On Sunday, as the world celebrated Easter, residents of Nigeria’s northern city of Kaduna fell victim to cowardly and despicable acts of violence. A car bomb in a busy section of the town claimed the lives of 38 people. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, yet many suspect the terrorist organization Boko Haram, which has in the past targeted Christian celebrations. To be able to move past this tragedy, Nigeria will need, now more than ever, brave and visionary leadership.
In the face of efforts by terrorists to incite sectarian divisions and violence, this leadership must first come from Nigeria’s community and religious leaders. There is naturally a strong temptation to see the violence of recent months along strictly sectarian lines; Christian vs. Muslim, Northern vs. Southern, Hausa vs. Igbo/Yoruba. This would however be a mistake. Perpetrators of violence, like the victims, have been drawn from all walks of life. Various individuals have taken advantage of the instability to pursue all sorts of agendas; knowing that they can pin their cowardly acts on the nebulous "Boko Haram" (for instance, in February this year, individuals attempting to bomb a church in Bauchi were found to be Christian members of the same church).
Understandably, with Sunday’s attack, like the Christmas Day bombings, being clearly targeted at a Christian celebration, there will be a strong urge for Christians and other religious communities to come together to respond in kind perceived threats. For instance, following the Christmas Day bombings, Reverend Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria remarked that in the event of further attacks, “the Christian community nationwide will be left with no other option than to respond appropriately.” While his sentiments are completely understandable, they however risk increasing tensions and driving wedges between the various religious communities. As the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubabakar, Nigeria’s top Muslim spiritual leader remarked, "there is no conflict between Muslims and Christians, between Islam and Christianity…It's a conflict between evil people and good people. The good people are more than the evil ones, so the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones."
Animosity between Christians and Nigerians in Northern Nigeria is not a given. During the unrest in January, Christians and Muslims formed protective barriers around each other during their respective prayer times. By continuing to attack Christian celebrations, Boko Haram (and other groups operating in their name) is assuming that the solidarity expressed in January was an anomaly. It is up to religious and community leaders to mobilize the people they lead to show that unity across faiths is indeed the norm. Anything short of that would be a victory for the terrorists.
Across, the country, the people of Nigeria will depend on their political leaders to show similarly far sighted leadership. This latest incident is likely to be particularly frustrating. Attacks around the Easter celebrations were expected and steps were taken to defend against them; and yet, they could not be prevented. Given this setback, it would be easy for Nigeria’s political leaders to thus become disillusioned by the fight against Boko Haram and respond rashly. In this time of turmoil, it is more important than ever for Nigeria’s leaders to remember what has worked and what hasn’t. Militirization has been ineffective; if anything it has exacerbated the conflict. Dialogue has worked. For me, rather than being an indictment of current efforts, Sunday’s attacks are a confirmation that they are working. The nature of the attacks reveals them to be the desperate act of an organization that is at its wits end, and is quickly losing support, and time.
The BBC reports, that the perpetrators were initially targeting the ECWA church and the All Nations Christian Assembly but were foiled and chased away by police officers. In their attempt to get away, they accidentally set off the bomb before they had time to escape the vehicle; thus failing in their original mission but tragically taking 38 other innocent lives in the process. Clearly, the enemies of peace in Nigeria, are beginning to meet their match. It is important therefore for Nigeria’s leaders to stay the course with current efforts and assure themselves, and their people, that this menace will soon be overcome.
During this time of despair and mourning, the people of Nigeria will look to their leaders for direction. It is important that Nigeria’s community, religious and political leaders respond with the kind of brave and far sighted leadership that will help the nation move past this tragedy, defeat the enemy and continue the long and difficult process of nation building.