for Dr. Davis as he seeks the release of the Chibok girls. We pray that You would disarm the power of political forces that would thwart the efforts to free these girls. We pray for the girls; that You would protect their lives from harm, replace their despair with hope, and replace their fear with courage and faith. We pray for Christians and churches in Nigeria; that You would protect them and grant them both wisdom and courage in response to the unrelenting assault on Christ’s kingdom there. We pray for the Boko Haram insurgents; that You would defeat them through saving faith. We pray for the nation of Nigeria; that the spiritual darkness that appears to the world to be prevailing would be dispelled by the light of Christ, and that His Name would be lifted high. In the Name of Jesus, our glory and hope, Amen.