Seminarian killed, campus attacked, churches torched in Nigeria riots

Tuesday, February 22, 2000

By Mark Kelly

KADUNA, Nigeria (BP)--Dozens of people -- including a Baptist seminary student -- were killed when riots between Christians and Muslims broke out Feb. 21 in Kaduna, Nigeria.

The next morning, a mob breached the wall of the Baptist seminary compound there and set all the buildings ablaze.

The student died when violence broke out between Muslim youth and thousands of Christians peacefully protesting calls for strict Islamic law to be implemented in the northern Nigerian state. Neighboring Zamfara state implemented "Sharia" law in January, and other northern states are considering similar moves.

"When, where and how the violence broke out is uncertain," reported Southern Baptist missionary Ray Davidson, who is stationed in Abuja, federal capital of the massive country in West Africa. "Mosques, churches and businesses have been burned. Hundreds of vehicles have been destroyed or damaged."

The seminary campus was attacked the morning of Feb. 22. A gang began throwing firebombs into the seminary compound about 9 a.m. Within an hour, all classrooms, the administration building and the chapel were burning, said Southern Baptist missionary Don Copeland.

The mob soon breached the wall, and 500 men, women and children of the seminary community fled the campus. Dale and Brenda Gray, the only Southern Baptist missionaries on campus at the time, were reported safe at a nearby air force base.

Eleven church buildings in Kaduna -- including four Baptist buildings -- reportedly were burned during the Feb. 21 riots. Two other seminary students also were injured.

Bodies spilled from smashed cars and buses in the city center, where rioting mobs had caught people trying to escape the violence, according to news reports. Dozens of corpses littered the streets. Nigeria's federal government ordered troops to join local police in efforts to stop the rioting.

The violence reveals enormous religious and ethnic tensions between Nigeria's largely Muslim northern region and the largely Christian and animist southern states. After years of domination by military leaders controlled by northern influences, the more populous south prevailed in polls last year and elected President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southern Christian with Baptist roots.

Tensions already were running high among northerners who felt excluded from high government posts when Zamfara state announced it was instituting strict Islamic law. The action contradicted the federal constitution, which guarantees religious freedom. Muslim activists in Kaduna, which has a large Christian population, called for their state to follow suit. While a commission had been set up to study the idea, the state government had not promised to adopt Sharia law.

"So far, the disturbance is limited to Kaduna and its environs," Davidson reported. "Unfortunately, with so many northern state governments instituting Sharia, the whole situation was a powder keg waiting for a spark."

"Pray that lives will be spared and that God's will will be done," added Copeland. "Pray that he will get glory for himself in all this trouble and suffering."

Baptist Press
Used with permission.