Attackers threw a bomb into an Arabic school in Nigeria’s mainly Christian south, wounding six children and an adult, police said Wednesday, after Christmas attacks stoked sectarian tensions.
Meanwhile, some 90,000 people were displaced in the hard hit northeastern city of Damaturu after clashes between Islamist group Boko Haram and security forces last week, with officials rushing to provide relief materials.
The Christmas Day bombings blamed on Boko Haram killed 40 people in several towns across Nigeria, with the deadliest an explosion outside a church near the capital Abuja as services were ending.
Nigerian leaders have been seeking to calm tensions amid fears the Christmas attacks could set off sectarian clashes in Africa’s most populous nation and largest oil producer, which is roughly divided between a mainly Muslim north and predominately Christian south.
It was not clear who was behind the bomb attack at the Arabic school in Delta state, located in the oil-producing Niger Delta region.
While scores of explosions have hit the delta in recent years, they have mainly targeted oil installations and the attacks have not taken on a sectarian dimension.
“A locally made low-capacity explosive was thrown into an Arabic school in Sapele at 10:00 pm yesterday,” said state police spokesman Charles Mouka.
“It was thrown from an unidentified moving car... Six children and one adult were wounded.”
The children are between five and eight years old, he said, and had been at the school, which has about 50 students, for evening Arabic and Koranic lessons.
Christian leaders have urged authorities to take action against spiralling violence blamed on Boko Haram, with deep frustration over the state’s seeming inability to stop attacks despite heavy-handed military crackdowns.
A Christian leader in Nigeria’s north has warned that “religious war” could result if the problem is not addressed, though he urged Christians not to retaliate.
The president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Reverend Ayo Oritsejafor, also urged followers not to take revenge but said they should defend themselves, their property and their places of worship.
He also demanded that the “government should do more, intelligence agencies should do more” and urged Nigerians of all religions not to “protect mad people and think you are protecting your religion”.
“As president of the Christian Association of Nigeria. I will not encourage Christians to (take) revenge, but Christians should protect themselves,” he said.
Asked how, he added: “Any way they can. Why should anybody come and kill you in your house? Protect your place of worship. Protect your property.”
Also on Wednesday, a coalition of Nigerian Pentecostal churches said they will defend themselves if authorities do not protect them from attacks, though an official stressed they were not advocating taking up arms.
“In the year 2012, if these unprovoked attacks continue, and Christians remain unprotected by the security agencies, then we will have no choice but to defend our lives and property,” the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria coalition said.
Nigeria’s top Muslim spiritual leader met President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday over the Christmas attacks and afterward said the violence did not signal a religious conflict.
“I want to assure all Nigerians that there is no conflict between Muslims and Christians, between Islam and Christianity,” Sultan of Sokoto Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar told journalists.
“It’s a conflict between evil people and good people. The good people are more than the evil ones, so the good people must come together to defeat the evil ones, and that is the message.”
Jonathan did not speak publicly after the meeting, but his national security adviser urged Christians to avoid retaliating over the Christmas bombings.
“Retaliation is not the answer, because if you retaliate, at what point will it end? Nigeria must survive as a nation,” Owoye Azazi said.
Violence had been raging even in the days before the Christmas bombings, especially in the northeastern cities of Damaturu, Potiskum and Maiduguri. Most violence attributed to Boko Haram has occurred in the northeast.
In Damaturu, an estimated 90,000 people were displaced, an emergency official said, while a police source and rights group earlier said up to 100 were feared killed.
“We advised the displaced against moving into any temporary camp for security reasons, therefore most of them are sheltering in the homes of friends and relatives in the city and neighbouring villages,” said Ibrahim Farinloye of the National Emergency Management Agency.