By: Rev Fr George Ajana National Director Missio/PMS Nigeria
In the real sense, Nigeria cannot be said to be a country in turmoil as a result of religious differences. In fact, the three known religions – Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religions are thriving successfully in the practice of their various forms of religion, with majority living in harmony and peace without offensive feelings about the dogma or faith profession of each religion. Even, there have been marriages between the different believers. However, this does not mean all is perfect as there have been some skirmishes on basis of religion, particularly in the north of the country. But in the south, inter-religious marriages and harmony are more pronounced. Religion in Nigeria is an effective catalyst of heating up emotion in a community of faith out of a diversity of tribes.Religious crises are not new in Nigeria even among people of the same faith – Christian groups facing each other and so also Moslem groups disagreeing with each other; and of course, the Christian-Moslem disagreement on fundamental issues in some parts of the country, particularly in the north.
This Islamic fundamentalists group “resurrected” in the country, in 2011 to unleash terror on Christians of southern origin living in the north, claim to be fighting a religious war in the name of Allah. The sect is not new in the country, but with the support of some powerful elite groups from the north (though not officially confirmed), its arms have become more sophisticated and its actions more criminal.
The genesis of the Islamic fanatical group in the country dates back to the Maitatsine Group which initiated the religious revolts in Kano, Bauchi and Kaduna, between 1990 and 1994. It took the combined team of the country’s Armed Forces to dislodge the group and they were forced to disperse into different parts of the North by the powerful fire force of the country’s Army. However, with time and circumstances, they regrouped and became more violent and heavily armed with the name Boko Haram.
The name Boko Haram, an Hausa language expression literarily means ‘Western education is sinful’. This is a coined name for the group, given to them by other people. But their real name which is Arabic is translated to mean ‘The Association of Sunis for the Propagation of Islam and for the Jihad.’ They first came to light in the north eastern city of Maiduguri in Borno State. The group have kept their operations with the axis of the north west region, which has always been their base of origin. They have struck in Borno, Bauchi, Katsina, Kaduna, Yobe and Kano States; and Suleja in Niger State.
Their targets have always been Christian places of worship or groups of Nigerians of southern origin. Although there are no official records on the casualties of the attacks by the group; several thousands of innocent people have lost their lives, while property worth billions of Naira has been lost. The majority of Nigerians in the northern part of the country, particularly those from the south, sleep with one eye always open and live in fear of being shot at or brutally murdered, in the name of religion. The group has stated that Christians in the north can only enjoy peace if they embrace Islam.
However, in some areas of the country, Christians have always agitated for a reprisal attack, but have been prevailed upon by their leaders and the government to refrain. The country’s security outfit and leadership cannot guarantee the safety of the citizens from this group, despite the claim by President Goodluck Jonathan that the government is on top of the situation.
Of recent, the group has promised hard times for media houses as exemplified by the attack on This Day Newspaper Northern Area head office in Abuja and the newspaper’s office in Kaduna, along with that of the Sun Newspaper. They have also started attacking Christian schools at peak periods.
However, it seems that these latest attacks also have political overtones as the activities of the group are said to have the support of some Northern political elites who see the presidency as the birthright of the North.
Nigeria is a country of too many complexities and crises have escalated into violence, in most cases because those in charge are incapable of managing crises through dialogue as a result of their selfish and sectional interests.
Chronology of religious crises in the country
1980 – 1984: Maitatsine revolts in Kano, Bauchi and Katsina
1985 – 1986: Crises over the sighting of a Christian cross to the east of a newly built Mosque in the University of Ibadan.
1991: Zango Kataf religious riot in Southern Kaduna resulting in the death of many Christians and Moslems.
2002 (February): About 100 people killed in the clashes between Hausas and Yorubas in Lagos over religious issues.
2002 (November): Four days rioting by Moslems over the hosting of Miss World Beauty Contest scheduled for December, premised on religion. Over 200 people died. The event was relocated to Britain.
2004 (May): About 200 Moslems killed in Yelwa by Christian militia. State of emergency declared by Central plateau State. Reprisal attack by Moslem Youths in Kano.
2006 (February): Over 100 people killed as a result of religious violence in some Moslem towns in the North. Reprisal attack on Hausa Moslems in Onitsha when the people saw the dead bodies of their kinsmen.
2009 (July): Maiduguri Police Stations stormed by Boko Haram. Group launches campaign of violence to effect enforcement of Sharia Law in the country. Many people killed in the process, in the area. Security Forces stormed the group’s stronghold and killed the leader of the sect and some of his followers.
2010 (January): About 149 killed during the two days of violence between Christian and Moslem gangs in Jos.
2010 (March): Another religious crisis in Jos. Over 120 people killed. 2010 (December): Christmas Eve bomb blast in the Central city of Jos. Boko Haram claims responsibility. About 80 people killed. Another 200 killed in reprisal attack.
Related Attacks with Political/Religious Motivations.
October I: Bomb blast at Eagle Square, Abuja
2011 (January 1): Bomb blast in Abacha Barracks In Abuja
2011 (May): Post election violence in some states in the north
2011 (June): Bombing of Police Headquarters in Abuja. Many killed and over 30 vehicles burnt.
2011 (August): United Nations Headquarters bombed. Many killed, others injured.
2011 (September): Muslim fanatics freed hundreds of prisoners from Maiduguri jail.
2011 (November): Co-ordinated bomb attacks in Yobe and Borno States 2011 (December): Boko Haram bomb attack on St Theresa’s, Madalla, Niger State, over 35 killed.
2012 (March 11): Bomb blast at St Finbarrs’ Catholic Church, Jos. About 8 people killed.
There was the bomb attack and sporadic gun shooting on Christian communities in Bayero University Kano, during a Sunday service. Over 20 people were killed or injured, including two professors. Also a Pentecostal Church in Abuja, was recently targeted and there was an attempt to bomb St Aloysius Catholic private school near the Pro-Cathedral, Abuja, on Thursday, July 19, 2012. This was foiled by vigilant security officials who got the anti- bomb squad to detonate the explosives.
Many non-indigenes are running away from the north for their dear lives. I learnt that thousands of people migrated from Jos this last weekend to relocate elsewhere, although this has not been confirmed officially. Churches are now almost empty in Maiduguri on Sundays for fear of violent attacks. I believe we seriously need Divine Intervention at this point of our history. We implore you children of God from other parts of the world, to please keep us constantly in your prayers. Nigeria is going through a very difficult moment, Christians are been persecuted and innocent lives are being taken. To compound these litany of woes there are also are fire outbreaks in some quarters and the natural disaster of flooding. May the lord help us! Amen.
Mgr Canon James Cronin, National Director of Missio England and Wales commented: “It is easy to forget that this is an ongoing situation in Nigeria but the people of Nigeria remain at the forefront of our prayers. One of the apostolates of Missio is education and this has been our focus in Africa, India and indeed worldwide. We pray that God will be with the people of Nigeria at this time.” There are an estimated 25milion baptised Catholics in Nigeria. Missio has long and extensive contact with all the dioceses throughout Nigeria, supporting them through the generosity of Red Box supporters in parishes across England and Wales