Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Church Bombings in Northern Nigeria

WHEN the Islamic terrorist outfit commonly referred to as Boko Haram started their insurrection in Northern Nigeria pretty much everyone was a target. Christians, Muslims, members of the security forces and their institutional facilities, revellers in drinking joints, people in marketplaces and so on, were targeted with suicide bombings and assassinations.

The pattern, however, changed since the Christmas day of 2011, when St Theresa's Catholic Church, Madalla in Niger State was bombed with 43 confirmed dead and nearly a hundred more injured.

A new, more cowardly and dangerous phase was entered. Since then, hardly has a Sunday passed without new incidence of worshippers being bombed in Abuja, Jos, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Biu, Potiskum, Maiduguri, Damaturu and other cities of the far Northern Nigeria. Having discovered "softer" targets the terrorists have now settled more for the destruction of Christian places of worship with the unarmed, unsuspecting faithful in full session.

When the Madalla church was struck, at least the federal and state governments and even the Central Bank of Nigeria, packaged some financial cushions for the church and its bereaved parishioners. But since that episode, and with the increased frequency of this campaign to keep away the Christian faithful from their places of worship by Islamic groups that are bent on forcing people to embrace their own mode of worship, church bombings have now become accepted as "normal" weekly news items.

No one talks of compensations anymore. Leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, have lost their voices. Reverend Ayo Oritsejafor, CAN's president, seems tired of running to Aso Villa every week to confer with President Goodluck Jonathan. The President himself is now out of new things to say in reaction.

He now only says: "It is sad". People are already speculating that very soon he will lose interest in saying anything at all!

The import of the increased assault on Nigerians in their places of worship appears to be wearing off, but let me seize this opportunity to refresh the minds of those who have become shock-proof because no member of their family has been killed or maimed for life. My people say when the corpse of a stranger is being taken to the cemetery, it is like a log of wood to those who are not among the bereaved.

Nigerians are losing their breadwinners, mothers, fathers and children, hopes for the future. Young people are becoming destitute due to loss of limbs.

Millions of Christians in the North are now forced to stay at home on Sundays rather than take the risk of going to church to give God His due.

Nigerian citizens are supposed to be protected by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, which guarantees them the fundamental right to peaceful assembly, association, worship, sanctity of life and human dignity. The President, Vice President, governors and deputy governors all swore to defend the Constitution. In other words, they swore to preserve the fundamental rights of Nigerians.

Every Sunday, the constitutional rights of Nigerians are brazenly taken away by enemies of the state, and all our elected officers have to say is: "It is sad", as if we do not know it!

Suicide bombing is the most cowardly but difficult security challenge of our time. Some Christian leaders have urged their members to "defend" themselves. Pray, how does one defend oneself against a shadowy enemy that may come today, tomorrow or never? And how does one defend oneself against a suicide bomber? Should Christians go to church with the Bible in one hand and an AK 47 in the other?

Should churches train and deploy armed militias around church premises while worship is in progress? How would you know if the man coming down the street in suit and cassock is not actually a well-disguised suicide bomber? If you take a pot-shot at someone simply because of the robes on him, how are you sure it is not an innocent Muslim going about his peaceful, lawful business, or even a fellow Christian?

Now some Christians have started adopting the strategy of reprisal attacks on suspected Muslims as we saw after the recent Jos, Kaduna and Zaria church bombings. That is hardly the correct answer to the problem. Even though many Muslims secretly rejoice in these new bombing raids on churches, majority of them are peace-loving and committed to the religious, rather than the political attractions of their faith.

If as a Christian you are angered by a terrorist attack on your church and you pounce on innocent Muslims, you are not better than the terrorist. Besides, reprisals have a way of complicating matters. It can give rise to a total breakdown of law and order whose end no one knows. It might turn friends into enemies overnight over sins both did not approve of at the outset.

Parishioners or those who worship in a local church or mosque can help protect themselves from terrorist attacks by erecting barricades which a bomb-laden car will find it difficult to penetrate. But it is not all places of worship that can afford the space. Whatever individual churches come up with as a means of self-defence can only have limited application. There is no credible alternative to the use of state agents of security to safeguard citizens.

The imperative of intelligence as a means of minimising the impact of terrorism has been emphasised over and again. It is the failure of the state agents of security to sniff out and snuff out terror cells that is responsible for the rising cases of church attacks. Their growing success rate emboldens them even more and encourages more misguided people to join their ranks.

Those who may be secretly overjoyed by the growing threats against Christians in their places of worship may wake up one day to find out that not even they are safe anymore. If, and when the situation slips out of control, nobody - Christian or Moslem - will be spared.

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