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RIMINI MEETING/ Appeal of Monsignor Kaigama: “We need you”

Monsignor Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Nigerian Episcopal Conference, has spoken at the Rimini Meeting about the situation of Christians in Nigeria

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For the Christians in Nigeria to live their faith, has become very risky. Even an ordinary gesture such as the Sunday Mass, can cost one’s life: already ten times, from January up to now, the masses have been interrupted by Islamic attacks with mass killings of worshippers. The most recent occurrence was in the Kogi State, in the northern part of Nigeria. Around ten gunmen entered an evangelical church, during the reading of the Bible one Monday evening, closed the door, turned off the lights and opened fire on the faithful. Nineteen Christians were killed.

Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa with its 160 millions of inhabitants, is torn by internal fights: among 250 ethnic groups within the country, between the Islamists in the North and the Christian in the South, between political factions, and those fighting for oil control in the South. How do Christians live in this country where religious freedom does not actually exist? What is their hope in change based on? These are some of the topics that Monsignor Ignatius Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos and President of the Nigerian Episcopal Conference, has spoken about at the Meeting. We were able to contact him for some questions.

Monsignor Kaigama, since the beginning of the year, there have been more than 600 people killed in the attacks in Nigeria. What are the reasons for this?

These massacres are in great part caused by the fundamentalist Islamic group Boko Haram (literally meaning “Western education is forbidden”). They operate in the Northern part of Nigeria where all these acts of violence are occurring. It is a group that intends to replace the Constitution with Islamic law in order to forcefully convert the people to Islam. They initially began to attack the government, its institutions and security agencies, then initiated attacks on churches. They want to eliminate churches because they educate and promote culture.

What does the government do to guarantee security and protect the population?

Boko Haram asked President Goodluck Jonathan, who is a Christian, to resign and convert to Islam. The violence by these groups is also fostered by the incapacity of the government to control the situation. Police and military forces do exist but up to now they have not been able to put an end to these massacres. Coordination between the different parties responsible for security is lacking. Churches are continuously under attack, in Kaduna, in Kano, in Jos, and we begin to feel abandoned, without any help. The attacks occur when we least expect it; many Christians are now afraid to go to mass and exercise their rights as Christians.

Nonetheless even Muslims have been under attack. Is it appropriate to speak about this situation as a war of religion?

The reason for this conflict is mainly economical, fuelled by poverty and corruption. The fundamentalists of Boko Haram are very clear in their intentions: they want to kill government officials, security agents and Christians. They have no scruples to even kill Muslims who collaborate with the government and promote security. Terrorists have no respect for life - they kill others thus killing themselves. Their aim is to create confusion. We always try to make a distinction between the fanatic fundamentalist groups and ordinary Muslims because ordinary Muslims in Nigeria want to live in peace with their neighbours.

How do you believe it is possible to get out of this situation? Is there hope for an end to the violence?