The presiding pastor of the House on the Rock chapter in Abuja, Nigeria, shocked his congregants on Sunday when he took an AK-47 rifle to the altar. Many people in the crowd were looking at each other and trying to figure out what was going on as Pastor Uche Aigbe made his way to the altar while carrying the gun.
He teased as he attempted to open his Bible: "Some folks are looking for my trouble, and I arrived here ready." Today, there are some divination-gifted preachers who go around defrauding people. This is why we should defend ourselves by carrying our "weapons." I'll be coming right away, in particular for those of you who are currently sleeping in the chapel. He added.
The event happened during the second service, which often draws a sizable congregation from throughout the Federal Capital Territory. Since the early 2000s, Nigeria has seen a proliferation of churches, mainly Pentecostals. This rise in Pentecostalism has also seen a rise in self-styled prophets and preachers who have been described by many as false. It is not clear if the pastor had clearance from the police to display his gun in church or if the gun is licensed.
Although the pastor stated the reason for carrying the gun as an attempt to defend the church against false preachers, many have argued that he brought the gun for security reasons. Christian churches in Nigeria, especially those in northern Nigeria, are stepping up security as Boko Haram, a militant islamist group, targets places of worship.
Christians attend Sunday services at several churches across Nigeria in constant fear of violence. Many churches' premises are now guarded by security volunteers who use metal detectors to search the trunks and glove compartments of vehicles pulling into the area. Police officers are also being deployed to stand guard outside with their weapons raised in front of them.
One clergyman, Reverend Daudu, remarked, "We don't fear, but we are security-conscious, because we don't have to be unwinding and our enemies might catch us off guard." We must always be on guard since we are unaware of their schemes to harm the church or us.Churches are increasingly being targeted in the everyday turmoil in northern Nigeria. Numerous Christians have recently died as a result of bombings and other attacks.
Boko Haram has repeatedly vowed to "purify" northern Nigeria of Christians. Even though the vast majority of the hundreds of victims of Boko Haram were Muslims, the group has repeatedly targeted churches in its attacks. The most recent one killed 15 people at a university in Kano. Witnesses claimed gunmen fired after throwing explosives at people who were attempting to flee.
Assaults on Christians in this already turbulent region have raised concerns that they could heighten hostilities and potentially lead to riots or retaliatory attacks against Muslims. If this tension is not solved by the government, it could lead to civil war.
As Nigeria gears up for the elections, the country’s security is one of the talking points, and the presidential candidates may have outlined their solutions in their manifestos. Since the abduction of Chibok girls in 2014, the Nigerian government has largely failed to deal with insecurity across the country. It remains to be seen if the new president will deal with violence and terrorism in the country.