Nigerian bishops rebuke weak response to attacks on Christians

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Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria. Credit: ACN.

Gunmen killed at least 21 people at two separate Christian religious services in Nigeria, drawing condemnation from the country’s bishops who rebuked the government’s weak response to threats from violent Islamist groups.

“This horrific attack really defies all logic,” said Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, who serves as president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria.

He told Vatican Radio that people are in “a state of shock” and they wonder when the violence will stop.

Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja added that the government is too divided to “muster the political will” to respond.

“At first we were ready to be patient with the government when it was saying that this kind of Islamic terrorism is new,” he told Aid to the Church in Need. “They have had adequate time to learn how to deal with this situation.”

“It has become clear that we have a weak government that has put together a whole lot of compromises that means that the action that should be taking place is not taking place.”

Gunmen attacked Sunday services at Bayero University in the northern city of Kano. They killed at least 16 and wounded at least 22 others. The attackers threw small explosives made out of soda cans around the campus’ old theater and lecture halls, then shot those trying to escape.

Elsewhere, in the northeast city of Maiduguri, gunmen opened fire on a chapel of the Church of Christ in Nigeria. The attack killed five, including the pastor, the Associated Press reported.

The killings caused intense reaction from the Vatican, where Holy See Press Office head Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J. called them “horrific” and “despicable.”

The attacks were similar to others perpetrated by Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect which has killed at least 450 people in 2012. The group’s January attacks killed 185 people at government buildings and other places in Kano. On April 26 it car bombed the Abuja offices of the newspaper ThisDay, killing seven.

On Christmas Day 2011, the group killed 44 people in a suicide bombing that targeted St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Madalla, outside the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

Archbishop Kaigama said that the government response has been ineffective.

“The government is not able to cope with the security situation and we feel quite apprehensive as a result,” he said. “Why the government cannot identify the people involved baffles the imagination. We pay tax money and we have a right to know what is being done about the problem.”

The archbishop lamented the attack on the university, saying the young people killed “represented the hope of our country. It defies all logic. They were people trying to build a better country.”

In March a Boko Haram spokesman said that the group has declared a “war on Christians” with the intention of “eradicating’ them from parts of Nigeria.

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