Central Nigeria’s lethal Christmas Eve attacks were religiously motivated despite the African nation’s complicated past of economically and socially fueled infighting, says a mission organization.
“There are always disputes over land,” said Rae Burnett, vice president and Africa director of Christian Aid Mission. However, Burnett insisted that last week’s attacks were the result of Muslim and Christian disputes.
“It’s political in the sense that Muslims want to take over Nigeria,” she stated. “They want their way. They want more Sharia (Islamic law).”
And in Nigeria where the country is split 50/50 between Muslims and Christians, Burnett identified violent intimidation as the key tool of radical Muslim extremists.
Jos, Plateau state’s densely populated capital, fell prey to a series of six violent attacks on Christmas Eve. Two bombs exploded near a busy market where people were Christmas shopping. Then another blast occurred in a predominantly Christian neighborhood and a fourth bomb exploded near a road leading to the main mosque in Jos.
Also on Christmas Eve, armed men attacked two churches in nearby Maiduguri, killing six people, including a church pastor and two men rehearsing for the carol service.
The radical Muslim group Boko Haram, which has a history of violence against Christians, has claimed responsibility for the bombings in Jos and the church attacks. Boko Haram, literally “Books, him bad,” means “Western, non-Islamic education is a sin.”
Jos, by comparison, means “Jesus my Savior.” Jos is located in a central area between Christian and Muslim communities. Burnett, who provided translations, argued that radical Muslims are well aware of Jos’ pivotal location and have long targeted the area since previous attacks in March.
Burnett’s contact on the ground, Gabriel Barau, reports that police have known of a Christmas plot. “He is connected to the police. They warned that something would happen on Christmas,” she shared.
Yet Nigerian officials aren’t totally convinced that those March assaults which killed 500 Christians in Plateau state in one day, and 13 more Christians two weeks later, were religiously motivated.
During a May World Council of Churches trip to Jos, the Nigeria minister of foreign affairs, Henry Odein, told the delegation that violence was incited by issues “of social and economic nature.”
Villages may be razed and inhabitants massacred for control over the land. However, it is undeniable that religiously motivated Muslims are participating in the attacks, and the victims are primarily Christian.
In the wake of the attacks, Virginia-based missionary support agency Christian Aid has set up an emergency hotline, collecting money for its affiliates in Jos. Barau, who is also chairman of the Nigerian Evangelical Missions Association, is one of its affiliates.
Burnett explained that in the aftermath of the holiday tragedy, Christians are at odds with each other. Some nominal groups of “name only” Christians, as she described it, want to retaliate against the attack in a similar fashion.
But “those who really have the spirit of Christ are really praying that this will be an opportunity,” she said, for reaching those in need spiritually and physically.
The money is needed to address the poverty of resources left by both the March and December attacks. Burnett reported that people need clothes and food.
“On their own, they don’t have resources,” she stated. But with the money donated, Burnett hopes groups will be able to reach out to the lost and hurt.