Teacher Accused of Blasphemy in Nigeria Disappears

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Christian’s attempt at classroom control led to deadly rioting in Bauchi state.
by Obed Minchakpu

BAUCHI, Nigeria, March 28 (Compass Direct) -- Florence Chuckwu, a Christian teacher at the Government Day Secondary School in the capital of Bauchi state, went to work on the morning of February 20 with no hint that her attempt to exercise classroom control would threaten her life and lead to the killing of more than 20 believers.

Violent outbreaks over the publishing of caricatures of the prophet Muhammad had erupted in two other northern states the previous weekend, but that Monday morning in Bauchi was just like every other working day for her. She walked briskly into her class at the high school at Shadawanka Army Barracks and went straight to the blackboard. Picking up chalk, she began to teach her students the basics of English.

Minutes into her lecture, according to area Christian leaders, Chuckwu noticed a girl in class reading a book. Chuckwu walked over to the student and asked, “What do you think you are doing – and how dare you read some other book while I teach?”

The student laughed off Chuckwu’s rebuke and continued with her reading. Angered by the student’s behavior, Chuckwu seized the Quran from her and walked back to the front of the class. “Who is the class prefect?” Chuckwu asked. She handed the book to the class prefect, a male student with disciplinary authority. “Please keep this book and give it back to her after the class.”

A voice erupted in the class saying “God is Great” – “Allahu-akbar! Allahu-akbar! Allahu-akbar!” At that moment, a seemingly spontaneous response arose to this as shouts of “Allahu-akbar” reverberated across the school.

Soon Muslim students in Chuckwu’s class jumped on tables and began to throw their books at her. “Infidel, you’ve defiled the Quran,” a Muslim student shouted, while another said, “Kill her!”

The scene became riotous as other Muslim students raced to the classroom. The intervention of other teachers in the school failed to bring control. Chuckwu’s dress was torn, and she was bleeding from the mouth. Blood gushed from wounds to her head as a result of objects the Muslim students had thrown at her.

Chuckwu’s colleagues pushed her through the classroom window, and teachers outside soon formed a shield around her. The teachers took her to the principal’s office. There Chuckwu was locked up to prevent her from being killed.

Whereabouts Unknown

Soldiers from the 33rd Artillery Field Brigade, Bauchi, in whose barracks the school is located, rushed in to fire gun shots into the air to disperse the rioting Muslim students.

The students left the school and poured into the streets of the city, chanting “Allahu-akbar!” This attracted other Muslims who joined the protest, and soon the whole city became a danger zone for Christians.

By the end of the day, more than 20 Christians were killed, and two churches were burned along with many houses belonging to believers.

Christian leaders in Bauchi said Chuckwu’s whereabouts are unknown, and they fear her life may be in danger.

William Obiuwevbi, a military officer who was among the military personnel that dispersed the rioting Muslim students, told Compass that army personnel rescued Chuckwa, but that other security agents in the state took her away.

“The student population in this school is about 7,000,” Obiuwevbi said. “We had to shoot into the air in order to scare the students away. They claim that the teacher, being a Christian, had defiled the Quran by touching the Islamic book. But then, why should a student in an English language class be reading the Quran while lessons were on?”

The Rev. Dauda Diga Jimra, chairman of the Bauchi state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), confirmed the details of the incident but expressed apprehensions about the safety of Chuckwu.

“We made all efforts to trace were she has been taken but cannot know precisely where she is being held,” Rev. Jimra said. “We even went to see the state governor over the issue, but no assurance has been given to us that she is safe.”

Rev. Jimra, a pastor of Church of Christ in Nigeria, said he believes that the riot was organized and planned by Muslim leaders who have been persecuting Christians for many years.

“This [riot] was pre-planned,” he said, “as they were looking for something to trigger off the conflict so that they can attack Christians.”

As for the number of Christians who were killed in the incident, Jimra said, “I was at the mortuary of the Bauchi Specialist Hospital and found out that 20 corpses of Christians killed have been deposited there. This does not include those that were killed and their corpses burnt or dumped in some other places.”

His church lost six members in the incident; the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) had four of their members killed. Rev. Jimra was still awaiting details of Christians killed at the time of the interview.

Sharia Fuel

The riot is just one indication of the multifaceted problems confronting Christians in that state.

Apart from incessant attacks on churches and members, Christian leaders said, Muslims in Bauchi have denied Christians land to build churches, forcefully converted teenage Christians to Islam, refused to employ Christians in public service and failed to provide social services to Christian communities.

The Rev. Dauda Galadima, secretary of the Bauchi district of the ECWA, said the introduction of Islamic law (sharia) in Bauchi state in 2001 has left Christians heavily burdened.

“The discrimination of Christians in this state is the manifestation of the implementation of sharia by the government of Bauchi state,” Rev. Galadima said. “Sharia was introduced in order to enable Muslims have a firm grip on the politics of this state, to enable them consolidate their hold on political power.”

Even where Christians are qualified to be appointed into positions in government, they are not given the opportunity, he said. Instead, Muslims with lesser qualifications and experience are appointed into such positions.

Rev. Jimra concurred. “When sharia was introduced, we were told that it has nothing to do with Christians, but what we see today is precisely the opposite,” he said. “The claim that sharia is meant for Muslims is a lie, because Christians are being enslaved by Muslims through the sharia.”

Suleiman Wurno, a lawyer in Bauchi town confirmed that Christians in the state have been hauled into sharia courts.

“The law says that sharia courts will only have powers on those who are Muslims,” Wurno said, “but in practice, this is not the case, as there are Christians who have been taken to these Islamic courts.”

Abducted Girls

One practice that has pitched Christians against the Muslims in Bauchi is the abduction of teenage Christian girls by Muslims, who eventually force them to convert to Islam.

Rev. Galadima said this is happening “almost on a daily basis.”

Rev. Jimra said the abduction of Christian girls is on the increase. After abducting and forcibly converting the Christian girls, he said, the girls are married to Muslims. The Bauchi state sharia commission is used to carry out these abductions, Christian leaders said.

“Once the Muslims abduct these Christian teenagers, the sharia commission then summons their Christian parents to appear before sharia courts, where they are intimidated and harassed,” Rev. Jimra said.

Rev. Jimra said that last year he handled three such cases in his office. “Rejoice Daniel, 16, was abducted and we had to fight hard to secure her release,” he said, adding that the two other cases of abductions were reported in Bauchi and in Alkaleri town.

Wurno, the Bauchi lawyer, said he has handled 10 such abductions in the past year. They were reported in towns like Bauchi, Toro, Yelwa, and Kangyele and in other parts of the state.

“We have taken some of these cases of abductions to courts, and the police have been unwilling to assist us to rescue these girls,” Wurno said, “though we have been able to have courts decisions in our favor.”

Wurno, who is also the legal adviser to the Bauchi chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said most often it is difficult to get speedy trials because the judges in the courts are Muslims. There are only two Christian judges out of the eight judges in the state, he said.

Another thorny problem confronting the Christian community in Bauchi state is the deliberate denial of land for burying dead relatives. This problem, Christian leaders said, is widespread in all the local government areas of the state.

Rev. Jimra and Rev. Galadima said local government councils that have made it difficult for Christians to obtain cemeteries include Shira, Katagum, Yana, Kirfi, Gamawa and Zaki.

On the whole, church leaders said, Christians under sharia in Bauchi state increasingly feel like slaves in their own country.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct