(AP Photo/Gbenga Akingbule)
Christians were not the target of the recent attacks by Islamist radicals in Nigeria, says one Catholic Bishop.
“As things stand, there is no report of Christians being killed or churches being attacked, but religious leaders have called on the government to protect law-abiding citizens and religious structures," Bishop Emmanuel Badejo in Nigeria said.
Badejo, who is chairman of the Social Communications Commission of the Nigerian bishops' conference, stated in an e-mail to CISA news agency late Monday that there was anxiety that violence could spread out to other areas and spiral into confrontations between religions, but the government had given assurance that the situation was under control.
President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua said on Tuesday that authorities had contained violence in the northern states of Yobe and Bauchi.
“I have just finished meeting with all the service chiefs on this issue ... I assure you that the situation has been brought under control,” Yar'Adua was quoted as saying by Reuters.
Fighting broke out on Sunday after police arrested several leaders of a group seeking to establish sharia, or Islamic law. The group, known as Boko Haram, which means "Western education is prohibited" in the local Hausa dialect, has called for a nationwide enforcement of sharia.
The violence spread on Monday to the states of Borno, Kano and Yobe. Despite Badejo's assurance that Christians were not targeted, human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide said it received confirmation that a pastor from the Church of Christ in Nigeria was killed and at least five church buildings were destroyed.
Nigerian authorities have confirmed the deaths of 55 people in Bauchi and Yobe. But a journalist with local newspaper Compass reported that he has seen more than 100 dead bodies. Reuters news agency reported 103 people killed in the past two days in the northern city of Maiduguri alone.
The Catholic news agency said some 3,000 people have been displaced as they fled their homes to seek refuge in military barracks and hospitals.
Shettima Mustafa, Nigeria's interior minister said, “These [Boko Haram] people are well-educated; they ride jeeps, they watch tv, they talk on mobile phones.
“But they preach to their followers not to go to school and this is really surprising and I cannot understand,” he was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.
Founded in 2004, Boko Haram group is against Western education, and is believed to have links with terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. But there is no history of al-Qaeda-linked violence in the country.
Sharia law is in place across northern Nigeria covering 12 out of 36 states.
Nigeria's 150 million people are split almost equally between Muslims and Christians and the two groups generally live peacefully side by side, despite occasional outbreaks of communal violence.