Nigerian Student Murdered in Clash over Evangelism

Monday, December 20, 2004

Five other Christians expelled from two public schools.

by Obed Minchakpu

BAUCHI, Nigeria, December 20, 2004 (Compass) -- Opposition to Christian evangelism on the campuses of two Nigerian institutions of higher learning has resulted in the murder of Sunday Nache Achi, a fourth-year architectural student at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in the northern city of Bauchi.

University representatives had earlier expelled three other Christian students for distributing a leaflet that compared the teachings of Jesus with Islamic beliefs. Muslims students at the nearby Bauchi Federal Polytechnic threatened two Christians with death before the pair was expelled from the school for similar evangelistic activities.

Following the murder of Achi and the destruction by arson of the offices of the Nigeria Fellowship of Evangelical Students (NIFES), authorities in Bauchi ordered Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University and Federal Polytechnic closed.

Achi served as president of the campus ministry of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA). Idakwo Ako Paul, who shared a room with Achi in a student hostel on campus, told Compass that the young man was attending a Bible study the evening of December 8 when a band of Muslim students came looking for him.

“Three Muslim students dressed in Islamic jihad style burst into the room at about 8 p.m.,” Paul said. “I was scared because in the past two months, there has been palpable tension on the campus between Muslim and Christian students.

“They wanted to know where my roommate was. I told them I didn’t know and they left. Sunday returned to the room about 11 p.m. and I told him what had transpired.”

Paul said he retired for the night while Achi worked on architectural drawings for a class presentation the following morning. However, not long after falling asleep, Paul was awakened by his roommate’s shouts.

“‘Wake up Paul, wake up!’ Sunday was shouting. I jumped out of bed to be confronted again by these Muslim students. This time they were more in number and were wearing masks.

“They dragged Sunday Achi out of the room. I tried running after them, but one of them pointed a pistol at me and ordered me back into the room. They locked me in there. I kept shouting for help but the Muslim students in the hostel deliberately kept to their rooms.”

The following morning, a Christian student came to the hostel, discovered Paul locked in the room and broke the door to let him out. The two of them were about to alert other Christian students to the danger when they received news that Sunday Achi’s body had been discovered beside a mosque near the home of the university’s vice chancellor.

Achi apparently died of strangulation. His neck was broken and his body badly bruised, according to witnesses who prepared his body for burial.

Bauchi state Governor Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu told religious leaders that he has ordered an investigation into the incident and that the perpetrators, if found, will face the full force of the law. However at press time, authorities had not arrested any suspects in the killing.

According to Christian students in Bauchi, the controversy that led to Achi’s murder began two months ago, when a small group of Christians visited student hostels on the university campus to discuss the gospel with fellow students.

Fourth-year engineering student Abraham Adamu Misal told Compass, “On the 9th of October, Miss Hannatu Haruna Alkali, Habakkuk Solomon and I visited a room with five Muslim students in it. We shared the gospel. Having listened to us, they also decided to tell us about Islam.

“But their presentation distorted Christianity. I decided to give them a tract that made a comparative analysis of Islam vis-à-vis Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

According to Alkali, in the weeks following this conversation, Muslim extremists made several attempts to kill the evangelistic trio. A month after their visit to the hostel, university authorities summoned the three Christians to a meeting and told them they had blasphemed the Prophet Mohammed.

A student disciplinary committee prepared a report on the incident for the university senate, which subsequently recommended that Misal, Alkali and Solomon be expelled from the university.

For her part, Alkali has accepted the expulsion order as the price of practicing her Christian faith.

“Evangelism is something we must all be prepared to sacrifice for,” she told Compass. “I see in the Bible examples of many who have had to lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel. Why not me?”

Hankuri Gaya and a second student identified as Uzochukwu were later expelled from Bauchi Federal Polytechnic for distributing the same Christian tract that caused trouble for Misal, Alkali and Solomon. Sources told Compass that Muslim extremists used the leaflet to whip up anti-Christian fervor among Muslim students.

Tensions erupted on December 8 when rampaging Muslims set fire to the NIFES offices, then abducted and murdered Sunday Achi.

Achi was buried on Saturday, December 11, in his hometown of Kibori in the central state of Kaduna. Funeral services were held at the Kibori ECWA church.

The dead student’s father, Dr. Samuel Achi, faulted the Nigerian government for mishandling Muslim-Christian conflict in the country and called for urgent steps to be taken to avert further bloodshed.

“Peace cannot just be preached, it has to be practiced,” Dr. Achi told mourners. “A religion that claims to be a religion of peace, as the Muslims claim their religion is, must be peaceful in practice.

“Government in its wisdom should find a solution to the problem of religious conflicts in the country, if Nigeria is to remain a single sovereign state.”

“We believe the same group that attacked the church earlier was responsible for today’s attack,” Wanigasena said yesterday.

Earlier this month, President Chandrika Kumaratunga ordered police guards for all vulnerable churches, fearing a repeat of violent attacks that occurred in December 2003. The president also said she would hold local police officers personally responsible if a church was attacked over this Christmas season.

Several violent attacks on churches occurred last Christmas after the funeral of a senior Buddhist monk, Ven. Gangodawila Soma, was held on Christmas Eve. Soma was a popular and vocal supporter of the campaign to introduce anti-conversion laws in Sri Lanka.

A prominent Sri Lankan Christian recalled that on the morning of Soma’s funeral, “the whole city was yellow.” Saffron Buddhist flags were even wrapped around Christmas decorations. Buddhist monks also asked Christians not to celebrate Christmas out of respect for Soma.

Sensing the rising tension, President Kumaratunga appeared on national television and appealed for calm. In spite of her efforts, 20 churches were burned on the night of the funeral.

After yesterday’s attack, fears of another violent Christmas may well prove justified. Christians are certainly in the minority. A 2001 census showed there were almost 190,000 Buddhists in Homogama but only 3,700 Christians.

Roman Catholics account for about seven percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million population, while evangelical Christians account for less than one percent. Hindus comprise 15 percent; Muslims, seven percent, and Buddhists, the remaining 70 percent.

However, the Christian population has suffered a disproportionate share of violence. The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) recorded 46 churches burned, attacked or otherwise harassed in the first quarter of 2004.

Angry mobs, often led by Buddhist monks, have attacked at least 160 churches over the past two years.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Sri Lanka published their annual Christmas message in today’s Daily News.

“We are celebrating Christmas at a time when respect for human life and dignity in our country is at a very low ebb,” the statement said.

“At the birth of the Divine child in Bethlehem, the angels sang, ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to men of good will.’ Jesus came to bring us the gift of peace with dignity and justice.

“He taught us that we must respect one another and treat each other as members of one human family. In our dear land, we need to treat the diversity of languages, religions and cultural traditions not as diversity factors, but as a source of richness and unity.

“Unless and until we learn to recognize each other with dignity and equality, there cannot be lasting peace in our land. If Christmas is to be meaningful, we shall have to commit ourselves to this vision.”