IBADAN, Nigeria (ABP) – The head of the Nigerian Baptist Convention said July 13 that the government is losing credibility over its inability to control a militant Islamic group responsible for bombings of public buildings including police stations and Christian churches.
Olasupo Ayokunle, general secretary of the 2.5-million-member Baptist body, said the federal government has shown so far it is not on top of the menace posed by a violent sect called Boko Haram that is seeking to impose Sharia law in Nigeria’s northern states.
Addressing journalists on "The Nigerian Baptist Convention's position on some burning national issues,” Ayokunle said if members of the Islamic group — which translated from the local Hausa language means “Western or non-Islamic education is a sin” — are opposed to Western education, they should educate their children in Muslim schools, not attack innocent civilians.
"If it is religion that has drawn them to that extreme, such a religious belief must be seen as undesirable in this country, because in Nigeria, we value peace and human life,” Ayokunle said. “No one has the power to create human soul yet, and none has power to terminate."
Ayokunle said Nigeria has no official religion and no area is marked for a particular religion, so all citizens ought to be permitted to live peacefully in any part of the country without fear or favor.
Boko Haram’s official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad. In Arabic it means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad.” The group formed in 2002 but didn’t become known internationally until violent clashes with police began in 2009.
The group claimed responsibility for last year’s Christmas Eve attack on Victory Baptist Church in Maiduguri, the capital and largest city in the Borno State in northwestern Nigeria, in which the pastor was dragged from his church and shot to death and two choir members rehearsing for a late-night carol service were hacked to death inside the church.
In January Neville Callam, head of the Baptist World Alliance, called on Nigeria’s president to “take all necessary measures” to ensure protection of the nation’s citizens.
Despite assurances by security chiefs that they are being held in check, suspected members of Boko Haram bombed four areas of Maiduguri July 12, killing at least 50 people. Authorities believe the attacks were in retaliation for a weekend clash with government forces that killed 11 Boko Haram adherents.
Nigeria is home to Africa’s largest Baptist community. The country is 50 percent Muslim, 40 percent Christian and 10 percent indigenous beliefs but largely segregation by region. Sectarian violence in recent years has been mostly in border areas between the Muslim-dominated north and predominantly Christian south.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.