Worried by the threat by Boko Haram to make June the bloodiest in the history of its attacks, most Christians Sunday stayed away from churches in the Northern parts of the country, especially in Kaduna, Kano, Jos and many other cities.
In recent weeks, Christians have been serially attacked in their churches during worship services by the Islamic insurgents, Boko Haram. In Kaduna State, for instance, three churches-two in Kaduna and one in Zaria – were bombed penultimate Sunday, resulting in the death of 92 people in the tit-for-tat reprisals between Muslims and Christians, a situation that has resulted in a lockdown in the state. Prior to the Kaduna suicide bombings, churches in Bauchi and Jos were attacked for two consecutive Sundays in a row.
In several churches in Abuja yesterday, worshippers were few and visibly jittery owing to the threat by Boko Haram to start a religious conflagration.
Anthonia Eke, said she is trusting God to end an Islamist insurgency in Northern Nigeria but won’t be praying in church any more, after a string of bombs at Sunday services. “We are still traumatised over the attacks and have no intention to attend church service until total peace and normalcy are restored,” Eke said in Kano. “God understands our situation here so we have decided to pray at home. Only he can end this pain.”
But hundreds still queued to pass through military checkpoints outside the largest churches in Abuja, and hundreds of thousands of worshippers around the country were determined to attend regardless of the risks.
In Jos, the Plateau State capital, not only were the Christians not in church, even Muslims stayed indoors, thus turning the city to a ghost town for fear of attacks. Unlike previous Sundays when there were long queues at military checkpoints, with the security personnel having a hectic time checking the boots and bonnets of cars, the streets yesterday were deserted. Muslims in the city equally shut their shops for fear of reprisal.
Ironically, on a Sunday that Boko Haram had threatened more attacks, the security men were seen standing idle at checkpoints, as there were no vehicles to check. More policemen were also deployed in some of the churches to beef up local security arrangements provided by the churches.
A member of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Mr. Isaac Ayoola, said the presiding pastor lamented that two-thirds of his congregation was not in church. According to Ayoola, “Imagine a congregation of about 1,500 not recording up to 500 members.” He said if members of his church stayed back at home because of the Boko Haram threat, then the sect would have achieved its aim of Islamising Christians. He said the citizens would have to take their destiny in their hands.
The state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Emmanuel Ayeni, while criticising residents of the state for not cooperating with security agencies in preventing the previous bombings, warned that more suicide bombings were being planned and targeted at worshippers in the state. He said the ban on the operation of commercial motorcycles in the state had attained 90 per cent compliance and said efforts were in top gear to ensure 100 per cent compliance as the activities of the Boko Haram have always been traced to the use of motorcycles.
In Kano, however, Christians defied the threat by going to churches to worship, albeit, under very tight security arrangements provided by the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in virtually all the churches within and outside the state. As early as 6 am, a combined team of security agencies mounted stop-and-search checkpoints on all access routes to various churches, particularly in the Sabon Gari area of the city where churches are concentrated.
All vehicles plying the routes were stopped and thoroughly screened with metal detectors before being allowed through. THISDAY observed that in some places of worship in Sabon Gari, motor bikes were ordered to take other routes, while in other routes leading to churches, they were ordered to disembark and push their motorbikes some distance before riding them.
As part of the security measures, some churches lined up sand-filled drums at the entrance of their gates to prevent any eventuality, while the JTF also stationed armoured personnel carriers (APCs) 500 metres away from the churches. Some plain cloth operatives were also seen around most of the churches, all of which were complemented with a hovering helicopter.
The state Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bishop Ransom Bello, expressed optimism that the proactive measures taken by the security agencies to protect the lives of the people in Kano would pay off.
In Kaduna, undaunted by the terror threat, Christians went to church but not without being screened through the tight security network. Additional security operatives were deployed in Kaduna, the state capital, to assist in restoring peace to the embattled city. THISDAY observed five luxury buses belonging to the Nigerian Army driving into the city from the Abuja Road around 10.45 am yesterday. The vehicles were conveying soldiers.
Apart from the security checks around churches, there was heavy security presence in most parts of the city as patrol teams were seen moving around, especially to trouble-prone areas. Heavy road blocks were mounted on major roads within Kaduna and its environs and vehicles were thoroughly searched before they were allowed to pass.
Text messages were widely circulated among Christians in the metropolis warning of an impending attack. The rumour generated serious tension as youths in the southern part of the city were said to have mobilised to defend their churches from any form of attack.
At the Chapel of Goodnews, located on Tafawa Balewa, members of the church were not allowed into the premises with their cars. In addition, every member had to be identified by a fellow church member before they were allowed in.
There were large congregations at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Kakuri, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, Sabo, St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, Kawo, Wisdom for Life and Power Church, Kawo, Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), Argungu Road and Mountain of Fire and Miracle, Barnawa.
However, not many people attended church service at the Living Faith Church, Barnawa, Deeper Life Bible Church, Barnawa and the RCCG also in Barnawa. Generally, church services did not last for more than one-and-half hours as a result of the curfew which resumed at 1 pm Sunday.
Some residents also used the four-hour grace period permitting them to leave their homes to evacuate their families out of the city.