Nigeria: Christians are angry and fearful following Christmas Day bombs

Christians set upon self-defence, following inadequate response by Nigeria's government to Islamist terror.

At least four bomb blasts rocked Nigeria, the most populous country on the African continent, killing more than 40 people on December 25. A bomb that detonated near a Catholic church in Madalla, Suleja, in Niger State on Christmas morning killed at least 15 people according to local reports, while residents rushed to provide aid to the stricken. In one case, an entire family was incinerated by the blast that detonated next to their car. The bomb at Madalla left a crater approximately three feet deep, a testimony to the severity of the blast.

Chaos ensued following another blast at an evangelical Christian church in the city of Jos, which has seen numerous murderous attacks by the Islamist Boko Haram terrorist organization. A spokesman for Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Christmas Day. Outraged Nigerians demanded justice and an adequate response to the attacks.
 
Residents in northeastern Yobe state's town of Gadaka said a blast also struck a church there during Christmas services. Also in Yobe state, police in the state capital Damaturu said a car exploded.

Christians were outraged by the attacks, and some went into the street to rage against the Islamist sect. Police fired into the air to disperse crowds as ambulances attempted to reach those injured by the blast near the city of Abuja. Emergency personnel and available ambulances were hard-pressed to respond adequately to the carnage. Nigeria, with a population of approximately 150 million, is divided into the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south.

At least four bomb blasts rocked Nigeria, the most populous country on the African continent, killing more than 40 people on December 25. A bomb that detonated near a Catholic church in Madallas, Suleja, in Niger State on Christmas morning killed at least 15 people according to local reports, while residents rushed to provide aid to the stricken. In one case, an entire family was killed by the blast that detonated next to their car. Chaos ensued following another blast at an evangelical Christian church in the city of Jos, which has seen numerous murderous attacks by the Islamist Boko Haram terrorist organization. A spokesman for Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Christmas Day.

Residents in northeastern Yobe state's town of Gadaka said a blast also struck a church there Christmas services. Also in Yobe state, police in the state capital Damaturu says a car exploded.

Christians were outraged by the attacks, and some went into the street to rage against the Islamist sect. Police fired into the air to disperse crowds as ambulances attempted to reach those injured by the blast near the city of Abuja. Emergency personnel and available ambulances were hard-pressed to respond adequately to the carnage. Nigeria, with a population of approximately 150 million, is divided into the mainly Muslim north and the largely Christian south.

At Madalla, near Abuja, emergency officials initially said the blast happened  within the sanctuary of St. Theresa Catholic church, but later said it occurred near it, with the impact felt inside the church, which was also damaged. The area was cordoned off and journalists could not gain access to the church. Authorities told media that three ambulances were carrying at least 15 corpses.  It is not known how many people were in the church at the time of the blast, which occurred as the congregation gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. A similar string of bombings occurred in the city of Jos on Christmas Eve 2010 for which Boko Haram claimed responsibility. Last year’s carnage resulted in a military crackdown and armed clashes between authorities and Boko Haram. The group’s name means “Western civilization is anti-Islamic.” In recent days, other such bombings rocked Nigeria.

Reports say that three police officers were killed by the blast at Madalla.One of them had seen a man on a motorcycle drop a bag in front of the church. When the officer went to inspect it, a bomb detonated that killed him and the other victims. St. Theresa’s Church is heavily damaged, also, as a result. Local hospitals are still attempting to tally the wounded.

Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika told local media that the Nigerian military killed 59 members of the Boko Haram armed sect during December 22-23 clashes in the northeastern city of Damaturu.  Reports contend that the butcher’s bill for all sides — authorities, Boko Haram and innocent  civilians — could be as high as 100 for these pre-Christmas clashes. A purported spokesman for Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the initial violence in the three northeastern cities, saying they were revenge for a brutal military assault against the sect in 2009. Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the August 2011 suicide bombing of UN headquarters in Abuja that killed at least 24 people. There have been a number of attacks in Suleija area, also outside Abuja. Last year at Christmas time, 38 people were killed in bomb attacks in the  city of Jos. Boko Haram is demanding that Muslim religious law should be applied universally in Nigeria, and that democracy and the secular constitution should be abrogated.
 
A Vatican spokesman condemned the attacks as acts of "blind hatred" aimed to cause further division and strife in the oil-rich nation. The British foreign minister seconded the Vatican statement. Boko Haram has been linked to Al-Qaeda, which was led by fallen terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden. Pope Benedict XVI dedicated part of his Christmas Day sermon to deplore the violence in Nigeria.
 
Efforts to conciliate a truce between Nigeria’s democratically elected government and the Islamist terrorists were unsuccessful this year. Family reunions and religious celebrations were cancelled or dampened because of the still fresh memories of last year’s attacks. President Goodluck Jonathan deplored today’s bombings saying that there is “no reason” for this “ugly incident.” He added, in a statement, “This is one of the challenges of this administration. This will not be for ever it will end one day.” Shehu Sani,  president of Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, said "The only option is dialogue.”
 
Speaking for Muslims, the Sultan of Sokoto Muhammadu Sa'ad Abubakar said after meeting President Goodluck Johnson that the bombing is no evidence of a conflict between Muslims and Christians or between Islam and Christianity.  This came despite the fact that this is the second year of Christmas Day bombings of Christian churches.  The Muslim Congress (TMC) in a statement condemned the bomb attacks, saying these endemic killings can best be described as inhuman, wicked, condemnable and totally unacceptable in civilized societies.
 
"What is going on is a conflict between evil people and good people," Sultan Abubakar said after the meeting at the presidential residence. "The good people are more than the evil ones. So the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones and that is the message." The Sultan added, "We want to assure our brother Christians and Christian leaders to stand on the part of truth according to our religion and continue to work for the greatness of this country."

Nigerian Christians released a statement following the bombing that expressed fears that the Christmas Day attacks may augur further persecution by Islamists. The warning was made in a statement by the  Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella organization comprising various denominations including Catholics, Protestant and Pentecostal churches.
 
Saidu Dogo, CAN secretary general for Nigeria's 19 northern provinces called on Muslim leaders to control their faithful, saying Christians will be forced to defend themselves against further attacks. "We fear that the situation may degenerate to a religious war and Nigeria may not be able to survive one. Once again, 'enough is enough!'," Dogo said. "We shall henceforth in the midst of these provocations and wanton destruction of innocent lives and property be compelled to make our own efforts and arrangements to protect the lives of innocent Christians and peace-loving citizens of this country," Dogo said. The CAN said in its statement that it was concerned that the perpetrators and their sponsors "are well-known to government and no serious or decisive actions have been taken to stem their nefarious activities."
 
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has come under pressure to do more to fight the growing security threat which risks derailing economic gains in the OPEC member and Africa's top oil-producing nation. Attacks on churches increase the likelihood of further instability in the country.  Nigeria's main opposition leader, Muhammadu Buhari - a Muslim northerner and former military ruler who lost a presidential bid this year to Jonathan - has accused the government of incompetence and indifference to the bombings.
 



Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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