Nigeria Releases Casualty Figures from Kaduna Riots

Friday, April 21, 2000

Police Authorities are Under Attack for Their Handling of the Crisis

by Obed Minchakpu

KADUNA, Nigeria (Compass) -- Nigerian police authorities reported that 123 churches were burned and 55 mosques razed during the Kaduna religious riots in late February that involved violent clashes between Christians and Muslims over the implementation of sharia (Islamic legal system) in northern Nigeria.

The police command in Kaduna made the disclosure through its commissioner, Alhaji Hamisu Isa, who submitted the report to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, which was established in early March to investigate causes of the Kaduna riots. The Commission is headed by Justice Dalhatu Ja'afaru, a Muslim attorney.

The police said 609 persons were killed, including four policemen, and more than 100 persons were injured. In addition, 1,944 houses and 746 vehicles were burned.

In the process of restoring law and order, police arrested 559 suspects, both Muslims and Christians, who are currently jailed and awaiting arraignment.

Two military rocket launchers, two medium-sized bombs and two small grenades were seized, the police reported. The police also disclosed that many locally-made pistols, guns, swords, cutlasses, daggers, axes, and knives were also recovered from some of the suspects.

However, police are being criticized for their handling of the crisis and the casualty figure is in dispute.

The Islamic umbrella organization Jama'atul Nasrul Islam (JNI) has accused the police of doctoring the figures of those killed in the crises. JNI officials, in their memo to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry, said 799 Muslims alone were killed in the conflict.

Also, a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kaduna said the police were partisan in handling the conflict, and that was why the high number of deaths were recorded.

"For the Kaduna state police commissioner to have regarded a peaceful demonstration by members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) as illegal was clearly partisan, more so since similar rallies and protest marches had been held prior to CAN's," said Mrs. Asma'u Haddassah Usman, president of True Concerned Indigenes of Kaduna State, an NGO in Kaduna.

She said that while the police commissioner was speaking on BBC Radio claiming the conflict in Kaduna was only a slight problem, the city was burning and people were dying.

"Because of his total, deliberate negligence of duty, we hereby call on the Nigerian Police Council to dismiss the police commissioner, Hamisu Isa, arrest and try him for the role he played in the Kaduna crisis," Mrs. Usman said.

Christians in Kaduna state have called on the federal government to declare a state of emergency in Kaduna and dissolve the Kaduna State House of Assembly for being responsible for the sharia conflict. Christian leaders have said that if the Kaduna state government had not sought to implement sharia, the crisis would not have occurred.

Archbishop Peter Jatau, northern Nigeria president of CAN and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kaduna, said he had already warned the government about the danger of allowing Muslims to introduce Islam into the politics of Nigeria, but that the government ignored the warning. He said Christians in Nigeria are not against Islam as a religion, but they are against its imposition on others who are not Muslims.

"What we are saying is that there is freedom to practice any religion you like. That is a constitutional guarantee so nobody can come and tell a Christian that he must rule by

Islamic laws. It is not acceptable," Archbishop Jatau said.

The Pentecostal Fellowships of Nigeria (PFN) questioned the sources of arms and ammunition that were used during the riots. "Where did they get those guns? Why should civilians be allowed to carry guns? Something is certainly wrong and this is what we want the government to find out," said PFN President Bishop Mike Okonkwo.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry is expected to submit its report by the end of April.

Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.