As the smoke dies out at the bombed United Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, faith leaders are seeking urgent government action to end a recurrent and bloody cycle of religious violence in Africa's most populous nation - writes Fredrick Nzwili.
In the latest incident, Christian youths attacked Muslims gathering to celebrate the last day of Ramadan on 29 August in Jos city. At least 13 people were killed, property destroyed and cars burnt. This occurred barely a week after a radical Islamic group carried out a suicide car bomb attack at the UN complex on 26 August, leaving 23 people dead and several others injured.
"We urge the relevant authorities to decisively act to permanently bring this trend to an end ... to save precious lives and hard earned properties," said Roman Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos diocese, quoted in media reports on 30 August 2011. Kaigama serves in the region between Nigeria's mainly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south.
The region has been a flash point for ethnic and sectarian tensions between the two faiths in a country where nearly 50.4 per cent are Muslims and 48.2 per cent are Christians. The United Nations estimates that the country's population in 2009 was at 154,729,000.
While condemning the UN bomb attack as a "mindless assault on world peace and unity," Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, urged better security to tackle the growing threat of terrorism. "It is unthinkable that a group of persons … will deliberately set out to unleash terror and mayhem … in some parts of the country without restraint," Oritsejafor said in a statement on 27 August.
Muhammed Sa'ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto who is the spiritual leader of all Nigerian Muslims, described the attacks as abominable acts under Islam and urged the government to step up measures to stop any future occurrences. "We seriously condemn this evil act just as we console the families of those who lost their loved ones and commiserate with those who lost their property as a result of the attack," the Sultan told the Nigerian Tribune on 30 August. He also appealed to Muslims to guard against being used as "tools" for achieving "selfish goals."
Global religious leaders extended sympathies to the UN. The Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, World Council of Churches (WCC) General Secretary, noted that many of the victims had devoted their lives to a mission of helping others. "We condemn this senseless act of violence carried out against innocent workers of the UN and the UN family of agencies," Tveit wrote in a letter dated 30 August to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General. "It is in every aspect unjustifiable, and those responsible for this attack must be held accountable."
Boko Haram, a radical Muslim group, claimed responsibility for the attack at the UN headquarters. The group which translates into "western education is a sin" is opposed to the "westernisation of Nigeria," is demanding implementation of Sharia (Islamic law). Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, has promised to control the violence.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]