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The Real Situation of Christian Suffering in Nigeria

The Real Situation of Christian Suffering in Nigeria AFP Stringer

AFP Stringer

The body of a victim of a bombing at the Sharon Church in Kaduna is taken on June 17, 2012 to the morgue of the Saint-Gerard hospital in the northern Nigerian city. Bomb blasts damaged five churches in four cities in Nigeria's northern Kaduna state on June 17, injuring dozens of worshippers and leading to an immediate curfew, officials said.  The number of casualties in the blasts in the neighboring cities of Zaria and Kaduna and in the southern Christian-dominated Nassarawa and Barnawa was not immediately clear. Police and the military cordoned off the areas. Kaduna state authorities immediately imposed a 24-hour curfew. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

Aleteia - published on 07/21/14

Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan tells his side of the story.

The situation in Nigeria is dire. Extremist militant group Boko Haram have still not returned the two hundred girls they abducted two months ago. The National Assembly of Nigeria has split up for two months, which means the military must wait before receiving approval for a loan of $1bn to combat the group.

Boko Haram’s violent insurgency has grown ever more brutal since its formation in 2009, with the aim of creating a purely Islamic State. Various Christian churches have been attacked and many people have been either kidnapped or murdered. President Goodluck Johnathan has received criticism for not dealing adequately with the faction. Aleteia speaks to cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, from Abuja, Nigeria, about his understanding of the actual situation of Christian suffering in Nigeria.

What is the actual situation of Christian suffering in Nigeria?

The information that goes out from the international media is true but it does not tell the full story; the BBC, Aljazeera, CNN, they always talk about the bad things, the bombs, the killings, the burnings. They never have time to talk about the efforts that Nigerians are making to live together, to isolate the troublemakers, and to build a peaceful nation.

There may be some Muslims in Nigeria who want to wipe away Christians, but the there are also Christians who want to wipe away Muslims.  But these people are few. There are extremists on both sides. The vast majority of us Nigerians are used to living together.

On the social level, you wouldn’t know the difference between Christians and Muslims: we all dress similar, we go to the same markets, the same offices and government houses, we have the same armed forces and police.

So when you hear people say the Muslims are killing Christians, we in Nigeria say ‘Please, no, don’t talk like that.’

We want to make it clear that we are very embarrassed by the activities of this small group of very dangerous and wicked fanatics, who are also a problem for Muslims.

I always tell my people in Nigeria: ‘don’t think terrorism is only against Christians. The Taliban in Pakistan are against Muslims in Pakistan, the people that al Qaeda in Iraq or Afghanistan are fighting and killing are Muslims as well.

So we in Nigeria ought to understand this, and let us who are Christians and Muslims join hands to deal with this group. The things this group – Boko Haram – have done are very strange to us. We would never have believed that five years ago we would have such a group in Nigeria.

Is there a place allowed for Christianity in Nigerian society and government?

We as Christians in Nigeria are in an environment where there isn’t an adequate security, so there is no way that we can avoid the killing of Christians, because they are killing everybody. Sometimes, I know the Boko Haram, as an Islamic group target the Christians, but it is not as if we Christians in Nigeria are living under a sense of persecution, for the simple reason that we as Christians in Nigeria are not a weak section; we are high in numbers, we are high as an economic clout, we are high in political influence. Here the Christians and Muslims are much more equilibrated than in other countries.

Unfortunately what happens is, Muslims are more likely to stand up for Islam and reject anything that is against Islam. And unfortunately Christians, firstly, often don’t stand up for Christianity, and secondly, they are prepared to allow many things that are not in favour of Christianity and they tell us we should separate ourselves from politics.

But I say, stop telling the Muslims that they should stop mixing religion with politics; you are wasting your time, because they will continue to do so. Rather ask yourself, what type of politics am I promoting? For me, does my religion mean as much for me in my politics as Islam means for their politics. For as long as my Christian faith does not impact on my Christian politics, and the Muslim considers his own religion as the only important one, you will end up with a problem.

The confrontation will no longer be between Muslims who are very religious and Christian politians who don’t believe in Christianity.

In Europe they say, why don’t you stop mixing religion with politics, but we say, if you decide to throw your religion outside of politics, that is your business, but we are not going to do the same.

Can you comment on the situation of the 200 kidnapped girls? Is there any news on the ground?

Again, I am embarrassed that so many girls were abducted. It has been two months. They keep telling us, don’t worry, we will get them back, but for me it is a bluff.

Two months is such a long period to keep 15 and 16 year old girls in the hands of terrorists. And many of them are under the influence of drugs. So the chances that these poor girls are being abused and mistreated are very high, which means that our government has no excuse not to have done something about it. We are still waiting!

Obama has sent some Americans to Nigeria, and they are still in Abuja in the Hilton hotel enjoying themselves, having meetings with government officials. None of them are anywhere near the battleground of Boko Haram.

In other words what the international community is doing, the British, French, Americans – it is all just politics. And I think our government knows that. No one will help us get those girls out; we need to help ourselves.

Before the abduction of the 200 girls, Boko Haram had been abducting women, girls and young boys on a regular basis. So people should not just be talking about the 200 girls, but about the whole situation: these terrorists go into the villages and abduct the young boys, young girls, and wives as well.

Should Christians have the right to protect themselves?

Everyone has a right of self-defence, whether Christian or not. If you are being attacked you will defend yourself as much as possible.

But I do not want it to appear that everywhere in the world Muslims are armed and killing people. We also need to recognise that unfortunately very often, religion is used in this kind of situation. The Boko Haram claims to be doing all of this because of Islam, but the Islamic community in Nigeria, says ‘no, this is not the way Muslims believe.’

This is why the Nigerian army are fighting Boko Haram, not just to protect Christians, but to disarm Boko Haram. And in the army there are Christians and Muslims in the same unit.

Interviewer Wael Salibi

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