Nigeria has an ominous record of the persecution of Christians. Its population is divided primarily between Christians and Muslims. Its history is filled with violent jihad as Nigeria's Muslim population has fought hard to try to make Nigeria an Islamic state. Nigeria is a secular state and Muslims have not succeeded in their goal, yet thousands have had their lives taken in this fight.
To understand the fight which has caused so much bloodshed in Nigeria, we must consider the demographic of the country. Muslims have never had a majority of the population in the country as a whole. However, they have had regions of the country that have been primarily Muslim. One coveted region of the country is the area known as the “Middle Belt.” Because of the growth of Christianity in Nigeria and because of the mass movement of Christians, the Middle Belt is now a pretty equal mix of both Christians and Muslims. This has resulted in tensions throughout Nigeria's history. Sadly, tensions have many times erupted into riots and jihads.
One early jihad was the 1980 riots in Kano City. In this three-day riot almost 4,200 people were killed. This particular jihad was actually Muslim fundamentalists attacking non-fundamental Muslims primarily. Some Christians also lost their lives. Most of the deaths in this riot were, however, Muslims as fundamental Muslims were trying to purge from their community those Muslims that they viewed as compromising, insincere Muslims. In 1982, again in the city of Kano, a jihad erupted as the Muslim Student Society protested against the plan of the St. George Anglican Church to construct a church in a location which was, in the opinion of the protesters, too close to a mosque. The new building was to be constructed on the same property as the church's older buildings and the first church had been there since 1930 while the nearby mosque had been erected forty years later. Despite the protestors, the police managed to protect that church but others were destroyed and forty-four people were murdered. In 1991, again in the city of Kano, there was another horrible jihad. This time Muslim rioters were protesting some special meetings held by the Christian missionary, Reinhard Bonnke. Sadly, hundreds of people lost their lives in this riot. Allegedly, over twenty churches and more than sixty Christian businesses were destroyed. In 1995, another riot/jihad broke out in Kano. Prior to this riot, tensions had been running high over the beheading of Ibo trader. Several different stories had been circulated about him, one accusing his wife and another one accusing him of desecrating a copy of the Quaran. An angry mob apprehended him and beheaded him. Because of this incident in 1994, tensions were still high in May 30, 1995, when the next major jihad resulted. It was sparked over an incident in which two Hausa (a Muslim tribe) men had burglarized a car. An Ibo (a predominately Christian tribe) identified the burglars to the owner of a car who, in turn, reported the incident to the police. Although the police charged the burglars, they were released almost immediately. Upon being released, the burglars picked a fight with the Ibo man who had reported them. Other Muslim Hausa men observed the fight and came to the aid of the burglar.1 This incident escalated into a major riot. One report claims “Muslim fanatics took to the streets killing anybody who could not say [in Arabic] ... 'There is no God but Allah.'” 2 There is disagreement over the number of casualties. The state government claims that there were only three. However, military sources claim that there were over twenty-three and Murtala Hospital gave a figure of about two hundred.3
Kano is not the only city to experience riots and jihad. The city of Kafanchan was the site for deadly riots in 1987. At the school, Kafanchan College of Education, Christian students were holding a regular, annual event. In the event, a film was played which ended up offending some Muslim viewers. The meeting was upset by a Muslim women who grabbed the microphone and called for Muslim boys to help her in an attack. A fight quickly broke out and continued to escalate. The Christians continued their meeting on Saturday of that week and again on Sunday. However, Muslim rioters broke into the church with sticks, knives and clubs. The jihad spread to other churches in town and nine people were killed. In the end, eight churches were destroyed in Kafanchan and another fourteen were destroyed in Kaduna City. Before these riots were over, over one hundred churches were destroyed as well as fifty cars and many Christian properties. One report claims that, statewide, 152 churches were destroyed as well as five mosques.
In 1991, in the city of Tafawa Balewa a terrible riot broke out. It was sparked when a Christian butcher sold meat to a Muslim. This meat was considered to be non-kosher in Islam. The offended Muslim attacked the butcher with a knife and, later, killed him. A number of other butchers in the area heard of the incident and killed the offended customer. This incident sparked four days of riots which resulted in over 200 people losing their lives. The riots spread to other villages and also to the state capital. Again, statistics vary. Official figures claim a death toll of eighty, however, mortuaries reported almost 500. In the same city of Tafawa Balewa riots erupted in 1994 and also in 2001. One report of the 2001 riot claims that over 200 Christians were murdered.
In 1994, riots broke out in both the cities of Potiskum and Jos. Jos and the Plateau State would again see terrible riots in 2001 and 2002.
