Christians in Nigeria are confronting threats of a Christmas Day attack on churches throughout the country by terror sect Boko Haram, and one prominent pastor is seeking to calm believers' fears.
Prof. Paul Emeka, Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told reporters on Tuesday that he hopes security is increased but that Christians should celebrate with typical fervor.
“We should be cautious but not fearful to ensure that they do not succeed in their nefarious activities,” Emeka said.
“We would not allow this country to be disintegrated due to the activities of the Boko Haram. While I sympathize with the Northern states, I will advise those of the South to be extra vigilant and make sure that they do not infiltrate their states,” Emeka added.
The threat comes from an unnamed Islamic sect whom Emeka and other officials believe to be Boko Haram, which has been terrorizing Nigeria for the last two years with increased attacks since the start of November.
Nigeria is split in half between Muslims, who occupy the north, and Christians who occupy the south. Until recently, Boko Haram targeted the few Christian communities and some government buildings in the north, including a Nov. 4 attack that killed hundreds of Christians and forced thousands more into exile.
But the new threats reportedly target churches in the southern half of the state. Emeka said he wonders why the sect targets poor Christian communities when they have done nothing to aggravate the quality of life in Nigeria.
“If truly they are fighting poverty why should their targets be the poor people, churches and other places of worship?” he added.
“They should have turned their guns on those at the top and leave the poor masses alone. After all who is not hungry in Nigeria. Everybody is hungry. They are just interested in killing,” Emeka said.
Boko Haram, whose name translates “Western education is sacrilege,” seeks to implement Shariah law throughout Nigeria. Their attacks typically consist of bombings, indiscriminate gunfire and arson directed toward government buildings, churches and civilian areas.
Nigerian law enforcement recorded a rare victory over the terror sect last week as seven militants were killed and more than a dozen were arrested following a shootout in Kano.
The Nigerian government has claimed Boko Haram presents only a “temporary problem,” but a U.S. Congressional report issued in November names the sect as the newest threat to national security.
Africa’s most populous nation has over 80 million Christians, and Emeka hopes each of them can celebrate the holiday safely.
“No matter what they are planning, Nigerians will celebrate Christmas in peace,” Emeka said, adding that he wished his compatriots a Merry Christmas.