Death Toll from Attack on Nigerian Catholic Church Rises to 53

Islamist Group Boko Haram Suspected

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At least 53 people were killed on Sunday, 26 January, when a terrorist group attacked a church in Nigeria as Mass was being celebrated, while more than one hundred people were killed in another village the same day.

The attack against the church took place in the Waga Chakawa village in Adamawa State. Both attacks are believed to be the work of Boko Haram.

The terrorists threw explosive devices into the church while blocking the exits. Those who tried to escape were either shot or attacked with machetes.

In the nearby village of Kawuri in Borno, some 300 houses were burned down the same day.

The death toll between the two attacks is put at 138 people.

Dr. Eugene Ohu is a lecturer of Management Communication at the Lagos Business School in Nigeria. Ohu spoke with ZENIT Jan. 30 about this most recent wave of attacks in the war-torn nation.

ZENIT: Could you give some background to the events leading up to this latest spate of attacks?

Ohu: I am afraid that any background to the current Nigerian situation cannot be brief, because it is complex. For starters let us recall that Boko Haram means No to western education, and is supposedly a group of extremist Muslims. An initial point I will like to make here (and I hope the foreign press will pay attention) is that Boko Haram is neither religious in origin, motivation nor sustenance. It is politics, pure and simple. Anyone who fails to understand this, fails to understand the motivation for much of the worlds problems, and of course refuses to understand Nigeria.

Nigeria is a complex country. Geographically it is divided into different groups, which for the sake of simplicity can be, Fulani/Hausa north; Yoruba west, Ibo east, with hundreds of minority groups (President Jonathan for example comes from the Ijaw tribe, that can hardly be called a minority group seeing how these riverine people span across several West African countries along the coast); religiously, it is divided into pagan groups, Christians (of varying denominations) and Muslims. Nigeria runs a federal constitutional republic with headquarters at Abuja, located in the geographic middle. Much of the countrys wealth comes from petroleum, the bulk of which is located in the south-eastern part of the country, peopled by hundreds of minority tribes. Whoever is president of this centralized government has a lot of political power because he gets to decide to a great extent the distribution of national resources.

Whenever any geographic zone loses power in the centre they have always tried to explore various tools of balancing out this power, even if it meant destabilizing the entire country. During the tenure of Christian president Obasanjo for instance, many states in the north clamoured for the introduction of Sharia law, which would make them independent of the secular legal code of the rest of the country. During the last presidential elections, as it became clear the northern (Muslim) candidate was losing, he threatened that he would make the country ungovernable should he lose. He lost, violence ensued as promised but he still walks a free man.

None of the highly coordinated, well-funded and targeted actions of Boko Haram can be considered random. Boko Haram did not begin as a religious group but rather an offshoot of political thugs local politicians used for their own inter and intra party fights. When their political uses were exhausted, these became thugs for hire.

There are now variants of Boko Haram: the ones who simply go to villages to kill, steal and rape, and the ones who go with more sophisticated weapons: guns and bombs to kill, destroy but without stealing anything.

ZENIT: What impact are these attacks having on the Christian communities in the region?

Ohu: There is fear among all the citizens of the states under attack, Christians and Muslims. There is the constant anxiety of not knowing from where or when the next attack will come. There is also a growing distrust since old neighbours are transforming overnight into foes.

In my view, the Christian communities are coping quite well and their resilience and courage put me to shame, because in the face of constant dangers they continue to practice their faith.

We should keep in mind though that the attacks are not restricted to Christians. Muslims are also targeted. Adamawa State for example, the location of one of last weeks attacks has an equal mix of Christians and Muslims living in harmony over many decades. The state governor is Christian. This is not to deny that Christians are often singled out, but perhaps this is also due to Boko Haram finding easy foot soldiers among religious extremists, as well as playing into the public relations confusion that many western press buy into so easily.

The Catholic bishops of Nigeria, especially those in the north have also played important leadership roles, calling for forgiveness and tolerance.

ZENIT: How can the international community help those suffering as a result of the violence?

Ohu: Entire villages are destroyed in many of these attacks leaving thousands homeless. The resources of many neighbouring states are stretched because of new refugees. There is need for humanitarian aid, which should be channelled through credible organizations such as the Red Cross and Caritas, to ensure they reach intended beneficiaries.

The international community can play another much more vital role a political one. The Nigerian government know those behind Boko Haram and behind these attacks. Less than two years ago, President Jonathan publicly admitted that the perpetrators and their sponsors exist within his government and within the legislative bodies. In this light is it not curious that nothing has been done to bring them to book? The world can lean a bit more on the government to exercise the required political will to arrest the perpetrators, who unfortunately are all local.

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Ann Schneible

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