Churches Destroyed, Families Displaced by Religious Conflict in Nigeria

Friday, January 9, 2004

State government bans Islamic council for threatening peace.

by Obed Minchakpu

JOS, Nigeria, January 9 (Compass) -- Leaders of the Christian community in the northern state of Jigawa, Nigeria, report that Muslim extremists burned down 10 churches and over 100 church-owned properties in November during unprovoked attacks against Christians in the town of Kazaure.

Rev. Umaru Dutse, chairman of the Jigawa state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Compass that an undetermined number of Christians also died in the attacks.

According to Dutse, Muslim fanatics justified the attacks with claims that a Christian in Kazaure blasphemed the prophet of Islam, Mohammed. But the CAN official believes the blasphemy charge was merely a pretext.

“The attack is (part of) premeditated and continuous persecution of the Christian community here,” Dutse said. “We have faced these attacks over the years, and the situation is becoming more difficult for us to practice our Christian faith.

“Many indigenous Christians here have been forced relocate to other parts of Nigeria for fear of being killed,” he added.

According to Dutse, the Jigawa state government appointed an all-Muslim committee following the crisis to investigate its causes, but he doubts it effectiveness.

“The government is trying to be mischievous,” he said. “How can they set up a committee made up of only Muslims and tell us to expect justice from it?”

Dutse believes the police conspired with the extremists in their attacks on Christians. According to him, police officials were fully informed about the Muslim plans, but did nothing to stop them.

In contrast, the government of the central state of Plateau last month ordered a team of army, air force and police personnel to launch a pre-emptive strike against Muslim militants to prevent attacks on Christians during the Christmas holidays (See Compass News Flash, December 30). They later banned an Islamic group believed to be financing incessant aggression against Christians over the past two years.

In a radio and television broadcast on December 31, 2003, Plateau governor Joshua Dariye charged the Council of Ulamas (Muslim clerics) with conducting activities inimical to the peaceful co-existence of Muslims and Christians in the state.

Dariye said his government has a responsibility to protect lives and properties of all citizens and would not renege in its duty by allowing fundamentalists Muslim leaders to give tacit support to religious terrorism.

“Government will no longer allow a few misguided elements to disrupt the peace that now pervades the state,” the governor said. “The security services have been directed to take all necessary steps to ensure that mischief makers are apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law.”

Shortly after security forces attacked a stronghold of Muslim militants to pre-empt a planned Christmas attack, the Council of Ulamas addressed a press conference and complained that the government had not consulted them before ordering the crackdown, which resulted in the death of four Muslims and the arrest of 150 others. Council members said the government action was inimical to Islam and an injustice to Muslims in the country.

The Plateau state commissioner of information, Alhaji Dauda Lamba, himself a Muslim, does not agree. In an interview with Compass, Lamba defended the government action against the militants and said the Islamic group had the “potential of threatening inter-religious peace and harmony in the state.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s National Commission for Refugees announced that the past four years of Muslim-Christian religious conflict has displaced over 800,000 Christians from their homes and native villages.

Professor Igna Gabriel disclosed the statistic while speaking with Compass on January 6 in the federal capital of Abuja. According to the refugee commissioner, this figure does not include several thousand non-Christian refugees displaced by endemic religious conflict.