Elder Olaiya Phillips, chairman of the Northern States Christian Eldersâ€™ Forum, speaks with Sandra Alumona on the implications of the insurgency by Boko Haram. Excerpts:
President Goodluck Jonathan recently declared that the country was now at war over the Boko Haram insurgency. Do you believe this is an accurate assessment of the situation?
Yes, we in NOSCEF have been explaining that Boko Haram is at war with the Federal Republic of Nigeria for some time. The escalation of violence over the last 12 months has been terrifying. Recently, Boko Haram killed almost 60 children in one night, at one school. But it is clear that if they could have killed 600 or 6,000 or tens of thousands then they would have done so. There appears to be no limit to their lawlessness. They seek to wipe out our villages, our values, our freedoms and our way of life. Defeating Boko Haram is an existential struggle for the continuation of our nation itself.
There was a strong public outcry over the recent attack on the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi in Yobe State. What is NOSCEFâ€™s response?
The atrocity at Buni Yadi was unforgivable. It showed Boko Haram to be the evil monsters that they really are. I would like to offer the thoughts and prayers of NOSCEF and our members to the many bereaved families and those across northern Nigeria who have been or known victims of their terror. Boko Haram adherents portray themselves as soldiers and freedom fighters, but soldiers and freedom fighters do not commit premeditated murder of children. Only criminals with an agenda of cruelty and evil would be responsible for such vile atrocities. There must be no hiding place from justice for these terrorists.
Do you think the killing of children is a new strategy that will be seen more often?
I hope and pray that this is not the case, but all the evidence would suggest that unfortunately soft targets is a part of Boko Haramâ€™s evolving strategy. The reports coming from the recent bomb attacks in Maiduguri imply that many children were killed in that attack and clearly the government of Yobe believes that many of its students may again be targeted as they are relocating their schools and colleges outside of the state. They are sucking the lifeblood from our nation. The next generation to take our nation forward to a better future is being cut down before us. For Boko Haram, this is just the beginning. For us, these murders must mark the beginning of the end for Boko Haramâ€™s reign of terror.
What is your reaction to the belief by many Nigerians, as expressed recently by Pastor Sam Adeyemi, that only God can put a stop to the Boko Haram insurgency?
While he is right that only Godâ€™s can put a stop to the insurgency, that will be manifest through our actions. It is, therefore, our divine obligation to face Boko Haram and defeat them. This is not an easy task. Every means necessary must be devoted to winning this war against our enemy. Our president and our government must mobilise the collective strength of our Armed Forces, not just to prevent further violence, but to defeat the threat Boko Haram poses to our people, our prosperity and our peace. But, with Godâ€™s strength and grace, we shall be victorious.
What is your advice to Nigerians in the countryâ€™s southern states regarding the insurgency in the North-east?
Every Nigerian, even those that live in Lagos or Delta states, should fear Boko Haram. Since they began their campaign of violence, Boko Haram has murdered thousands of Nigerianâ€™s, both Christian and Muslim. They do not discriminate. What they did to the poor innocent children of Buni Yadi they would surely do to any and every Nigerian. What they are doing to destroy northern Nigeria they would certainly do to all Nigeria. Nigerians can no longer hide our faces from this terror in the hope that it will go away. Unless we face up to Boko Haram now it will deny our beloved country its future, just as surely as it has denied the children of Buni Yadi theirs.
How do you think Boko Haram can be stopped?
NOSCEF has demanded that our military take immediate action to stop Boko Haram by mobilising every resource our Armed Forces have to counter this threat. Condemnations of their actions are necessary but insufficient. We must stop the massacres in Adamawa; we must stop the massacres in Borno; and we must stop the massacres in Yobe. Nigeria must defeat Boko Haram.