Church in Nigeria ‘being eliminated’

The Church of England’s ruling body called this week on the Government to “do all it can” to support the protection of religious minorities in Nigeria.

In an address to General Synod, the Bishop of Durham the Rt Rev Justin Welby said violence in Nigeria had become “pervasive”.

“[We are here] to consider the fate of a church that in the north of Nigeria is systematically, deliberately and progressively being eliminated,” he said.

While he acknowledged that some attacks were being committed against Muslims, he said the “vast majority” of the violence was being directed at Christians.

Nigeria is split roughly between a largely Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. Churches and Christian communities in the north have come under increasing attack from Islamic militant group Boko Haram.

Dozens of people were killed in a series of bomb attacks in Nigeria on Christmas Day. Targets included St Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla.

In the weeks that followed, dozens more Christians were killed in an attack on a church in Gombe and a town hall meeting in Mubi.

The scale of the violence has caused thousands of people to flee to the south.

A report to Synod warned that the church in the north east of the country in particular had received “little protection, if any”.

Many Anglican churches in Jos and Kaduna have been burned down and the Bishop of Damaturu is presently in hiding further south.

“His flock is scattered, his church destroyed," said Bishop Welby.

"It is too dangerous for him to return and there is little sign at present of that changing.”

While high youth unemployment and ethnic conflicts going back generations are contributing to the violence, Bishop Welby said religion was a factor of "growing importance".

While the report said the complexity of conflicts would "tax any state in its response", it called for "tough action" from the Nigerian government to bring the situation under control.

Bishop Welby called upon Christians to pray for peace in Nigeria and for greater support for those working to end the violence.

He said: “We call for a prayer for peace with equity for all the people of Nigeria and we call for support for the vigorous, wonderful, imaginative, determined, courageous people of Nigeria, that our government will help them where they seek help and above all we will support them.

"For there is no place on this earth lonelier than being the victims of mass attack in a nation so often forgotten by our media.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, followed the address with an assurance that the Church was seeking to "intensify" its support for Christians in Nigeria.

"The Church will be delighted to see us and hear from us," he said.

"They need our prayers, they need tangible tokens of our solidarity."