|Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria: The majority of the nation lives in peace and cooperation.|
The nation of Nigeria is struggling to resist religious polarization in the face of continued violent attacks by the Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram terrorist organization Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, told a Washington, D.D. audience Sept. 14. The archbishop was addressing a discussion panel at the “International Religious Freedom: An Imperative for Peace and Common Good” symposium held at Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C. this week,
The event was hosted by the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies and co-sponsored by the several institutions, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). USCCB chairman Cardinal Timothy Dolan addressed the symposium earlier in the week.
Archbishop Onaiyekan spoke on the violence currently besieging the nation at the hands of the extremist group, Boko Haram. The terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for many of the anti-Christian attacks in Nigeria. The archbishop explained that what makes Boko Haram different from other violent organizations in the region is that they are “unusually virulent in its attacks, including the use of suicide terrorist tactics”, and that they also claim to act “in the name of God, deliberately targeting Christians and their institutions presumably for the promotion of Islam.”
“Although the members are few and constitute a small minority within the Nigerian Muslim community, they are a real danger to the entire Nigerian community because they are fanatics, with warped logic and twisted minds,” he said.
“They have almost succeeded in polarizing our nation along religious lines, hitting at our fragile harmony built over many years of patient efforts and trying to make us enemies of one another. They have definitely succeeded in giving us the bad name of a nation that is unstable and unsafe, where Christians are being persecuted and indiscriminately killed with impunity by freely rampaging Muslim terrorists.”
Despite the violence inflicted by Boko Haram, the Nigerian prelate assured that religious freedom still remains a principal tenet of the Nigerian government. The archbishop also noted that Nigeria still remains “the greatest Islamo-Christian nation in the world” adding that there is “no other nation with so many Christians living with so many Muslims in the same nation, in mutual equality and respect."
However, he acknowledged, the sometimes sporadic violent clashes that have occurred overshadow the fact that the majority of the nation lives in relative peace and harmony. “Apart from Fridays and Sundays, when we go our different ways for weekly worship, we live most of our lives as citizens of the same nation, living and struggling to live under the same socio-economic conditions and sometimes members of the same family. One only needs to visit any government office, market or business premise to appreciate this fact,” he said.
Archbishop Onaiyekam expressed hope that fanatical groups, such as Boko Haram, can and will be contained in the future, saying that so far, there is a sense of normalcy returning to the African nation. He also added that the Nigerian government is finally taking a united stand against the terrorist group.
The archbishop of Abuja did lament the slow response of the major Christian/Muslim organization, the Nigerian Interreligious Council (NIREC), mainly due to what the prelate described as a “charged atmosphere of religious tension. However, that does not mean that religious groups in the region have not been inactive in taking a united stand against fanaticism."
“Individual religious leaders, women, and youth groups have been reaching out to one another to say 'no' to religious polarization. For example, with a group of Muslim and Christian leaders in Abuja, we have set up an 'Abuja Interfaith Peacebuilding Forum'”, he said.
Archbishop Onaiyekam concluded the panel discussion thanking the organizers for the opportunity to give testimony. Although dismayed by the lack of a united front among Christians in the region in addressing the violence caused by the fanatical terrorist group, the Nigerian prelate was consoled by the solidarity shown through the Catholic Church, through the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Nigeria (CBCN). “My wish, request and prayer is that the USCCB and the Christ’s faithful of the United States of America will continue to journey with us as we work with all our fellow Nigerians in building a great nation 'under God,' where justice, peace and solidarity reigns,” he said.