A version of this post appeared in Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
With only government-controlled communication from northeastern Nigeria, there is a dearth of information about what territory Boko Haram actually controls.
However, Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops in Nigeria often are better informed about reality on the ground than anybody else because their networks of local parishes staffed by priests cover most of the country.
Hence the recent statement by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Maiduguri about Boko Haram deserves attention. The archbishop, Oliver Dashe Doeme, was born in 1960 and was made bishop of Maiduguri in 2009.
He lists 25 towns in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa as under Boko Haram control. With respect to Bama, possibly the second largest city in Borno, he acknowledges that the government and Boko Haram both claim control, but observes that the exodus of people from the city indicates that the Islamists have the upper hand.
The archbishop states that Boko Haram has armored tanks, armored personnel carriers, rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank weapons, sub-machine guns, “new and latest guns AK47,” and “inexhaustible boxes of ammunitions and bullets.”
The archbishop denounces the behavior of the security forces: “In the face of these attacks, they flee and ask civilians to do the same.”
He is also highly critical of the Jonathan administration: “The near inaction of the government, the lukewarm attitude and the silence of the government is very disturbing. There is a total disconnection between what our so called leaders in Abuja report in the media and reality on the ground. We wish they have the courage to fly into these areas and see things for themselves.”
While the archbishop acknowledges that Boko Haram has killed many Muslims, he places Boko Haram firmly in the context of efforts to Islamicize northeast Nigeria, and that it has “an international face and connection.”
If the bishop's statement is accurate, where do the armored vehicles and other weapons come from?
Given their size, it is unlikely that Boko Haram procured them from Libya or some other place outside Nigeria.
More likely is that they come from Nigerian armories, presumably stolen or supplied by Boko Haram sympathizers.