Africa

Nigeria attacks: 'Boko Haram bombed my church'

  • 16 March 2012
  • From the section Africa
A meeting of displaced Christian people
Image caption Elders laid on special buses to help people escape the north

John Nubrim is visibly traumatised after fleeing the north-eastern Nigerian town of Maiduguri following attacks by the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram.

"Only God knows how I escaped from that Maiduguri. They bomb over there. They burned my shed. All my property, all my things, are there," said the young electronics trader, before letting out a short scream.

"My parents, my brother and one of my sons died there."

He is one of almost 2,000 people from the largely Christian south to take advantage of a free bus service provided by elders from the south-eastern Igbo community, in response to a threat for southerners and Christians to leave the mainly Muslim north.

About 100 people have been killed in a series of attacks on churches and Christians across the north.

At a camp for the displaced in Imo State, a woman told me:

"I went to church. They bombed there. I went inside the bush. I stayed there for three days."

I asked if her husband knew she was here.

"He died there," she said.

Mourners targeted

Image caption Pastor Oliver Lekwam and his family fled after suspected attackers were arrested near his church

The group that issued the ultimatum, Boko Haram, wants to destabilise the state and eradicate Christians from parts of the country.

Its name translates as "Western education is forbidden" and its goal is for Nigeria to be ruled by traditional Islamic law.

Its means are shockingly brazen.

In early January in the north-eastern state of Adamawa, locals meeting to mourn fellow Christians killed the previous day were themselves targeted.

A man at the camp knew them well.

"It was terrible where they massacred up to 15 young men. They just came and shot them at head one by one. After seeing what they did, in fact I managed to evacuate all my property. That day was terrible," he said.

I asked if churches were attacked.

"Yes, still that continues. And they massacred, they're killing Igbos secretly. The killing continues," he replied.

Suicide bombers have also targeted churches in the restive city of Jos, in central Plateau State.

Boko Haram admitted responsibility for one attack that killed three worshippers there and is suspected to have carried out another in which at least 10 people died, on Sunday.

The group, which also regularly kills Muslims and state workers, is targeting Christians to exploit the country's religious and ethnic fault lines, which run right through Jos.

Shops and houses owned by Muslims were burnt in the central city in apparent retaliatory attacks shortly after last weekend's bombing.

'Winning the war'

President Goodluck Jonathan condemned the latest church bombing and urged Nigerians not to despair.

"Despite seeming appearances to the contrary," he wrote, "government is indeed winning the war against the terrorists."

Image caption Emeka Ojukwu Jr believes that there could be a breakaway state if the violence does not stop

He called on people to remain patient and refrain from taking matters into their own hands.

But after months of targeted violence, some have drawn parallels with the Nigerian civil war in the late 1960s.

Then, a secessionist struggle took place in the east after thousands of Igbos were slaughtered in the north.

Emeka Ojukwu Jr, the son of the late Igbo colonel who led the struggle for an independent state of Biafra, predicted there would be a breakaway state if the violence did not stop.

"If things continue as they are now, it's going to happen rather quickly," he said.

I asked what he meant by that.

"I am not an oracle but I think maybe between three to five years, maybe three years if it continues the way it's going," he replied.

Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (Massob) lobby group, has been given a new chieftaincy title, conferring on him leadership of the Igbo people, in place of the late Colonel Ojukwu.

He organised the buses to collect fellow Igbos from the Hausa-dominated north.

"You cannot kill an innocent Hausa man living here simply because an unknown Boko Haram person killed some Igbos in the north. That's primitive. But I think the permanent solution to the problem of Nigeria is division, bifurcation, self-determination," Chief Uwazuruike said.

'Hiding in the bush'

Tanimu Hamed Ibrahim, a Hausa market trader in Onitsha, the largest commercial city in the south-east, said the local Hausa and Igbos communities got on very well together.

If there are problems from local troublemakers, he said, it is the Igbos who come to their rescue.

Image caption Tina Asiegbu said she was terrified when she heard an explosion while waiting at a bus terminal

"There is a crisis in the north, but no crisis here. We are one Nigeria," he said.

The desire for Nigeria to separate is still very much a minority view, but even some of the most tolerant here are beginning to lose patience.

Pastor Oliver Lekwam fled his church in northern Kano after almost 20 suspected attackers were arrested in a nearby hotel.

A motorbike taxi driver hired to take the group on a tour of the local churches had raised the alarm.

The religious leader suspects some local politicians and police are working with the culprits and said community relations are at an all time low.

"Even though you say you look for a Muslim friend that is so close to you, if anything happens, you that is his closest friend, you will be the first person to be killed by that man. So if anything happens like this riot or this fracas like Boko Haram, and they know you, they will first bring those people to your house to kill you."

Even the bus journey from Kano to this camp was a risk.

Twenty-two-year-old Tina Asiegbu told me she was terrified when she heard an explosion while waiting at the bus terminal.

It was a bomb on one of the buses that had detonated early.

Soldiers found six more that would have gone off during the middle of her journey.

"I am happy because God saved us, saved my children, saved my husband, saved me too," she said.

I asked a group of about 40 who had assembled at the camp if people were telling them they needed more buses to bring others from the north.

"Yes," they all shouted at once.

"So they will come out from the bush where they hide for days without not eating," one man said.