More churches burned in Nigeria

Tuesday, March 28, 2000

LAGOS, 28 March 2000 (Newsroom) -- Four churches were burned by Muslim youths on Monday in Demboa in the state of Borno in northeast Nigeria, police there confirm. Eight houses and shops owned by Christians and a police station were destroyed during the riot, which authorities said was started by Muslim youths who want to force the relocation of churches from the center of town to the outskirts.

Nigeria continues to grapple with religious differences between Muslims and Christians over the introduction of Sharia penal law that left at least 400 people dead in Kaduna last month and numerous churches, mosques, and shops destroyed. The Kaduna clash began when Muslim youths attacked Christians protesting the adoption of Islamic penal law in the state.

Tension has been mounting in Borno state over that government’s plan to adopt Sharia. Christians in Borno, who constitute about half of the state’s population, have vowed to resist the adoption of Sharia.

Eight states in northern Nigeria have announced plans to insert Sharia law into the penal code. Nigeria’s secular constitution permits Sharia law as it relates to family matters, but not criminal law. Sharia penal law permits flogging, amputation, and beheading for certain crimes. The right hand of a convicted thief was amputated last week in Zamfara state, which was the first to introduce Islamic penal law last September.

After the Kaduna riots, which were quelled only after the army intervened, the National Council of States met and northern governors agreed to suspend the implementation of Sharia. Several of those governors have since proceeded with Sharia law in defiance of the agreement. The council is composed of the president, vice president, all 36 state governors, and former heads of state.

Churches burned in the Borno riot include Living Faith, Deeper Life, and St. Joseph Church in Demboa. The name of the fourth church was not available on Tuesday. About 200 victims of the riot, most of whom are Christians, have taken refuge at the town's local government headquarters.

The Rev. Fibilus Gwama, Borno state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), said he was awaiting more details on the incidents. He said he was disturbed by the report and called the attack "unfortunate." He had no further comment.

Police said only that officers had restored peace. A police spokesman promised to provide more information later.

One eyewitness watched while his home was destroyed. "They burned all my property in my presence and they went into my church and burned down the place," said Bulus Pogu, a telecommunications worker in Dembo.

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Used with permission.