Nigerian Christians threaten anti-Muslim reprisals

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria’s main Christian body has said it may no longer be able to contain Christians from retaliating after Muslim rioters killed dozens of Christians and torched churches.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which says 50 people died in anti-Christian rioting in the northern city of Maiduguri at the weekend, described the violence as part of a Muslim plan to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state.

Rioting also broke out in two other predominantly Muslim northern cities in the past days. In Katsina, the Red Cross said seven people were killed, while in Bauchi a Reuters eyewitness saw 10 dead bodies on the streets and several burnt churches.

“May we at this stage remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation,” Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola said in a statement.

“CAN may no longer be able to contain our restive youths should this ugly trend continue,” said Akinola, who heads CAN.

Nigeria’s 140 million people are split about equally between Muslims in the north and Christians in the south, although sizeable religious minorities live in most cities.

Sectarian fighting is often stoked by politicians seeking to bolster their own power bases, while violence in one part of the country often sparks reprisal killings elsewhere.

Religious violence has killed thousands since 12 northern states introduced Islamic law in 2000, alienating Christians.

“The willingness of Muslim youth to descend with violence on innocent Christians from time to time is … a design to actualise their dream (of an Islamic Nigeria),” said Akinola.


The triggers of the violence in the three northern cities were different. In Bauchi it was sparked by an argument over the Koran while in Maiduguri it started with protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad and in Katsina it was about a planned public hearing on constitutional reform.

But some religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian, said the underlying cause was uncertainty over the political future — specifically, a rumoured ambition by President Olusegun Obasanjo to stand for a third term in 2007.

There is strong feeling against a third term across the north because many northerners feel the presidency should go to one of them in 2007 after eight years of Obasanjo, a Christian from the south.

Obasanjo says he will uphold the constitution, which allows a president to stay in office for two terms. But some of his supporters want a constitutional amendment that would allow him to stay on. He has not commented on that scenario.

Another factor contributing to heightened religious tension is a national census scheduled for late March. Organisers have said religion would not be included in the census questionnaire, prompting boycott threats from Muslim and Christian groups eager to assert numerical superiority.

“Christians in Nigeria agreed to participate in the forthcoming national census as sacrifice for the peace and progress of this nation, in spite of our protest over the non-inclusion of religion and ethnicity,” Akinola said.

He said such sacrifices by Christians should not be “misunderstood to be weakness”.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Reuters, UK
Feb. 21, 2006
Estelle Shirbon

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday February 22, 2006.
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