Days after the Jihadist group Boko Haram warned Christians in Nigeria to leave the Muslim-majority north or face death amid continual killing of Christians, an influential community leader from the Christian-majority south has urged his people to defend themselves rather than flee.
The continued attacks on churches and Christians in the north “aptly confirmed what we have been saying, that Christians should defend themselves,” Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told reporters Saturday.
“It has become obvious that the nation’s security agencies are either overwhelmed by the terrorists or the hoodlums have infiltrated their ranks and therefore lack the capacity to do their duty of protecting lives and property of innocent Nigerians,” Oritsejafor, senior pastor of Word of Life Bible Church, added.
Christians were targeted in a wave of attacks, killing at least 29 people over Friday evening and Saturday morning. On Friday night, gunmen with their faces covered with black cloth attacked Apostolic Church in Yola, the capital of Adamawa state, killing eight Christians. They also killed three people at a nearby beauty salon. The latest attacks follow multiple bombings aimed at Christians, including a Christmas day attack that left 37 people dead and 57 wounded.
“I will not subscribe to the notion that Christians should quit the North because of the ceaseless attacks,” local newspaper Vanguard quoted Oritsejafor as saying. “Rather I will urge them to be vigilant and be prepared at all times to defend themselves, their family members and their churches, including their businesses with whatever is available to them.”
CAN is an umbrella organization containing numerous Christian denominations in Nigeria.
Boko Haram, which is believed to be linked to al-Qaida, has increased its attacks against Christians over recent months in the hope of driving them out of the north to create a completely Muslim region. The group killed more than 500 people, mostly Christian, in 2011, although the group has also attacked public locations and state-run bodies such as police stations.
“Nigeria’s future is very bright but the devil is only trying to hinder and prevent our progress,” said Pastor Enock Adeboye of Redeemed Christian Church of God.
On Friday, Oritsejafor said Boko Haram’s ultimatum to the Christians in northern parts to leave was like a “joke.”
“We have information that they have started killing our people in Damaturu, yet I want to say that the threat that Christians must leave the north is a joke. It is definitely a joke because it is not going to happen,” he was quoted as saying. “Nigeria belongs to everybody and no group or persons have the right or the legitimacy to stand up and say that one group cannot stay in this part or the other.”
He added that God would stay in control of the situation. However, there were concerns that his call for self-defense should not be interpreted as a call for retaliation.