“Two wrongs can never make a right,” Pastor Oyeleke A. Owolabi, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in northwestern Nigeria, told the Sunday Tribune, the west African nation’s leading newspaper, last weekend. He was responding to a statement by Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the interdenominational Christian Association of Nigeria that his group “would no longer guarantee cooperation [in] restraining restive and aggrieved Nigerians if the government failed to take urgent action” against the Boko Haram Islamist movement.
The exchange came the day after the killing of 16 people at a Christian worship service on the campus of Bayero University in the city of Kano. Al Jazeera, the independent Arab television channel, has reported more than 450 deaths attributed to the group. It is known for attacking Christian churches with bombings and shootings. Wikipedia labels Boko Haram “a jihadist terrorist organization” which seeks to replace Nigeria’s secular government with sharia law.
“We need to plead with fellow Christians” to not engage in a violent response, the Adventist union conference president told the newspaper. “We should join hands together and sit down with the government to find solutions.” He described the statement by the leader of the Christian council of churches as too confrontational and “stressed the need for a more dialogic approach.” He admitted that the situation in Nigeria is “embarrassing” and “near collapse of law and order,” urging care in the words to be used at such a moment.
Pastor Owolabi “to give the Federal government warning is not a problem, but how would this warning be executed? Is it only warning that we need to give?” He opposed urging the government to retaliate, stating that “if the Federal government decides to begin killing these people it would result in the deaths of the innocent. There will be more problems.” He urged all the people of Nigeria to come together peacefully to resolve the crisis. “God knows how to see us through.”
The statement that Pastor Owolabi was responding to was “not extreme,” the newspaper quoted Bishop Ransom Bello as saying. He is senior pastor of the Calvary Life Assembly, a Pentecostal mega church in Kano and chairman of the Christian Association in that city. “Christians are known to be peaceful people. We are not going to fight by carrying guns … but … we cannot fold our hands and allow the Muslims to be killing Christians. We feel that the government should … use the full armory that it has to fight Boko Haram.”
Bishop Bello stated that “the government is not willing enough to really bring to book those people that are behind” the Boko Haram violence. “The government knows the people that [should] be arrested. We are very sad … and we are going to express it any way we can. … This is getting out of hand. We do not know what we are going to do yet.”
The Adventist pacifist tradition is tested in such a violent situation. This exchange illustrates that kind of pressure brought on Adventist leaders and believers when violence breaks out between groups in the communities where they live. The union conference president’s “courage is admirable,” a former missionary told Adventist Today. “I am proud to see our leader in Nigeria speaking up for peace and moderation. There is a strong temptation to feel threatened and go along with the general outrage of the other Christian denominations in this kind of situation.”
The president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, is a Christian. The northern region of the country is heavily populated by Muslims, while the majority of citizens live in the south and are Christians. The violence surrounding the Boko Haram movement has gone on for more than ten years.
There are more than a half million Adventist adherents in Nigeria, one of the most populous nations in Africa with 162 million people. Two union missions and a dozen local fields make up the denominational structure in the country with nearly a thousand congregations. The Adventist Church operates eight secondary schools, four hospitals and 16 medical clinics in the country.
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