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Peace at risk

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Last Christmas, many Christian churches were bombed by Boko Haram. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja, declared to Vatican Radio “we have done much to encourage dialogue with Islam, to promote respect and harmony. We need to hope that, besides events such these, we can continue the journey of dialogue and reconciliation. Most Nigerians want to live in peace. Now many young Christians are angry. We are trying to calm things down, but we must be clear with the government. The only way to diffuse the situation is to show to those who lost brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, that the government is able to rise to the challenge and eliminate the danger of terror attacks against innocent people”.
pea2This was not the first bloody Christmas in Nigeria. On December 24, 2010 Muslim attacks on Christians left tens of victims. After the violence erupted in Jos in summer 2011, Felix Alaba Job, archbishop of Ibadan and president of the Episcopal Conference, declared that “security services have been monitoring Boko Haram for the past five years, yet they did not take any step to stop it. There are many security agencies in Nigeria, and no one seems capable of explaining conclusively who they are and what they really aim at”. Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, archbishop of Jos, says “Boko Haram and other local groups used to fight with bows and arrows. They have now started using bombs. We need to know if this is the result of local support or if there is an international connection”.
The Catholic Church asked the government to act against Boko Haram before the activities of this group degenerate in a true inter-confessional war. The bishop underlined that “the activities of Boko Haram aim at destabilizing the country. In using religion as the inspiration of their violence, we risk falling in the trap of the fanatics, this would destroy peace and divide the nation”.
On November 4, 2011, a new series of coordinated attacks hit the police headquarters, various local police stations, six churches in Damataru and caused the death of 150 people. Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme of Maiduguri declared “the causes of the violence are many. There are social, economics, political and religious factors. On the one hand there is a strong indoctrination of the youth to fight for the cause.pea3 In case they die, they are assured paradise. On the other hand, youth are brain washed by politicians who see their star fading, yet they want to remain in control and benefit from their position of power. Corruption is at the root of our social evil, and undermines the politics and economy of our country”.
In a recent interview, Matthew Kukah, bishop of Sokoto, said most analyses offerd by the media were superficial. “The dichotomy that pitches Christians in the south against Muslims in the north is a false. It ignores the millions of Christians that are in different parts of northern Nigeria … The north, the poorest part of Nigeria, it is where you have the highest concentration of non-literate citizens and households that are vulnerable in terms of economic power. There is almost a total disconnect between the elite in the north and the ordinary people. There is a feeling of frustration – even Boko Haram has articulated this point. A lot of anger from ordinary people in the north is anger against their own elite whom they find are really not prepared to deal with the principles of Islam and are not addressing the social conditions around them”.
At the same time, bishop Kukah refused to believe that a religious war is close at hand. “I don’t think anybody should become so paranoid – the bishop said – as to begin evoking the spirit of what happened in 1966. I think the events of the past weeks are significant: 20 or even 15 years ago Nigerians would have been out on the streets calling for the military. Today, a delegation of Muslim leaders went to the cathedral in Kano to address the Catholics whilst they were worshipping. We have cases of Muslims banding together and creating a wall to ensure that Christians can pray freely. I think many Nigerians are gradually moving beyond their religious frontiers. The ordinary people of Nigeria have now found their voices across ethnic and religious lines. It is good for democracy. I think our country is the better for it”.

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