A Catholic archbishop said Wednesday that Christians were "tired of turning the other cheek" to Muslim attacks and blamed the government for deadly sectarian riots after a newspaper article about the Miss World beauty pageant.
"No group of people should be allowed to invade the city of Abuja and molest law-abiding citizens," said the Rev. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, Archbishop in Nigeria's capital, Abuja.
Onaiyekan spoke at a news conference called by the Council of Nigerian Churches and accused President Olusegun Obasanjo's government of failing to protect Christians during the riots.
"We blame the government because we rely on the government to protect us," he said.
The archbishop said Christians shouldn't hesitate to defend themselves from further attacks.
"It is a Christian duty to protect yourselves," he said.
Senior clergy from the Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran and other churches also criticized the government, arguing that Christians had taken the brunt of the violence.
More than 200 people were killed last week by Muslims and Christians in the northern city of Kaduna. The rioting was triggered by a newspaper article in the Nigerian newspaper ThisDay that suggested the Muslim prophet Muhammad would have approved of the Miss World pageant and might have wanted to marry a contestant if given the opportunity.
The Miss World pageant pulled its contestants out of Nigeria on Sunday, rescheduling the contest finale to London on Dec. 7.
The pageant's president, Julia Morley, said the organization plans to send the winner of the Miss World contest back to Nigeria for a show of ethnic African fashions. The date hasn't been set.
Mahamoud Shinkafi, the deputy governor of the predominantly Muslim state of Zamfara in northern Nigeria on Monday called on Muslims to kill Isioma Daniel, the woman who wrote the newspaper article.
Nigerian Information Minister Jerry Gana told journalists Wednesday that the federal government would overrule the death order, which he called "unconstitutional."
"Zamfara state is just a state in Nigeria and they cannot make laws binding on Nigerians. They cannot make laws binding on the federal government. The federal governments rejects the declaration in its entirety," Gana said.
He did not say, however, whether the government would offer protection to the newspaper reporter. She has reportedly gone into hiding after being interrogated by police last week
Onaiyekan, the Catholic archbishop, called on the government to arrest and punish all those who called for the death order if Daniel is killed.
"That is a criminal act," he said. "When somebody has sentenced a fellow Nigerian to be killed by any other Muslim anywhere in the world ... that person should be held responsible," he said.