THE recent violence against Christians in Nigeria was carried out by a Muslim extremist minority, the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Nicholas Okoh, said this week.
Archbishop Okoh was speaking at a meeting in the House of Lords on Tuesday evening. It was chaired by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Justin Welby, who visited Nigeria in January after bombings in the northern city of Kano (News, 27 January).
Archbishop Okoh described Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has carried out recent attacks including a wave of bombings on churches on Christmas Day (News, 30 December), as “a sect that has broken loose from control”. He said: “It is possible that among the Muslims there are those who sympathise with Boko Haram, some who even fund it, but those are not the mainstream of Islam. Mainstream Islam is as baffled and confused as any person in Nigeria.”
Muslim leaders have condemned the bombings, Archbishop Okoh said, “but we said that they had to do more, by bringing Boko Haram under control”. He said, however, that “the chairman of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Nigeria” had told him that “Boko Haram is not under his control, and, if they had their way, they would hurt him.”
Archbishop Okoh said that Boko Haram “wants the Islamisation of Nigeria”. He said that it was “not unlikely” that political opponents of the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, “are using Boko Haram to achieve a purpose”.
Archbishop Okoh insisted that Christians in Nigeria had “never initiated hostility. . . The Church in Nigeria has never taken up arms to kill anybody. . . As a co-ordinated effort in response to what these people are doing, it [violence] has never happened.”
Archbishop Okoh said that he, with other members of the Christian Association of Nigeria, had met President Jonathan, who had “pleaded for more time” to deal with the situation. “The President said the Government is making progress, some arrests have been made. His pledge was to preserve Nigeria as one country. To dash headlong into any approach that would destroy the country is not in the interests of Nigeria.”
Archbishop Okoh said that he had also met the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who “promised to take up the matter one way or another”.
Archbishop Okoh said that Christians face checks for bombs and guns when they attend church. “Many people are very uncomfortable with this; they find it difficult to go to church because they don’t know whether to subject themselves to this harassment.”
At the end of the meeting, Bishop Welby asked those present to observe two minutes’ silence for those who have died in the recent attacks in Nigeria.