Brooklyn’s Nigerian Community Feels the Heat of War

Brooklyn-based immigrants from Nigeria are struggling with the negative impact of religiously motivated violence in their home country, spearheaded by the Islamist militant movement Boko Haram, reports The Brooklyn Ink. Close to 2,000 people have died in the violence since 2009, especially in northeastern parts of the oil-rich West African country. Boko Haram is running a violent campaign for Shariah law in the country and has been attacking Christians and bombing churches. Brooklyn-based Nigerians express varying sentiments on the continuing violence in their country of origin.

“Boko Haram fighters were simply poor, uneducated, hungry and frustrated Nigerians,” said Abbas Badiru, 51, a Nigerian immigrant who lives in Canarsie, “All the government needed to do was disarm, educate and provide the young people in the area with jobs to feed their families.”

Not every body agrees with Badiru’s understanding of the violence. Condemnation of Boko Haram can be heard both from New York-based Nigerian Christians and Muslims.

The Brooklyn-based Redeemed Christian Church of God is one of many Nigerian Churches in New York City (Photo by Ernest Chi via The Brooklyn Ink)

“Why kill Christians?” Said Olu Amure, 36, who attends Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Nigerian church in Canarsie. “I don’t think they even have the right to kill anyone, no matter the religion.” Amure continued, “I live in New York and it’s very difficult for me to sometimes deal with curious Americans who want to know whether I am a Muslim, or if I know anyone who is a member of Boko Haram. That’s not a nice position to be in.”

John Oguleye, a 19-year-old Brooklyn College student, made a similar point in a recent interview. “Everyone follows these things on the news and students talk about it a lot in school,” he said. “I feel very uncomfortable each time the topic is raised because it has to do with my country.”

Nigerian-Americans involved in business have also started complaining about the negative impact of the situation on their business here.

53-year-old Ola Awobajo, a Nigerian businesswoman in Canarsie who deals in beauty products, said her business partners are beginning to think twice before making trips to Nigeria.

“Folks with whom you normally do business now ask you if you think it’s a good idea for them to travel to Nigeria,” she said. “They worry about their safety because you never know where and when those terrorists might decide to bomb a car, plane, or building. That’s a big problem to me.”

Badiru, who has been living in New York for the past two decades and is a member of Canarsie Islamic Center in Brooklyn, had to face a tense moment with an American Jehovah’s Witness Christian a few months after Boko Haram launched terrorist attacks against Nigerian Christians. He still wonders why he was treated with suspicion simply because his fellow Muslims were involved in violent acts in his country of origin.

“The guy said, ‘So you are a Nigerian and a Muslim,’” said Badiru. “The Jehovah Witness even talked about me to other folks in the coffee shop where he worked, and there was this look on their faces that made me think I was at the wrong place.”

However, Nigerian community organizers insist that violence in their country of origin has not affected the intra-community harmony.

The Nigerian-American Muslim Integrated Community center in Brooklyn houses a mosque where hundreds of Nigerian Muslims go for prayers. (Photo by Ernest Chi via The Brooklyn Ink)

Ade Oluwo, one of the founders of the Nigerian American Muslim Integrated Community in Brooklyn said that the violence abroad has not harmed relations between Nigerians in New York. In February 2011, the Nigerian Imams’ Council in New York issued a statement condemning the activities of Boko Haram.

“I am a Muslim with many family members and friends who are Christians,” Oluwo said. “We always invite them to our religious events and they invite us to theirs, too. Nothing has changed.”

Grace Akpan, 40, of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Canarsie said,” It is simply the devil’s strategy to push people out of the church by instilling fear and the spirit of vengeance in them. But as Christians, our fight is spiritual, not physical. We are praying for them and for all Nigerians.”

Amity within the community aside, many Nigerian-Americans fear that hostilities could turn into a religious war if Boko Haram’s activities are not checked. Some like Badiru even suggest a direct U.S. intervention, a suggestion not every one subscribes to.

David Omowanile, 33, does not agree with Badiru.

“Nigeria is an oil-producing nation and my fear is the United States tends to play the peacemaker only in oil rich nations, as was the case in Iraq and Libya,” Omowanile said.  “I fear for my country each time someone mentions the possibility of the United States intervening to stop Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. There’s always a hidden agenda. They might come in, kill innocent people and take out our oil for free.”

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