- (Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
Upset with inaction from President Goodluck Jonathan, Christian groups in Nigeria have vowed to defend themselves following Christmas Day attacks that left more than 50 people dead. The horrific bombings were carried out by Islamist terror sect Boko Haram on churches throughout the country despite warnings from Christian groups in the lead up to Christmas.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) issued a statement this week calling for Christians to defend themselves from Boko Haram attacks, suggesting that Nigeria already finds itself in war.
“The Christian community is fast losing confidence in government’s ability to protect our rights to religious liberties and life,” the statement read. “The consensus is that the Christian community nationwide would be left with no other option than to respond appropriately if there are any further attacks on our members, churches and properties.”
“It is considered as a declaration of war on Christians and Nigeria as an entity,” the statement said.
At least 50 people were killed in four separate attacks throughout the country on Christmas Day – including a suicide bombing where a Boko Haram militant drove a truck of explosives into a church as Mass ended near the capital city Abuja.
Speaking to reporters outside of that church, St. Theresa Church, CAN President Ayo Oritsejafor said, "Christians should protect themselves... in any way they can."
President Jonathan has been accused of ineptitude with regards to snuffing out Boko Haram in the past. The terror sect, which operates from the largely Muslim north, has bombed churches, government buildings and civilian areas for the last two years, aiming to implement Shariah, or Islamic law, throughout the country.
Aside from adding security cameras and deploying military personnel to cities where large numbers of Christians have already fled – Maiduguri (70,000 exiled) and Damuturu (90,000) – Jonathan has done little to curb the sect’s rising influence. Attacks have occurred multiple times per week over the last two months.
Speaking with investors early last month, Jonathan called Boko Haram a “temporary problem.”
Jonathan replied to CAN's request with a statement of his own, in which he pledged increased protection for persecuted communities throughout the country and classifying the conflict as a national issue and not religious one.
“I have listened attentively to the statement of CAN, but let me again reassure CAN and indeed Nigerians that any terror attack on any individual or structure in this country is an attack on all of us because terrorists don’t have boundary,” Jonathan said.
“The terrorists are human beings,” the statement read. “[They] are not spirits; they live with us, they dine with us. We know them; people know them. As long as Nigerians are committed to exposing them, we will get over this ugly situation.”
Jonathan’s pledge to support persecuted Nigerians employed characteristically vague language and Christian groups are hoping this latest pledge is not hollow.
“At the security level, we are doing our best; we will restructure; we will re-adjust and make sure we get a team that will meet with the challenge we are facing today,” the president said.
Christians within Nigeria are not the only ones requesting support in the fight against Boko Haram.
The international community is beginning to apply pressure, but U.S. Congressman Trent Franks said Wednesday that President Barack Obama must commit to helping Nigerians during this violent episode.
“The two most fundamental freedoms a person possesses were brutally stolen from dozens of innocent people yesterday - the right to life and the right to religious freedom,” Rep. Franks said.
Franks, a Republican representing Arizona, added that Obama must follow through on his pledge to bring those who committed "horrific violence and hatred" to justice.
Boko Haram has reportedly killed more than 500 people in the last two years. The amoebic terror sect is linked to al-Qaida and regional terror groups. The U.S. listed Boko Haram as its newest threat to American security in November.