The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Konrad Raiser, has strongly criticized Nigerian authorities for failing to act decisively enough to deal with inter-religious conflicts.

Raiser spoke at a press conference in the city of Kaduna, in northern Nigeria, during a recent visit to the West African nation.

Several hundred people have died in clashes between Christians and Muslims since the Kaduna state government decided early this year to introduce Sharia (Islamic law.) Similar violence has occurred in other regions where state governments want to introduce Sharia.

Raiser said that he was "shocked and deeply saddened" at the destruction that he had seen in the city of Kaduna and its outskirts both in Christian and Muslim communities.

"It is one thing to witness destruction as a consequence of war, which I have seen in many parts of the world, but then it is indiscriminate destruction. [Here] it is very focused, very determined, very deliberate, almost surgical, destruction of particular institutions, of particular buildings, of particular ranges of houses along one or the other or both sides of a particular street, which indicates that it is not just a communal conflict but a kind of conflict that has deliberately been planned," he said.

Nigeria has more than 100 million people—making it Africa's most populous country—with big Christian and Muslim communities. There is no reliable estimate of which religion dominates nationally, but Muslims are in a big majority in the north and Christians dominate in the east, while the south-west is mixed.

Pointing out that both Islam and Christianity were religions which had come to Nigeria from outside, Raiser expressed surprise that the competition between the two religions had been allowed to cause such damage to lives and property. He noted that for many Christians the introduction of Sharia as state law was a provocative act.

"It has been remarked to us that the imposition of Sharia law has not become a public cause of conflict until after the re-establishment of democratic rule in Nigeria, and that gives you some food of reflection and thought," he said.

Raiser also said he was going to meet officials of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta and the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people (MOSOP).

In the past, the WCC has strongly criticized the operations of international petroleum companies in Nigeria. At the end of 1996 a WCC report was particularly critical of the activities of a Nigerian subsidiary of Shell International in Ogoniland. The company withdrew from the Ogoni region in 1993, allegedly leaving behind extensive pollution and environmental destruction. These were a major focus of the WCC report, as was alleged co-operation between oil companies and Nigeria's then military government, which has been accused of countless human rights abuses.

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The publication of the WCC report prompted a vigorous rebuttal from Shell International, which later held meetings with WCC representatives to discuss Nigeria.

At his press conference in Kaduna, Raiser characterized his visit to the region as an "initiative to come and speak with representatives of Shell and the Ogoni people." He said that he had reached the conclusion that the agitation of the people of the Niger delta was part of their "struggle for the recognition of the sanctity of their land."

In further comments to journalists, Raiser was asked about his meeting with Nigeria's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, on 16 October and in particular about the WCC's position on demands for the cancellation of Nigeria's debts to overseas countries and international institutions.

He said that the WCC had "no particular program for Nigeria with regard to the debt problem because the issue of international debt involves many countries, and Nigeria is not the worst affected."

He praised President Obasanjo's initiative against corruption and said that Nigeria should use the enormous resources available in the country for development. This would increase Nigeria's chances to solve the debt problem, he said.

Copyright © 2000 ENI

Related Elsewhere

To read direct news from Nigeria, visit Africa Newswire.

Christianity Today reported on some increased ecumenism efforts between Nigerian Muslims and Christians in September.

Previous Christianity Today stories about Nigeria include:

Churches Challenge Islamic Law | Christians plan to take shari'a to court. (Aug. 15, 2000)

Moving Toward War? | Deadly riots lead to suspension of Islamic law. (April 24, 2000)

Is Nigeria Moving Toward War? | Deadly riots lead to suspension of Islamic law. (March 31, 2000)

Islamic Law Raises Tensions | (January 24, 2000)

Nigeria's Churches Welcome Decision to Return Former Mission Schools | Christian Association of Nigeria hopes schools will become 'centers of excellence' (Dec. 21, 1999)

Violence Mars Bonnke's Revival | Sixteen Nigerians die during opening rally. (Dec. 18, 1999)

Nigeria's Churches Considering Legal Challenge to Islamic Laws | Third state moving toward implementing Koranic laws. (Dec. 17, 1999)

Nigeria On the Brink of Religious War | Northern states adopt Islamic law, increasing Christian-Muslim tensions. (Dec. 16, 1999)

Can Christianity and Islam Coexist and Prosper? | Is peace with Islam possible? (Oct. 25, 1999)

Nigeria's Christian President Calls for 'Moral Rearmament' | (April 26, 1999)