In the year 2000, there was another terrible jihad, this time in Kaduna City. This riot was stirred up as a result of the governor of Zamfara State announcing his intention to set up shari'a law. This announcement resulted in a number of public protests held by Christians who did not want shari'a law instituted. In fact, over 50,000 Christians participated in a demonstration. Fighting broke out and both Muslim and Christians claim that the other side began the fight. The fighting escalated to a horrific height. There are no exact statistics of the number who were killed. One report claims that thousands of people were massacred. However, these numbers cannot be confirmed. It was said that over 200 churches were destroyed, 105 mosques and almost 9,000 houses.
The situation in Nigeria remains tense. In 2011, two failed bomb attacks occurred in Jos. On Sunday, March 20, three men were carrying a bomb towards two churches when the bomb went off prematurely and killed the terrorists. Also on that day, a bomb was found planted at The Mountain of Fire and Miracles Church in Jos. In a neighboring state, Bauchi, over 4,000 people were displaced over a series of night time attacks by Muslim Fulani tribesmen.
Sadly, the violence in Bauchi state has not been the peak of terror. Recent event in Nigeria have seen the 2011 election of a Christian president of the country. This has resulted in massive revolts from the Muslim community. Over 31,000 people have been displaced and it is feared that hundreds of Christians have been killed. One report claims that over 500 people have been killed and over 150 churches burned. Some of the damage includes in Gombe, 38 people murdered, 146 injured, 17 churches burned and 24 houses burned. In Bauchi, 28 people killed and 78 churches burned. In Daura,, 6 churches burned. In Katsina City, 7 people murdered, over 100 Christian displaced and 65 churches destroyed or damaged. In Malunfashi, 25 houses burned, one Bible school burned and 7 churches burned. In Funtua, every church (over 27) in the city was burned.
In 1999, Nigeria was re-admitted into the Commonwealth of Nations from which it had been suspended in 1995. Canada has partnered with Nigeria in many ways. Canada has provided material and training support to Nigeria and, in 2010, Canadian exports into Nigeria totalled $222,843,439. Canadian imports from Nigeria totalled $1,668,721,103. As Canada's ties with Nigeria have been strengthening, may Canada continue to support Nigeria's government in bringing security and reforms to its country.
Pray for Nigeria's Christians to show forgiveness towards those who have, and presently do, persecute them. Pray also that the Church may be successful in reaching out to and loving her enemies. Also pray that freedom of religion would be a reality for Christians throughout the country. Pray for their protection as they practice and share their faith with others. Footnote: 1 Jan H. Boer, Nigeria's Decades of Blood. Belleville, Ontario: Essence Publishing, 2003, pp. 12-138.
2Minchakpu, quoted in Jan H. Boer, Nigeria's Decades of Blood. Belleville, Ontario: Essence Publishing, 2003, p. 47.
3 Jan H. Boer, Nigeria's Decades of Blood. Belleville, Ontario: Essence Publishing, 2003, pp. 12-138.
Video: Life: The Long And The Short Of It
Video: Life: The Long And The Short Of It
In our last article on Nigeria, we mentioned the federal elections of 2011 which brought a Christian president into power in Nigeria. In response to this, there was an uprising of Muslims who rioted to express their dissent. The riots escalated into a killing frenzy and over 31,000 people have been displaced. It is believed that hundreds of Christians have been killed and it is known that 150 churches have been burned. Some of the damage in Gombe included 38 people murdered, 146 injured, 17 churches and 24 houses burned. In Bauchi, 28 people were killed and 78 churches were burned. In Daura, six churches were burned. In Katsina City, seven people were murdered, over 100 Christians were displaced and 65 churches were destroyed or damaged. In Malunfashi, 25 houses, one Bible school and seven churches were burned. In Funtua, every church (over 27) in the city was burned. (Voice of The Martyrs Magazine).
As well as the recent persecution, Nigeria has a long history of persecution of Christians. The Republic of Nigeria operates with a two-court system. One is a secular system and the other is a system which incorporates sharia law (only in certain provinces). Both systems of law have provisions for punishing blasphemy. Sharia law, in Nigeria, can measure out severe penalties for this offence, including execution. The constitution of Nigeria stipulates that every Nigerian is entitled to freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. However, the legal system in Nigeria is handicapped by a lack of resources and not everyone prosecuted for blasphemy is given a fair trial. According to Wikipedia, some select cases of blasphemy prosecution in Nigeria include:
On 19 June 2009, a Muslim mob in the town of Sara in Jigawa state burned a police outpost and injured about twelve persons over an alleged blasphemy against the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The mob complained that someone was distributing blasphemous pamphlets, and it demanded that the police give up a man who had sought safety at the police outpost.
On 9 August 2008, a Muslim mob in Kano state beat to death a fifty-year-old Muslim man who blasphemed Mohammed.
