The Catholic Bishop of Abuja Arch Diocese, John Onaiyekan, has condemned violent reactions to religious extremism.
Mr. Onaiyekan said it was wrong for anyone to expect Christians in Nigeria to respond violently to religious killings, before their position on such killings could be understood.
He also advised the federal government that it does not need to use violence to justify its defence of Nigerian Christians from extremists.
“I think in our country it is important that we condemn violent reaction to religious extremism,” Mr. Onaiyekan said on Friday in Abuja, after participating in a discussion on Devolution of Power as a Tool for National Integration.
“If anybody is suggesting that because I have not shouted around too much about this, then its means that I condone it or that I am not a good Christian, I will simply say sorry.”
The cleric was reacting to the allegations by the youth wing of the Christian association of Nigeria (CAN) that security operatives in the country may have looked the other way while extremists terrorized innocent Nigerians.
Daniel Kadzai, the Chairman of the youth wing of CAN, specifically spoke about the August 21 incident in the Talata Marafa town of Zamfara State, where some persons suspected to be students of Abdu Gusau Polytechnic reportedly burnt down a house, killing eight persons inside.
The students had beaten up a young man accused of blaspheming the name of the Prophet Mohammed. They then followed him to the state’s General Hospital where another resident of the area had taken him to, for treatment.
When they could not find the man at the hospital, they went to his residence and burnt down the house with people inside.
“We demand that no Nigerian should henceforth be persecuted, attacked or killed for blasphemy,” Mr. Kadzai said. “Government must be bold, otherwise the widening divide or the religious lines may have dire consequences in the future.
“Our faith in the security organisations to protect Nigerians is fast waning. It is obvious that the Federal Government or security operatives chose to look the other side when it comes to matters of religion.”
The Catholic Bishop, Mr. Onaiyekan, disagreed with Mr. Kadzai. He said he didn’t believe it was true that the federal government was condoning attacks against Christians.
“I am not aware that the Muslim community supports killing in the name of blasphemy,” Mr. Onaiyekan said.
He, however, said the government should know that people were bound to think differently on the issue, and therefore it was left for the government to take clear actions that would leave nobody in doubt of its position and that of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“Our constitution allows us to practice our religion; it allows us to change our religion. If a person was a Muslim and he decides to become a Christian he is free to do that and nobody should molest him. And if anybody does so, that person has committed a crime and should be dealt with.”