By John Pontifex
NIGERIA’S new cardinal has spoken of his dismay following a deadly attack on a church inside a major military establishment, saying that after the incident nowhere is safe.
Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, described as “particularly worrisome” the explosion yesterday (Sunday, 25th November) at St Andrew’s Protestant Church, inside the Armed Forces Command and Staff College in Jaji, Kaduna state.
At least 11 people are reported dead.
Nigerian military said two suspect vehicles entered the establishment, one a bus which was driven into the wall of the church causing an explosion but no casualties.
When people gathered to see what had happened, a second more serious explosion took place, killing 11 and injuring a further 30 people.
It is the third successive Sunday that a church in Kaduna has been attacked. This time, Islamist group Boko Haram denied responsibility.
Speaking from Rome just two days after being made a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, the prelate told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Once again, a great tragedy has taken place but in this case the circumstances are particularly worrisome.”
With military reports describing the incident as “surprising and an embarrassment”, Cardinal Onaiyekan said: “This attack took place within one of the highest military establishment in Nigeria, surely one of the most secure premises you can think of.”
He said: “It seems that this kind of attack could happen anywhere.”
The cardinal said the incident raised far-reaching questions about security in Nigeria.
He suggested that at the army college in question security may have been compromised and raised the possibility of the explosive devises being made within the premises and lax monitoring of people accessing the site.
At a time of increasing concern about President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime and its ability to tackle the ongoing terrorist attacks within the country, Cardinal Onaiyekan said: “The government is under pressure to produce results. There is a lot of activity going on but not many results.”
He added: “Let us hope this particular incident will be a wake-up call to the government that they need to do more than what they are doing at the moment.”
The cardinal said that he had already spoken by telephone to Muslim leaders and that on his return he intends to meet government officials to discuss the security crisis.
Sunday’s attack is the latest in a string of attacks on government, military and security structures, markets, churches and mosques.
Christians have been among the worst affected. On Sunday, 28th October, five people were killed and 134 were seriously injured in an attack during Mass at St Rita’s Catholic Church, Kaduna.
In March, a Boko Haram spokesman declared “a war on Christians” and said the terrorist group wanted to “eradicate Christians from parts of the country”.
Reports state that Boko Haram was responsible for 620 deaths in the first half of 2012, 170 up on the total for the whole of last year.
At a briefing at the Houses of Parliament in London last month, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, stated: “We as pastors have reached a state of near desperation seeing children, women, children and men bombed out of existence.
“That these terrorists can easily get away with horrible acts of criminality against innocent people is very disturbing.”
Archbishop Kaigama and other church leaders have repeatedly called on Christians and others not to carry out reprisal attacks.
By John Pontifex