Boko Haram and Religious Minorities in Northern Nigeria
This suicide attack has occurred just a day after the representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria met with President Goodluck Jonathan drawing his attention to the fate and problems of christian minorities in Northern Nigeria. But will this make any difference in the way the Federal Government is handing the violent campaign of this militant group? I do not think so.
In April, an attack on Christian worshippers at a university theatre in Kano left at least 15 people dead, including university professors, and many more injured. Similar attacks have been carried out on churches in Niger, Abuja, Plateau, and more. It is important to underscore the dangerous possibilities of attacks on religious minorities in Northern Nigeria. First of all, the implications for inter-religious relations are enormous. Both Christianity and Islam are dominant faiths in the country and exist as majorities and minorities in different states. Nigeria cannot afford a religious war, particularly at a time mostly western nations are pitched in ‘battle’ against Islamic terrorists with connections in Arab and Middle East countries. Even without a war, Nigeria is divided into an Islamic North and a Christian South. Since independence, attempts to steer the state away from religion, erect a wall separating church/mosque and state, and guarantee equal rights of Nigerians of all faiths and none anywhere in the country, have yielded limited results. Following a return to democratic rule in 1999, the Muslim majority states in Northern Nigeria adopted sharia law as state law.
Internationally, Nigeria, with its Christian-dominated South and Muslim-dominated North, risks being turned into a battle front for the war on terror or jihad as the case may be. With the recent kidnapping and killing of European nationals by groups and militants linked to al-Qeada Northern Nigeria, this painful and gory reality stares Nigeria in the face.
Attacks on Christians and Christian worship centers in Northern Nigeria did not start today, did they? In fact jihadist campaigning by Islamic militants predates the creation of Nigeria and of Nigeria’s independence. When Uthman Dan Fodio launched his jihad in 1804, has it anything to do with poverty or piety? Did his jihad bring wealth and prosperity to what was later to become Northern Nigeria? What about the attacks by the maitatsine sect and of other Islamist groups? They also had nothing to do with religion? What has poverty to do with Islamic militants throwing bombs at christian worshippers in Kano and slaughtering innocent citizens? What has marginalization got to do with bombing of churches in Jos, Abuja, Niger, or Bauchi? If there is one thing that is clear in the attacks and killings going on in different parts of Northern Nigeria, it is the sworn mission of Boko Haram to impose sharia law and turn Nigeria into an Islamic state by force. We should take them at their word and not label them ‘heroes’ and champions of justice and development for Northern Nigeria. We should take measures to forestall the breakdown of peace and harmony among adherents of different faiths and none. We should strive to rebuild trust and to defend the rights of religious minorities to exist and practice their faiths or beliefs anywhere in the country.
June 3, 2012