DESPITE security challenges following the activities of the Boko Haram Islamic sect and last Sunday bomb blast which claimed many lives and injured several others at a Catholic church in Madalla, a border town straddling Niger State and Abuja, some churches are going ahead with the Cross-Over night Service scheduled to hold today.
However, the Catholic Bishop of Minna, Most Rev. Martin Uzoukwu had ordered the cancellation of church services in Madalla, Niger State. Giving the directive at St. Theresa Catholic Church Thursday, the bishop ordered all parishes in Kwanmba deaconry not to hold the traditional mid-night mass, but to meet by 6.00 p.m. to pray on the New Year’s eve.
Reacting to a question by a parishioner if New Year’s eve mass would hold in the parish in view of the threat posed by the fundamental Islamic sect, the Boko Haram, the bishop said:
“I am directing all parishes in this Kwanmba deaconry, including Madalla, not to hold all- night mass as our practice, in view of the time we are in.
“On December 31, mass should hold by 6.00 p.m. to thank God for the outgoing year and everybody will observe the Passover night with their families. We are to converge again for Sunday mass of January 1.
“Nobody is allowed to sleep in the church during this period.”
The bishop, however, warned that the decision was not out of cowardice, but as a result of the reality of the time, adding that the directive was only for the Kwanmba deaconry and not the entire diocese.
But at Dunamis Church, a leading pentecostal church with headquarters located in Area 1 in the nation’s capital, worshippers were yesterday seen putting finishing touches to preparations for what they described as Cross-Over night holding today when The Guardian visited.
A church leader who craved anonymity told The Guardian at the premises that the church was going ahead with the Christmas Eve Service despite the Madalla bombing and other threats in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
“We are going ahead with the service, we will not be deterred by the spate of bombings.”
He, however, declined to comment on the security measures put in place to provide safety for the church members, especially, during the Cross-Over Service.
Also defying the threats, the Parish Priest of the Catholic Church of the Assumption, Asokoro, Abuja, Rev. Father George Ehusani, said the parish would go ahead with its scheduled events for the New Year Eve Mass.
“Its rather pathetic that due to the insecurity, a lot of churches are cancelling events for their Cross-Over night and the new year celebration. But for us it is a matter of faith and we are most definitely going on with all of our scheduled events.”
Fielding questions on behalf of Father Ehusani, an Assistant, Mike Ibe said the church was collaborating with the State Security Service (SSS), Police and other security agencies in Abuja to ensure safety of the parishioners during the Cross-Over Service.
Meanwhile, The Guardian saw some armed operatives of the SSS in a pick-up van stationed at the church entrance apparently to provide surveillance.
The threat of Boko Haram not withstanding, churches in Enugu state are going ahead with their New Year services.
Presiding Bishop of the Rock Family Church, Obi Onubugo, through MTN text messages is inviting people to what he described as “Night of Prophetic Leap 2012,” which begins 9pm today.
Also, throughout the Anglican diocese of Enugu, there shall be church services on the night of December 31 to commemorate the New Year.
The service would be an anointing service, he said, stressing that Christians should not fear the terror of Boko Haram though the church would continue to advocate for peace.
A cross section of people interviewed said they would not be deterred by Boko Haram and would definitely be part of the New Year service in Enugu.
In Kwara State, an atmosphere of peace has continued to reign as people irrespective of their faith mix freely, and exchange yuletide greetings and gifts.
Nevertheless, the state Police Commissioner Peter Gana, yesterday at a press briefing, said the Police would provide adequate protection of lives and property during the celebration.
Even messages delivered at some of the mosques in Ilorin yesterday during Jumat services, deplored any outbreak of violence as the Imams criticized the Madalla Christmas bombing as satanic, noting that persons behind the dastardly act would end up in hell.
Churches in Edo yesterday said they would rather die in church than stop church services because of such threats. They called on the government and security agencies to bring the sponsors of the Mandalla blast to book. The Bishop of Akoko-Edo Diocese of the Anglican Communion, Rt. Rev Jolly Oyekpen told The Guardian yesterday that the end-of-year service would go on in the diocese.
The General Overseer of Rock of Ages Christian Assembly (RACA), Bishop Charles Osazuwa, in the same vein said his church would hold its annual end of year vigil.
“We can’t stop going to church because of the negative activities of some few individuals, no matter what is happening, the church must congregate and I want to sound a warning that Nigeria belongs to God and if they have anything against the system, they should adopt legal means…”
The General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries, Apostle Johnson Suleman said the Boko Haram threats and actions were to destabilize the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan to create an impression that a South-South presidency failed.
He stated: “They should ask former presidents from the North the meaning of Boko Haram, they have not spoken for or against them.
“I believe Christians should sit up and defend themselves and not allow themselves to be killed. I believe that the attack is targeted on southerners because if you look at the churches they bombed, they were churches with southerners.”
Catholic churches in Port Harcourt are going ahead with regular New Year eve church masses.
A priest at the Corpus Et Sanguis Christi Cathedral at Kaduna Street, Port Harcourt told The Guardian at the church that the Bishop had just finished a meeting with the leadership of the church in preparation for today’s mass.
Churches in Jigawa say they cannot be intimidated by Madalla episode. Preparations for the Christmas and New Year celebrations had been made with caution and absolute reservation in Dutse, Jigawa State even before the unfortunate bombing of churches in Madalla, Jos and Maiduguri.
At Christ The King Parish in Dutse, most of the activities were planned to be low-keyed due to the security situation.
The church had set up security committee made up of members working with the Police, military, SSS and other relevant agencies in the state to checkmate any attack.
The national vice President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria North West Zone, Bishop Ransom Bello, who spoke to The Guardian on telephone said the church could not be intimidated into cancelling its programmes. The crossover celebrations, he insisted, would hold.
The state commissioner of Police, Hashim Argungu said Jigawa was peaceful saying the only problem was that of the clash between Fulani herdsmen and farmers. He pointed out that the clash in Krikassama between farmers and the herdsmen had been resolved.
Also, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Rev. Ignatius Kaigama has assured Christians in Plateau State to go to their various churches and pray during the New Year festivity especially as the Special Task Force (STF) and the Police have assured them of adequate security. The police and STF have said that they would ward off any threat to the worshippers before, during and after the celebration. In all the churches visited, signs of preparation to mark the New Year could be seen.
Meanwhile, Uzoukwu, later clarified that the shift in the time of end-of-year mass from 10pm to 6pm was not in any way a sign of defeat or fear of possible attack, saying Christians are not at war with anybody or group.
The decision, he said, was to allow “our beloved Christians brothers and sisters to stay at home and pray for those that lost their lives during the charismas bomb blast “.
Meanwhile the Niger State Police Command said it has deployed no fewer than 7,000 armed Policemen to mount security in Churches across the state to prevent any further attacks.
The Command’s image maker, Mr. Richard Adamu Oguche, told The Guardian in an interview at the Command Headquarters in Minna, the state capital on Friday that with the security arrangement on ground, the new year celebrations will be held without any security challenges.