Update on Religious Violence in Nigeria
CT's recent dispatch from Nigeria on how Christian leaders are debating responses to increased violence from Muslim extremists is proving to be unfortunately timely.
Today's reported killing of up to 20 Christian mourners shows that tensions are mounting in the wake of deadly church bombings on Christmas Day, followed soon after by the bombing of an Islamic school.
In the aftermath, the Christian Association in Nigeria (CAN) called the bombings "a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria as an entity," adding that Christians are losing faith in the government's ability to protect them. The youth wing of CAN warned it would retaliate against any further attacks, though older leaders are emphasizing the difference between self-defense and revenge.
Christian president Goodluck Jonathan called for Christian and Muslim leaders "to work together, because terrorism is like a cancer to the body – it starts from somewhere and spread to all the organs of the body." He also declared a state of emergency in parts of northern Nigeria on New Year's Eve.
On January 3, Boko Haram issued an ultimatum and gave Christians in northern Nigeria three days to leave; CAN dismissed the threat. However, on Thursday at least eight people attending a prayer service in Gombe were killed after gunmen opened fire, and 20 more were wounded. And today gunmen opened fire on friends and family mourning the three Christians killed the day before, killing up to 20 more and injuring 15.
Nigeria is unofficially divided into the Muslim north and the Christian south, with towns like Jos, known as a regular flashpoint for violence between the two groups, in the middle. Boko Haram militants have been associated with many bombings in recent months, and are estimated to have killed at least 500 people in 2011. However, some have warned that militants claiming to be Boko Haram may not actually be affiliated with the group at all; instead, criminal groups may have adopted the name to claim responsibility for the attacks.