NIGERIA: Bishops say "Do not retaliate" following church bombings
By John Pontifex
St Theresa's Church in Madalla, which was bombed on Christmas Day 2011. Now more than 30 people have died after similar attacks on three churches in Kaduna State. Photo copyright EPA/LUSA
Frightened and angry Christians in Nigeria should resist growing calls to retaliate against extremists bombing their churches, according to the county's senior Catholic bishops.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop John Onaiyekan of the capital, Abuja, and Bishop Martin Igwe Uzoukwu of nearby Minna, hit out at the government, calling for tougher action to stop the violence.
Archbishop Onaiyekan went further, saying that the government should ask Muslims to help “infiltrate” terrorist groups.
The bishops’ comments came after government security chiefs this week warned of another wave of suicide bombings, following Sunday’s (17 June) explosions at three churches in Kaduna state, which left more than 30 people dead.
The attack at Shalom Pentecostal Church in Kaduna city – on the tense dividing line between the north and south – prompted retaliation from Christians in violence where 11 Muslims died and two mosques were reportedly targeted, one burnt to the ground.
Archbishop John Onaiyekan spoke about the Christian community’s growing impatience with the violence, saying: “It is becoming increasingly difficult to preach peace and to call for calm. It is becoming easier to beat the drums of war.
“More and more people are saying that unless we fight back they will continue to attack us.
“But this is a very worrying attitude and not a practical solution to the problem. The Muslims who were killed in Kaduna were from a Muslim enclave and they were innocent.”
Both he and Bishop Igwe quoted Gospel passages showing Christ’s opposition to violence. Bishop Igwe said: “I am telling my people to keep calm. Two wrongs do not make a right.”
The bishops’ comments follow Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience in Rome yesterday (Wednesday, 20 June) in which he said: “It is my hope that the various components in Nigerian society will collaborate so as not to start down the path of revenge.”
Archbishop Onaiyekan said the security problems centred on a lack of intelligence about the terrorists groups and added that he had called on Muslim communities to help infiltrate their structures and root out their leaders.
He went on: “What is missing is adequate intelligence to infiltrate these groups and thereby identify the real leaders who must be eliminated so that the system of violence collapses.
“Our government needs to go to the Muslim groups who can engage with those responsible.”
He also said: “Yes, it is true that the Muslim community would not call these terrorists Muslims but, in as much as the terrorists say they are acting in the name of Islam, Muslims have a responsibility to reach out to them.
“It would be an abdication of responsibility if the whole Muslim community were to fail to act since they all belong to the House of Islam.”
Condemning the government’s record in tackling the violence, Archbishop Onaiyekan said: “The government is weak and cannot tackle the problem in a serious way. What we have before us is a weak government which cannot protect its people.”
He added: “We have to give the government their due for what they are doing but this is not enough.
“The government is not doing enough in terms of education, security and tackling corruption. If we had a better government, these problems would not happen.”
Bishop Igwe called on Christians worldwide to lobby their governments to put pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to stop the violence.
He said: “Christians – not just in Nigeria but elsewhere – should not keep quiet. Silence would suggest they condone the violence. If they want to make it clear they do not condone it, they should speak up.”
In an implicit criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis, Bishop Igwe said: “If we have to die for Christ, we will die for Christ, but why should we be forced to make the choice?”
Both bishops said that in most cases the violence had strengthened the Christian community’s faith.
Archbishop Onaiyekan said: “Many people who were not going to church before are now coming. There is a lot of prayer and there is a lot of hard thinking going on.”
Bishop Igwe said: “It is said that if these attacks continue, especially in the north, Christians will leave and go elsewhere in the country butNigeriais for all of us.
“The Christians should stay where they are. What they need is adequate protection.”