CCN officials told Open Doors News that after a week of rising tensions between the mainly Muslim ethnic Fulani and the mainly Christian ethnic Birom, about 50 members of the Church of Christ in Nigeria around the village of Maseh had taken refuge in the home of their pastor on 7 July.
The gunmen came last Saturday, entering the home and opening fire. Then they burnt the house, Open Doors News reported.
“Fifty of our church members were killed in the church building where they had fled to take refuge. They were killed alongside the wife of the pastor and children,” said Rev Dachollom Datiri, vice president of the Church of Christ in Nigeria, in an interview with Open Doors News at the church’s headquarters in Jos.
Church officials said that in all, about 100 Church of Christ members were killed in the weekend attacks in 12 villages: Maseh, Ninchah, Kakkuruk, Kuzen, Negon, Pwabiduk, Kai, Ngyo, Kura Falls, Dogo, Kufang, and Ruk.
“In a country where Christians have suffered violence for more than a decade, last weekend’s mass killings nonetheless have left the Church of Christ, and much of the country, in shock,” the news report stated.
“They are psychologically traumatised, and their productive economic activities are impeded,” said Rev Obed Dashan, general secretary of the Church of Christ in Nigeria, of surviving church members.
He added: “Most of them are peasant farmers and the attacks have not allowed them to go to their farms. Even those that have planted crops have had their crops destroyed by the Muslim attackers.”
According to Open Doors News, church leaders claim the Nigerian government is turning a blind eye to persecution of Christians in the country, and fear more violence will occur as a result.
“The whole thing is coming to a head,” Datiri said. “It’s been a long-term thing planned by the Boko Haram. This is a jihadist movement with the agenda to Islamise the country. It is a jihad, a religious war against Christians for refusing to embrace Islam. So, they are using terrorism as a weapon. That is the reason you see that the target of their attacks are Christians and our churches.”
In Geneva, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (RABIIT) issued a report this week on their joint commitment to help in resolving the tensions in Nigeria. The report reflects a new Christian-Muslim model of cooperation for peace between religions and further interfaith dialogue.
The report follows the inter-religious delegation’s visit to Abuja, Jos and Kaduna, Nigeria, in May.
The visit and report are a response to the inter-communal strife between Christians and Muslims in the country. Last week, around a hundred people lost their lives in the Plateau state alone as a result of the clashes.
“Religion should never be used as a pretext for conflict. We are committed to the situation in Nigeria. We are concerned and anxious for the lives that are lost in the name of religion in Nigeria,” said Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC.
“Therefore we set out to investigate together first-hand, impartially and credibly, the situation on the ground in Nigeria and the various factors that have led to the present tensions,” added Tveit.
The report discusses the complex reasons behind the violence in Nigeria and suggests that the conflict goes beyond religion.
“From what we have witnessed, it seems to me that the primary causes of the current tension and conflict in Nigeria are not inherently based in religion but rather, rooted in a complex matrix of political, social, ethnic, economic, and legal problems, among which the issue of justice – or the lack of it – looms large as a common factor,” said Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, chairman of RABIIT.