By George Conger, Church of England Newspaper
Church leaders in Nigeria have urged the government to act swiftly in combating terror attacks on Christians.
The murder campaign in the North waged by Islamist Boko Haram sect known as the Nigerian Taliban could ignite a sectarian war in the South with Christians seeking revenge against Muslims, the Anglican Bishop of Awka warned.
Last week, the fundamentalist sect bombed a Roman Catholic Church and a police station in Maiduguri, killing eleven people, while on June 7 a Church of Christ in Nigeria pastor the Rev. David Usman and the church secretary were gunned down by members of the cult. Last week’s murder follows a 2009 attack on Mr. Usman’s church by Boko Haram militants, who burned it to the ground and killed several members of the congregation.
Boko Aram, which is a Hausa phrase meaning “non-Islamic education is a sin,” is a militant Islamist group founded in 2002 in Maiduguri by Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf. In 2004 the group began an armed struggle against the government that culminated in a pitched battle with the security forces in July 2009 that left over 700 people dead. After the revolt, the police reported Yusuf had died in custody while resisting arrest.
Boko Haram regrouped after the death of its leader and has renewed its guerrilla campaign against the government and Nigerian Christians.
In an address last week to his diocesan synod, the Bishop on the Niger, the Rt Rev. Owens Nwokolo warned of the danger of Christian vigilantes in the South exacting revenge on Muslims in reprisal.
Bishop Nwokolo demanded the government stop using Christians as a buffer for the group’s murderous activities, keeping the army in its barracks while allowing Boko Haram to focus its wrath on the soft target of Christians. “Enough is enough,” the bishop said, warning that patience was wearing thin.
On June 10, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he would consider opening talks with the radical Muslim group to end the bloodshed.
“No government wants to kill the citizens of that country. Whether they are carrying weapons against the state or not, they are citizens,” President Jonathan said in response to a question during a briefing with journalists in New York. “The best option is you negotiate to make sure they don’t do that.”
He added the violence was not religiously motivated, as Boko Haram was waging war on all who had adopted Western education and values. “It has nothing to do with Christians and Muslims,” the president said.