by Stanley Azuakola
Christians in northern Nigeria have faced a grueling couple of months, fearful as they have watched a series of bomb attacks hit a succession of states in the region. As a result of the unrelenting Boko Haram onslaught against churches in the North, most Christians chose to stay away from their churches last Sunday June 24. This was particularly pronounced in the cities of Kaduna, Abuja, Jos and Kano.
In Jos, the situation was not made any easier when rumours began to circulate that Boko Haram was planning to attack churches. Another strand of that rumour was that the police, through its commissioner, Mr Emmanuel Ayeni, had confirmed the infiltration of Boko Haram members and advised residents to stay indoors from morning to 2pm. The police denied that it had ever given such an order.
However that did little to assuage the fears of the residents, who chose to sequester themselves in their homes, and it was not just Christians. Muslims also stayed indoors, perhaps for fear of reprisals.
A member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Mr. Isaac Ayoola, said the presiding pastor lamented that two-thirds of his congregation was not in church. According to Ayoola, “Imagine a congregation of about 1,500 not recording up to 500 members.” He said if members of his church stayed back at home because of the Boko Haram threat, then the sect would have achieved its aim of Islamising Christians. He said the citizens would have to take their destiny in their hands.
In Kaduna, instead of attending church service, most residents used the four hours when the curfew was lifted to get basic supplies, while others evacuated their families out of the city.
In Abuja, several churches had few members in attendance, and even those in attendance were jittery throughout the service duration. Some Christians said that they still trusted in God and have handed over the situation to him, but would not be attending church services until peace and normalcy is restored.
However, some Christian faithful who attended service on Sunday, shared their sentiments with reporters. John Abuere, a parishioner in Abuja, said that “there seems to be some political undertones because for some time now people have been attacking the churches perhaps with a view to getting a reaction from the Christendom so that there will be a war in the country.”
On his part, a priest with the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Abuja, Father John Sixtus Okonkwo, told a Reuters reporter that the church does not “preach gospel of retaliation, we preach peace … security is everybody’s concern whether you are in your house or you are in the market or in the church or you are in the Mosque.”