Muslim Protest Turns Deadly in Nigeria

Thursday, May 13, 2004

As many as 30 dead, 300 injured in retaliatory attack on Christians in Kano.

by Obed Minchakpu

KANO, Nigeria, May 13 (Compass) -- On Tuesday, May 11, thousands of Muslims in the northern city of Kano took to the streets in protest against recent attacks on fellow Muslims in the town of Yelwa in nearby Plateau state. (See “Fresh Violence Erupts in Nigeria,” May 7.)

Sources on the scene say the confrontation turned violent. Police officials place the death toll as high as 30 and say another 300 have suffered injuries. Thousands are believed to have fled their homes.

Properties belonging to Christians were either looted or destroyed by the Muslim protesters, according to officials.

Kano state police commissioner Alhaji Ganiyu Alli Daudu told journalists yesterday that Muslim mobs were trapping Christians in their homes and setting the houses on fire, attempting to kill those inside. He said police were under a “shoot-on-sight order” issued to save innocent lives.

“The order is out of necessity because you find that houses were being burned and there are people inside,” Daudo said. “We have been compelled to shoot in order to rescue them.”

The Kano attack comes in retaliation for the violence that erupted in Yelwa on May 2, in which Christian militia killed scores of Muslims. The governor of Plateau state, in a radio and television broadcast on Tuesday, said about 65 persons were killed. Associated Press reports placed the blame for that outbreak on a bitter land dispute between the predominantly Christian Tarok ethnic group and Muslims herdsmen of the Hausa-fulani tribe.

Christian sources in Nigeria say conflict began with the February 23 attack by Muslim militants on the Church of Christ in Yelwa, which resulted in the death of Pastor Samson Bukar and 48 members of the church.

Whatever the motive, the bloodletting is claiming hundreds of lives, according to the few eyewitness reports coming out of the area. (Compass required an armed escort to get into Kano in order to file this report.) Police Commissioner Daudu said that, of the 30 Christians killed, five died on Tuesday and 25 yesterday. He estimated that as many as 10,000 Christians displaced by the attacks have taken refuge in army and police barracks.

Sheik Umar Kabo, chairman of the Kano state Council of Ulamas (Islamic

Clerics), in company of other notable Islamic leaders, reportedly led the Muslim protest that sparked the attack on Christians in Kano.

Plateau state governor Joshua Dariye said he believes the attacks on Christians are motivated by Muslim militants with an agenda to carry out jihad (religious war).

Dariye told journalists yesterday in the city of Jos that extremists with ties to the Al-Qaeda network are behind the incessant Muslim-Christian conflict in Plateau state. The governor said his administration discovered “linkage” between Al-Qaeda and the Council of Ulamas, prompting him to ban the ulamas from Plateau state last December.

“They are part of the problem,” Dariye said, referring to the Council of Ulamas.

“They (Muslims) are fighting a jihad. It is like celebrating 200 years of jihad, because (Islamic) jihad was fought in 1804 (in northern Nigeria).

“Because they know that Plateau state is a Christian state and they could not capture it through jihad, they have decided to use religious conflicts ... to make us Muslims by force.”

Meanwhile, the Council of Ulamas visited Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on Tuesday in Abuja to demand he declare a state of emergency in Plateau state.

Obasanjo reportedly assured the Muslim leaders that he would do all he could to find a solution to the problem.

“Whatever will be done will be done,” he said. “We cannot allow lawlessness to be the order of the day. We have reached a stage where a permanent solution should be found.”