CNS PHOTO | REUTERS
Women run from the scene of a church bombing in the Nigerian city of Jos in March
The president of the Nigerian bishops' conference has called for the international community to help his country improve its security operations to stop the "fundamentalist, fanatic" Boko Haram terrorist group.
The day after a Catholic church, an elementary school and a police station in Damagun were attacked, presumably by Boko Haram members, Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama of Jos told Vatican Radio: "There is high religious tension in Nigeria, but we are not at war between Christians and Muslims.
"The Boko Haram is at war with Christians, because they have vowed they will kill Christians because they are 'infidels.' This is a fact, but it is not the whole Islamic community."
In its two-year campaign to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law on the entire country, Boko Haram has been blamed for more than 1,400 deaths of Christians, Muslims and police officers.
In June, 45 people were killed after four churches in Zaria and Kaduna were bombed. The bombings were widely believed to be the work of Boko Haram. Afterward, Christian mobs carried out reprisal attacks on Muslims.
In April, gunmen killed at least 21 people and injured many others in coordinated attacks on Sunday services at a university campus in Kano and a Protestant chapel in Maiduguri.
Kaigama, interviewed Aug. 20 in Rimini, Italy, told Vatican Radio that in Nigeria, where the population is about half Muslim and half Christian, "there is no neat division between political problems and religious problems. They are intertwined."
In addition, he said, people must look for the root causes of tensions in Nigeria, including the economic, political and social issues that "trigger these crises, but somehow eventually they always become Christian-Muslim crises."
Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama
Kaigama's appeal to the international community came days after the archbishop of Lagos, the country's capital, criticized Nigeria's government for its handling of the country's security challenges.
Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins told journalists the government must deal quickly and decisively with any acts of aggression. He also said he supports dialogue, if necessary, between warring parties.
"War has never brought about lasting peace in the history of humanity," Martins told journalists in Lagos Aug. 16.
The archbishop cautioned Christians against participating in violence but said Christians should defend themselves whenever they come under any attack.
Martins also criticized the government for "not doing enough to deal with corruption.
"I can immediately refer to the corruption in the oil sector of the economy, where certain individuals were indicted, taken to court and suddenly we begin to hear that the cases were not properly investigated by the security agencies before the suspects were taken to court,'' he said.
Kaigama, in the Aug. 20 interview, said security agents are "all over the place," but are not doing enough to enable people to go about their normal business peacefully.
The vast majority of Nigerians - Christians and Muslims - want to live in peace and are frightened by the actions and agenda of Boko Haram, he said.
"People are afraid that if this conflict situation continues, the consequences will be disastrous: There will be either an open, very terrible religious conflict or even a civil war that will pit the North against the South."
The majority of people in the North are Muslim, while the majority of people in the South are Christian.
If there is war in Nigeria, he said, it will affect other West African nations and, perhaps, the whole continent.
Following the bombings in June, the Nigerian bishops' conference issued a statement expressing concern about the growth of anger and hatred between Christians and Muslims in the country.
The statement, signed by both Kaigama and Martins, lamented the lack of security for Christians despite mounting attacks.
The bishops also condemned reprisal attacks on Muslim communities.
At the same time, Pope Benedict expressed his "deep concern" about the bombings in Nigeria, most of which are "directed against Christian faithful."