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Welby prays with Nigerian President for peace in north

06 June 2014


First-hand: some of the escaped kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls attend a meeting with the Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, in Maiduguri, on Monday 

First-hand: some of the escaped kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls attend a meeting with the Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, in ...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury paid a whistle-stop visit to Nigeria on Wednesday, to pray with the President, Goodluck Jonathan.

A statement from Lambeth Palace said that the Archbishop made the "last-minute" visit to "offer his heartfelt sympathy for the recent events affecting the country", including the recent bombings in Jos, and the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls last month (News, 2 May).

The Archbishop has previously condemned the kidnapping as an "atrocious and inexcusable act", and called for the schoolgirls to be released immediately, unharmed (News, 9 May).

On the Radio 4 programme Today on Friday, he described the "deep sense of unease" that he had encountered in Nigeria, "and the sense that the country is facing a very major crisis indeed."

The conflict in the north-east of Nigeria was "an extraordinarily difficult situation to get on top of", he warned:

"You've got to realise this is an area about the size of Scotland . . . of woods and forest and hills. . . The Boko Haram are a group of the utmost evil. The militants who are dealing out death right left and centre without hesitation and without mercy, concentrating a lot on Christian churches, but also attacking Muslims in the local population in vast numbers." 

A number of Anglican diocese had "essentially been scatted", he said, and bishops forced to leave their area. 

The "key thing" that people could do was to pray: "Prayer changes things. As a Christian I am deeply, deeply convinced of that."

On Saturday, an "emergency" conference for church leaders on the crisis in Nigeria is being held in London. Pastor Fred Williams, one of the organisers, said on Tuesday that Nigeria was "at war", and that the international community was only just realising it.

"It is shocking that all of a sudden they are now getting involved," Mr Williams, a film producer for Christian Concern, said on Tuesday. "What happened all these years? Why has there not been an outcry? Five hundred children were massacred not too far from Jos. . . I think we have been desensitised, as if those killed in certain areas do not deserve attention until certain people make a noise."

Mr Williams, who moved to Nigeria in 1985, and continues to minister to churches that have been attacked, believes that the international community has "misdiagnosed the global terror growing in Nigeria. "While being attacked in Jos [years ago], I remember hearing on the BBC and CNN that Christians and Muslims were fighting, but that was not the case. We were being attacked."

While he is pleased that bloggers have used social media to highlight the abduction of the schoolgirls last month (News, 2 May), Mr Williams points out that Boko Haram has "regularly kidnapped girls and abducted them for sex slaves".

Boko Haram has powerful support both within and outside Nigeria, Mr Williams says. "They have funding and support from within the Nigeria northern core leadership, as well as outside the country. That is very controversial. There are people who believe that Nigeria should be Islamised. It's very sensitive, but the earlier we start addressing this the better."

On Tuesday, the Nigerian military denied reports that ten generals had been charged with colluding with Boko Haram. Also speaking at Saturday's conference will be the team leader for Africa and the Middle East at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Dr Kataza Gondwe.

On Wednesday, she endorsed Mr Williams's assertion that Nigeria was at war. "Boko Haram are the visible problem at the moment, but it is the outcome of an enabling environment in which Christians have been marginlaised for decades," she said.

"There is a tendency to almost distort the news in these areas, particularly in terms of religious violence and freedom. Even this story [the kidnapping] is being distorted into an attack on the government, when questions should be asked about the government of the state, which allowed these [school] examinations to take place next to the forest where Boko Haram are known to hang out, without adequate protection."

She suggested that the tide may be turning against Boko Haram, which had been harboured by some communities: "The violence is so indiscriminate and horrific now that it has become almost mindless. It is actually possibly opening up a space in which religious violence and such issues can be discussed, and national unity might be able to become a reality above and beyond religious creed."

Reuters reports that attacks by Boko Haram have killed at least 500 civilians since the the abduction on 14 April. On Sunday, nine people were killed in an attack on a church in Attangara, in the Gwoza hills, in north-east Nigeria. Another 18 people were killed in the bombing of a bar in Mubi, in Adamawa state.

On Tuesday, Mr Williams said that the Church, not the government, held the key to tackling the problem.

"There is something more powerful than terrorism, and that is the love of God," he said. "Reaching out to love the victims and communities . . . and to invest in building back those communities, and confronting the ideology of hatred of radical Islam with love."

He praised the example of his missionary friend, who had "laid down his life" in Jos. After his death, his colleagues had gone into a Muslim community to build a computer centre, on the principle that "if we go and educate and love the younger ones coming up, there will be no foot-soldiers - it's a briliant strategy."

This week, the Sunday Times reported that a former director of the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, Canon Stephen Davis, had spent the past month working in Nigeria to help free the kidnapped schoolgirls.

Canon Davis, who worked alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury on reconciliation in Nigeria, told the newspaper: "There are severalgroups to deal with, as the girls are held in several camps. This makes any thought of a rescue highly improbable."

Collapse Fifteen people were killed when a building under construction by the Church of Nigeria collapsed on Tuesday. The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, reported that the four-storey building was to serve as classrooms for the primary school of St Christopher's, Odoakpu, in Onisha. The Vanguard newspaper reported that most of the 15 victims were labourers.

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