On 20 April 2008, Muslim rioters in the city of Kano burned the shops and vehicles of Christian merchants after one allegedly disparaged Mohammed.
On 9 February 2008, a Muslim mob rioted in the town of Sumaila in Kano state. The mob acted upon the alleged distribution of a leaflet that allegedly slandered Mohammed. The mob killed a Christian police inspector and two civilians, and wounded twenty others. The mob set fire to vehicles and destroyed the police station.
On 4 February 2008, a Muslim mob besieged a police station and set it on fire in the city of Yano in Bauchi state. The police station was the refuge of a Christian woman whom the mob accused of desecrating the Quran. One report said that the woman had spurned an offer of marriage from a Muslim man, and that he and his companions had seized the opportunity to riot. In the ensuing violence, five churches were torched, Christian shops were torched, and policemen's homes were attacked. The police arrested forty-four rioters.
In October 2007, a sharia court convicted Sani Kabili, a Christian and a father of six, of the town of Kano, of blasphemy against Mohammed. The court sentenced Kabili to three years in prison. In February 2009, an appeal court overturned the conviction.
On 28 September 2007, a Muslim mob rioted at Tudun Wada in Kano state. The mob killed nine Christians, burned several churches, and destroyed the homes and businesses of some non-Muslims. The Muslims complained that Christian students had drawn a picture of Mohammed. The Christians reported that the violence erupted after they had prevented one of their number from converting to Islam.
On 21 March 2007, a mob of Muslim students and neighbourhood extremists beat to death Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, a mother of two and a teacher at Government Secondary School of Gandu in the city of Gombe. A student complained that Oluwasesin, a Christian, had touched a bag which allegedly contained a Quran, and had thereby defiled the Quran.
In February 2006, thousands of Muslim rioters went on rampages in different states. The rioters burned churches, torched Christian shops and homes, and killed Christians. The reason for the violence was ostensibly outrage at the publication in the Danish magazine Jyllands-Posten of cartoons that some Muslims consider blasphemous.
In February 2006 in Bauchi state, Florence Chuckwu, a Christian teacher, confiscated a copy of a Quran from a pupil who was reading it during an English lesson. The incident provoked rioting by Muslims. The riot killed more than twenty Christians and destroyed two churches.
On 20 November 2002, Muslim and Christian mobs rampaged in the cities of Kaduna and Abuja. The rampage began after an article in a daily newspaper, Thisday, suggested that Mohammed would have approved of a Miss World pageant that was taking place in Abuja. Thisday columnist Isioma Daniel wrote that Mohammed would probably have taken a wife from among the contestants. Muslim mobs accused the newspaper of blasphemy, and burned down its office building in Kaduna. Then the mobs attacked churches and properties owned by Christians. Christian mobs confronted the Muslim mobs. Soldiers and police intervened. About two hundred and fifty people died. Isioma Daniel fled Nigeria ahead of a fatwa that called upon Muslims to kill her.
On 14 July 1999, in the village of Randali in Kebbi state, a Muslim mob beheaded Abdullahi Umaru. The mob accused Umaru of blasphemy against Mohammed.
Incidents like these prove that Nigerians must not include blasphemy laws in their legal system. Such laws become a tool for some to persecute minorities in an unjust and cruel way. When communities launch violent attacks upon others out of religious prejudice, and those attacks leave large numbers of innocent people dead and churches burned, we must never become desensitized to the severity of these crimes. This kind of mob aggression must be strongly resisted. Whose responsibility is this? It is the government's and the legal systems of Nigeria's responsibility. This is not a call for vigilanteism or revenge killing. Absolutely not! However, the government has a huge responsibility to protect its citizens. This must become a high priority.
What is Canada's role in seeing peace and order and religious freedom spread in Nigeria? It is one of diplomacy. The enemy is not the government of Nigeria. The government is our partner in encouraging religious freedom. It must become a reality that Canada requires governments and nations it does business with to make a high commitment to human rights. If it is found that this commitment is slipping, Canadians want their nation to pull back from involvement with such nations. If nations, like Nigeria, show themselves to have a high commitment to human rights, they should receive our encouragement and support. One good place for Nigeria to demonstrate this commitment is to remove blasphemy laws from both of its legal systems. May concerned individuals, worldwide, echo this call. May the Canadian government also, more than ever before, bring this challenge to our Nigerian friends.
“Blasphemy Law in Nigeria.” http://en.wikipedia/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Nigeria
“Blasphemy Law in Nigeria.” http://en.wikipedia/wiki/Blasphemy_law_in_Nigeria
“Nigeria : Riot Recovery Begins.” http://www.persecution.com April 29, 2011.
The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter. Streetsville, Ont.
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