Renewed attacks in Nigeria have put a strain on the relationship between the country’s Muslim and Christian communities. Some are now calling on authorities to talk to the Boko Haram militants.
First it was the Christian area in Kano. Then the market in Jos and the villages of Shawa and Alagarno. Once again, authorities suspect that Boko Haram is behind the attack. And many Nigerians fear that the terrorists are trying to create a divide between the already fragile relationship between Muslims and Christians in the country.
Pastor Yohanna Buro, who lives in the north-Nigerian city of Kaduna, has observed the growing fear and enmity in his community. In Kaduna State, the Muslim and Christian communities each make up about 50 percent of the population. "You begin to see a Muslim blaming a Christian of being part of a conspiracy - between the Jews, Christians and the West - against the Hausa-Fulani Muslims in northern Nigeria," says Buro. He therefore calls for the government to engage in talks with Boko Haram.
His opinion is shared by other religious leaders like Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa. In the past decade, Kaduna repeatedly became the scene of political and religious fighting. Several thousands were killed during this period. As a result, the onetime enemies, Wuye and Ashafa, decided to resolve their differences and work towards a peaceful co-existence of the two religious groups. The two leaders facilitated an interreligious dialogue in Kaduna and were awarded for their efforts by the German Africa Foundation (DAS) in 2013.
Mediating between the government and Boko Haram
According to Wuya and Ashafa, the Nigerian government never made any serious attempts to talk to Boko Haram. "There are a lot of personalities that are neutral and who these insurgents can trust," says Pastor Wuye. He and his colleagues from the Interfaith Mediation Center would be prepared to act as mediators, he comments.
"Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau made several demands which could be a basis for negotiations," says Muhammad Ashafa. Shekau for instance called for an investigation into the death of Mohammed Yusuf, the Boko Haram founder who died in police custody in 2009. The group also demanded compensation for the families of killed Boko Haram fighters. And then of course, there was the video which surfaced in mid-April, in which Shekau said that he was prepared to release some of the kidnapped girls in exchange for imprisoned Boko Haram members.
Accusations from both sides
Meanwhile the official representatives of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, whose offices are also located in Kaduna, have started pointing fingers at each other. A leading member of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) voiced his belief, that Boko Haram is part of a strategy to drive Christians out of northern Nigeria. He brushed aside arguments that many Muslims are also victims of the terror. According to him, the radical Islamic school of thought, to which Abubakar Shekau belongs, allows such killings if they are in the interest of the religious goal.
Bayero Abdulllah from the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs blames the politicians for Nigeria's problems. "Most of the crises we have in Nigeria are aggregated in one way or another by the politicians with selfish interests." He sees President Goodluck Jonathan and his predominantly Christian environment as the sticking point.
#Bringbackourgirls to unite Nigerians?
Pastor James Wuye has pleaded with the official religious associations to take on a more moderate tone. Wuye and his fellow group-members hope that the campaign to bring back the kidnapped girls will unite Nigerians. In Kaduna, the women's rights activist, Hafsat Mohammed Baba, lead the campaign. "We have to work together because the terror affects both Muslims and Christians" says Baba. She sees the network of those who are prepared to sit down and talk, as strong enough to address the challenge. She adds: "We can create awareness with the help of social networks and the media, in order to tell the public that when it comes to saving lives, they should cast aside their religious affiliations."