MADALLA — Kneeling over a dusty grave on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital, 16-year-old Hope Ehiawaguan says a prayer, lays down flowers and tearfully tells her brother she loves him.
He was one of 44 killed on Christmas Day last year when a member of Islamist sect Boko Haram rammed a car packed with explosives into the gates of St. Theresa’s Church in Madalla, a satellite town 25 miles from the centre of Abuja.
Boko Haram has killed hundreds in its campaign to impose sharia law in northern Nigeria and is the biggest threat to stability in Africa’s top oil exporter.
Two other churches were bombed that day and on Christmas Eve 2010 over 40 people were killed in similar attacks.
This Christmas, the police and military are expecting more trouble in the north. They’ve ordered security to be tightened, people’s movement restricted and churches to be guarded.
But such is the commitment to religion in a country with Africa’s largest Christian population that millions of people will pack out thousands of churches in the coming days. It is impossible to protect everyone, security experts say.
“I feel safe,” Ehiawaguan says with uncertainty, when asked if she will come to church on December 25 this year.
“Not because of security here … because we have a greater security in heaven,” she says, wiping away her tears.
The blast in Madalla killed several people on the street and pulled down the church roof, condemning many of those trapped inside the burning building, including a seven-month old boy.
A plaque listing the names of the members of the church who were killed has been placed above their graves. The twisted metal of the cars destroyed in the blast is still there.
“I only pray to God to give them a heart,” Ehiawaguan says, when asked about her brother’s killers.
Security experts believe Boko Haram is targeting worshippers to spark a religious conflict in a country of 160 million people split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims. (Reuters)