Nigerian Christian leaders 'hampered Boko Haram fight'

A Nigeria APC campaign poster about defeating Boko Haram Image copyright AFP
Image caption Boko Haram has killed more than 10,000 people during its six-year insurgency

Christian leaders in Nigeria undermined efforts to combat the threat of Boko Haram by failing to engage in dialogue with Muslims, a senior Anglican church leader has told the BBC.

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, who is Nigerian, said Christians had feared the country was being "Islamised".

They had believed Muslims leaders were supporting the militants, he said.

Boko Haram had targeted both Muslims and Christians in its bid to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria.

The group has killed some 10,000 people since it began its insurgency in 2009 and has also kidnapped hundreds of girls and women.

Last year, the militants seized a huge area of the north-east, before being beaten back by a regional coalition, including Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

The BBC's John McManus says Archbishop Idowu-Fearon, who is the new secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, has a strong reputation for promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

But the archbishop told our correspondent that efforts to maintain unity were undermined by some fellow Christians who failed to engage wit their Muslim counterparts.

"We warned the leadership in my country, the Christian Association of Nigeria: 'Let us listen to the Muslim leadership, because the leadership is not in support of Boko Haram.'

"'Oh no no no,' they said, 'they are always deceiving us. They are all the same,'" he said.

But the archbishop said attitudes had now changed after so many lives had been killed.

"Now they are singing a different tune... I tell you more Muslims have been killed than Christians in the north-east of Nigeria."

Analysis: John McManus, BBC News

Image copyright Anglican Communion Office

Perhaps it is no surprise that Archbishop Idowu-Fearon decided to leave Nigeria and take up his new role as secretary-general of the Anglican Communion.

From his own admission, his attempts to promote unity between Christians and Muslims in the face of Boko Haram's attacks were not always welcome.

And his opposition to Nigeria's new anti-homosexuality laws put him at odds with many people of faith, including most of his own Church hierarchy.

The archbishop though, is resolute, telling me he would not be dissuaded, even by a statement from the church of Nigeria which distanced itself from him when his new appointment was announced.

In his new role, he certainly has a lot of influence - and responsibility - to steer the troubled Anglican communion's 85 million Christians through some choppy theological waters.

But in seeking to promote inter-faith dialogue, and reconcile different cultural attitudes to homosexuality, the archbishop has to inspire confidence in Anglicans not only in Africa, but also in North America and Europe - people with very different lives. That is a tough job description for anybody.

In the latest suspected Boko Haram attack, at least 28 people were killed at a crowded market in Borno state on Tuesday.

The blast at Jagol GSM market in Sabon Gari town also injured 79 people, 47 of whom were in a critical condition, according to Nigeria's National Emergency Agency.

President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in March, partly on a pledge to defeat Boko Haram. Since he took power in May, more than 800 people have been killed, mainly in suicide attacks.

Boko Haram at a glance

Image copyright AFP
  • Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education - Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009
  • Joined Islamic State, now calls itself "West African province"
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, abducted hundreds, including at least 200 schoolgirls
  • Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate
  • Regional force has retaken most territory this year
  • But suicide attacks have increased May 2015

Why Boko Haram remains a threat

Who are Boko Haram?

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