If they were Jews, the international community would call for urgent UN action. But the more than 40 Nigerians killed on Christmas Day were not Jews; they were Christians. The response, therefore has been muted, as leaders of the developed world, including US President Obama and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, wring their hands and express their sympathy with the victims’ families.
Yet the religious cleansing in Nigeria has been appalling: a blast outside a church in the capital, Abuja, took 35 lives; in Jos and Damaturu, five more Christians were killed. The Islamist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the latest chapter of their anti-Christian campaign.
President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, urged Nigerians to “stand as one” in condemning the religious cleansing.
The priest at St Theresa Catholic Church inAbuja, Rev. Father, Isaac Achi, gave an eye-witness account:
“I left here as early as 6am to go for mass, the Eucharistic Celebration in one of our outstations.
“And at the close of the mass, I was informed that an ugly incident happened and probably they are suspecting it to be in my church. I rushed down.
“Meanwhile, as I was going, I left my Assistant, in the person of Father Christopher Barde Jatau, to officiate in the Eucharistic celebration.
“I came in only to discover that the whole place has become a carnival of people coming to see the ugly issue that happened.
“And as you can see, this ugly situation happened probably when the mass was about to close; it was not when people were coming in.
“The people probably left earlier. Personally, I am suspecting them to be those who are still travelling because we used to have early mass on a day like this so that people can come and have the mass before they can continue with their journey. But they came only for them to meet the end of their lives just at the entrance of the church.
“When I returned to meet my Assistant, he was nowhere to be found. Later, I was made to understand that he took some people to hospitals and I waited for him. On his arrival, he told me how the thing happened and how he felt. Definitely, as a human being, it is not easy.
“I felt this issue is becoming so alarming, with churches now the targets. And coming to meet people who have come to pray and ask for God’s blessing for their dear country, I stand to say ‘no’ to such a thing and even a repeat of it.
“You can see so many families gone; the whole households gone. Look at the two vehicles parked in front there (pointing). The first one had five people, the one following it had a family of three and this one at the back (now directly in front of the church) as a result of the explosions, had a family of four.
“I know that the Catholic members were the ones affected. These were Christians who came to pray, especially on this day that we celebrate nativity and the death of Jesus Christ.
“Also, cyclists (Okada riders) who came for their daily bread were victims. And probably some passers-by.
“So, this is all I can say, but I still want to call on the Federal Government to address this issue of security. We need to do something and not to allow it to continue. And all those engaging themselves in doing such havoc should please repent. They should stop it for the good of Nigeria.”
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden”, wants the imposition of Sharia law. The group carried out an August 2011 suicide attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja, in which more than 20 people were killed. It was also behind the bomb blasts in Jos in Christmas 2010 that claimed more than 30 Christians’ lives.
Nigeria’s desperate situation has been flagged up by Lord Alton, an independent member of the House of Lords and co-founder of the human-rights group Jubilee Campaign. The Catholic peer has been speaking out on behalf of Nigerian Christians since 2004; earlier this month he urged Britain’s government to take action against the persecution of Christians which is spreading throughout the Middle East as well as in many parts of Africa: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.