Christians Killed and Churches Burned in Nigerian Riots Sparked

Friday, November 22, 2002

by Miss World Protests

At least one hundred people were killed and 200 injured yesterday as Muslim youths rampaged through the capital of Kaduna State in Nigeria in protest at a newspaper article that was said to have blasphemed the Prophet Mohammed.

Muslim youths arrived in Kaduna city in a convoy of buses bearing Arabic inscriptions which observers suspected of belonging to an Islamic organisation. As the day wore on the protest became more violent. Chanting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great), thousands of youths marched on the Kaduna offices of ThisDay where they proceeded to search for the Chief Correspondent, Mrs Josephine Lohor. When they failed to find her, they set fire to the office and went on the rampage, attacking at least two hotels and burning down four to ten churches. Non-Muslims were singled out for attack, with several people reported to have been burned, bludgeoned or stabbed to death.

In the article, published in the newspaper ThisDay on November 16, a journalist questioned Muslim objections to the Miss World contest to be held in the federal capital, Abuja, and stated that the Prophet himself would not have been averse to marrying a Miss World contestant had he been alive today.

The newspaper was inundated with calls from Muslims demanding an apology for the offending article. The paper immediately apologised unreservedly, through print and electronic media and during direct talks with key Muslim leaders.

The Kaduna State government initially instituted a 12-hour curfew, but this has now been extended to 24 hours. A senior police officer at the scene of the burning newspaper offices in Kaduna expressed surprise at how an article written in Lagos should generate such a level of violence in Kaduna. However Nigerian Christian leaders are no longer surprised by such events. There has been growing anger among Muslims about US policy towards Iraq and the Middle East. In the minds of Islamic extremists, the US is viewed as a major Christian country and Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere are targeted for attack whenever the United States is deemed to be threatening Islam.

Bishop Ben Kwashi of Jos, told CSW: "If this is a matter of the newspaper against the Islamic view, then why have at least four churches been burned down and several Christians been killed? Did the churches sponsor the publication or own the newspaper? What does this have to do with the lives that have been lost?

"Muslim extremists are looking for an excuse to kill people and they target the church. What continues to baffle us is the destruction that follows each Muslim demonstration even when it is said to be peaceful. If indeed the problem was the newspaper write-up, what has that got to do with the ordinary citizens who probably had no idea of what the whole story was? What has the Church and Christians got to do with the whole saga? Beneath all this is a plan against the Church. It would seem that at the slightest excuse they are looking for a religious fight."

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: "The fact that Muslim youths were bussed into the area and committed these offences five days after publication of the offending article indicates that these attacks were deliberately orchestrated, and that the understandable anger at a newspaper article was used as a pretext for attacks against Christians and other non-Muslims. Unfortunately such attacks are becoming commonplace in northern Nigeria. A recent fact-finding visit to Nigeria by a CSW team found that far from this being a tribal or inter-ethnic conflict, this is primarily a religious issue, because in every attack, Christians are targeted, usually by Hausa-Fulani Muslims.

"Muslim members of other tribes are left unmolested while Christians and churches bear wave after wave of attack. We call on the Nigerian state and federal governments to uphold the country's constitution and to be steadfast and impartial in keeping the peace."

For more information, contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email or go to