A leading Catholic bishop in Nigeria denounced the terrorist attacks over Christmas and criticized media reports that depict the ongoing violence as a civil war between Muslims and Christians.
Archbishop John Olurunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja denounced Boko Haram, an radical Islamist group, as “terrorists who cause problems for anyone in Nigeria who stands in their way.”
“They claim to act in the name of Islam, but the killing of innocents is contradictory to Islam,” he told Aid to the Church in Need on Dec. 30.
His comments followed five separate bomb attacks across Nigeria on Christmas Day, one of which targeted a crowd leaving Mass at a Catholic church. The attacks killed at least 40 people and were accompanied by clashes between the Nigerian military and Boko Haram, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.
More than 50 people died in Nigeria’s southeastern Ebonyi state in a New Year’s eve clash between the Ezza and Ezilo ethnic groups. Aid to the Church in Need said the conflict was a land dispute, though some reports have described it as a religious conflict.
Archbishop Onaiyekan said that eight imams from mosques in Abuja visited the archbishop after the attacks to express their condolences. He said he had also received many letters of sympathy from Muslims.
“Christians and Muslims go to school, to the market and to work together, and they serve together in the army. The places where they live now are where they grew up,” the archbishop said.
A purported spokesman for Boko Haram gave a three-day ultimatum for Christians to leave the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria on Jan. 2. He also asked Muslims living in the mainly Christian south to move north.
The archbishop rejected the idea as one that would plunge the country into a deeper crisis.
“One cannot suddenly resettle all the Muslims in the north and all the Christians in the south and divide up the country,” he said.
Some media reports said that Nigerian Christians are arming themselves after the attacks. Archbishop Onaiyekan called on all believers to refrain from violence.
“Jesus Christ would not want us to retaliate,” he said.
The archbishop said it was equally wrong for the media to present Christians as either helpless or as “being prepared to defend themselves with armed force,” as some reports have suggested.
Archbishop Onaiyekan concluded his remarks by asking Christians throughout the world to pray for peace in Nigeria.