ABUJA, Nigeria, DEC. 2, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Fighting in the wake of elections has left 200 dead and 10,000 refugees in Northern Nigeria, but religion is not to blame, says Archbishop John Onaiyekan.
The archbishop of Abuja, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, affirmed this in a statement to the Fides agency Monday.
He denounced the violence against both Christians and Muslims in Jos, the capital of the state of Plateau. “Once again, lives and properties have been destroyed, causing great avoidable damage and misery to many families and communities,” he said. “Of particularly grave concern is the targeting of places of worship.”
“In the name of the Christian Association of Nigeria,” he continued, “I offer my sincere sympathies to all who have lost people and properties in this unfortunate incident. We pray especially for the souls of those who have died.”
The prelate expressed concern for “the spiritual damage caused to our efforts at mutual good relationships across lines of ethnic, political and religious differences.” He recognized the historical efforts made by political and religious leaders toward peace, and pointed out that the “recent events might compromise or at least slacken these laudable efforts.”
He added, “This risk must be avoided by all means.”
Archbishop Onaiyekan, currently in Rome, appealed to the Nigerian government to “intensify efforts to re-establish peace and tranquillity in the state,” promising the prayers of Nigerian Christians for this end.
The archbishop stressed the necessity for the government to protect its citizens, and to investigate perpetrators of these events. He asserted: “The state ought to be in a position to fish out the real and often faceless planners, promoters and sponsors of these incidents, and hold them accountable, no matter who they may be.
“Killing of people is murder, and destruction of property, even of churches and mosques, is arson. These must be treated as the crime that they are, with the full weight of the law.”
The prelate highlighted the “political dimension to this incident,” lamenting that “there are those who try to gain political mileage by dragging in religion, which they callously manipulate, use, misuse and abuse.”
He continued: “This is all the more reason why all genuine religious leaders must join hands to liberate religion from those who seek to highjack it, and give it a bad name.
“Even from here in Rome, I am in touch with the sultan of Sokoto, Muhamad Sa’ad Abubakar, the president of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, as we seek to jointly promote messages of peace. […] We shall not allow anything to distract us from this important service for our nation.”