NIGERIA: Anger and hatred at "dangerous level" say bishops
By John Newton
A map of Nigeria, where bishops have warned of the danger of a complete breakdown in inter-faith relations
The bishops of Nigeria have issued a dire warning that the country risks sliding into far worse conflict – unless urgent steps are taken to stop the violence.
In a statement dated yesterday (Tuesday, 26 June), the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria condemned “in the loudest possible manner” both the continuing attacks on Christian places of worship and “the so-called reprisal attacks”.
Writing after violence over the past week which claimed more than 100 lives, the bishops warn of the repercussions of a complete breakdown in inter-faith relations.
The letter, a copy of which was sent to Aid to the Church in Need, states: “Whether by design or not, [attacks on churches] put grave stress on the already fragile mutual relationship between the Christian and Muslim communities in Nigeria.
“The sense of anger and hatred is growing by the day and has reached a dangerous level.
“We must all act now and decisively to arrest and defuse the tension.”
The letter, signed by Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, the conference’s president, and its secretary, Archbishop-elect Alfred Martins of Lagos, describes growing dismay about ongoing attacks on people attending services.
The bishops state: “If there is no clear and concrete sign of improvement, the patience of many Christians will wear out, our sermons of restraint will fall on many deaf ears, and those who see violent reprisals as justified deterrence will fall beyond our control.
“There is palpable danger in the air.”
The bishops add that they will continue to preach peace, love, and forgiveness.
According to the BBC, analysts suggest terrorist group Boko Haram, responsible for many of the anti-Christian attacks, is trying to trigger clashes between Christians and Muslims by targeting churches.
In their letter, the bishops call on Christians and Muslims to work together to resolve the situation: “Our country is one; hence, we must together find the solution to our woes.”
They point out that, while the terrorists had carried out their acts of violence in the name of Islam, it was only Islamist extremists who were carrying out such attacks.
The bishops state: “Religion does not encourage such inhumanity [as] we are experiencing but rather [it] should bind us to the Creator and to one another in love and human solidarity.”
The bishops note that many Muslim leaders have condemned the violence, but they go on to add: “It is not enough to issue verbal condemnation of terrorist activities.
“There is need for concrete and pro-active action to call to order those responsible and to make them desist from causing any further havoc on our nation in the name of religion.”
The bishops said it was “sad” that the media had portrayed the crisis in terms of a conflict between Muslims and Christians, “instead of looking at it as the misdeeds of a few elements among us who [are] claiming to be acting for and in the name of religion…”
While the statement acknowledges that the state had “been doing a lot” to resolve the situation, they call on the government to increase its efforts.
“Security actions must be intensified and refined. Much more needs to be done in the area of intelligence gathering, analysing, interpreting and security equipment procurement. The terrorists must be identified, engaged, and disarmed.”
The bishops called on all the faithful to turn to prayer at this time.
They said: “In particular, we reiterate the importance of daily family rosary, and the Prayer for Nigeria in distress – as a powerful spiritual response to the grave challenge of insecurity that has engulfed our nation.”
They added their own prayers for those of all creeds who had been killed in the violence.
“The people who died in the bomb blasts and in the reprisal attacks were all innocent children of God, men, women and children, Muslims and Christians, of different tribes, all Nigerians, all equally created and loved by God.
“May they rest in peace and may God grant strength and consolation to the loved ones they have left behind.”