The national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), says the alleged conversion of the abducted school girls into Islam by the militant group, Boko Haram, is a direct assault on Christianity aimed at transforming the country into an Islamic state.
CAN is the umbrella body for all Christians in Nigeria with over 80 million membership, according to Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the group.
The abduction of the school girls last month by the violent Islamic extremists attracted global condemnation, and several countries, including the United States and France, volunteered assistance to the Nigerian government to search and free the schools girls.
Oritsejafor says the mere condemnation of the abduction of the school girls doesn’t go far enough to stem the tidal wave of violence perpetrated by the militants. He called on influential Muslim officials to persuade the extremists to stop their violence.
“The situation has gone beyond condemnation. There has to be action backing condemnation,” said Oritsejafor. “A lot of these clerics must find ways to engage these people to sit with them to look for the clerics they believe in so that they can start talking to them and by superior argument begin to find ways to change their mind from this kind of belief.”
CAN officials contend that the aim of the abduction is to forcefully convert the abducted girls – a majority of whom are Christians – into the Islamic religion.
“How can you forcefully tell the world that these girls have been converted into Islam? It is totally unacceptable,” said Oritsejafor. “It is obvious that there is a strong persecution against Christians in Nigeria, and we will never accept it. In fact, one day when these girls have been released they would go through a cleansing, to cleanse them from whatever they said they put on them. They are not Muslims, they are Christians.”
Oritsejafor says it is unlikely the violent activities of the militants will lead to converting the entire country into Islam.
He says that there is a need for the alleged financiers of the militants to be investigated, arrested and prosecuted for their role in the violent crimes perpetrated against civilians.
“[Muslim leaders] must help us find those that are financing these people. They must begin to expose those that are behind them, [and] those that are working in collaboration with them. This thing has to come to an end,” said Oritsejafor.
He also called on influential Nigerian Muslims to unite and come up with ways to resolve the Boko Haram insurgency.
But some Nigerians say the violence carried out by the extremists affects both Christians and Muslims. They contend that it’s wrong for the Christian community to say it is solely their members being persecuted by the Boko Haram militants.
Oritsejafor disagreed, saying over 1000 churches were blown up, but only three Mosques were destroyed by Boko Haram in 2013.
“When Boko Haram started up to about a year ago, the people that they primarily targeted and are still targeting are Christians. It is churches that they were bombing [and] it is Christian businesses they were destroying. It is just in the last one year that they started going after Muslims, and it is not all Muslims,” said Oritsejafor.
“They go after two sets of Muslims. One: those who do not agree with their doctrine, because they see them as infidels like they see Christians as infidels. Two: they go after some Muslims that they believe are betraying in the sense of giving information to security agents. They also go after these Muslims,” said Oritsejafor.