Kaduna: Religious War Revived


A wave of Boko Haram attacks on churches in Kaduna triggers ethno-religious killings, raising the possibility of a religious war in the country

They left their houses for church to worship God on Sunday 17 June. But more than 50 of them would  never return home. They were killed in coordinated suicide bomb attacks by Boko Haram terrorists on three churches in Zaria and Kaduna, both in Kaduna State; two of them within a five-minute time frame.

The modus operandi adopted in the attacks on the Evangelical Church of West Africa, ECWA, Wusasa, Zaria; Christ The King Cathedral Church, Sabo-Gari, Zaria, and Shalom Royal International Church, Trikaniya, Kaduna was similar. In each case, the bomber drove an explosives-laden car to the targeted church and, when refused entry by security personnel at the gate, rammed through the gates into the church before the car exploded.

The first attack, on ECWA, Wusasa, Zaria, occurred at about 8.40 a.m.,  just as the service commenced. Eyewitnesses told this magazine that the assailant, who was disguised as a female Christian worshipper and drove a black Opel car with tinted glasses, drove up to the church gate. But when he was told to wind down for inspection, he gatecrashed into the premises and detonated the bomb, blowing himself up with the car.

About five minutes later, another bomber rammed a Toyota Sienna van loaded with improvised explosive devices, IEDs, into the gate of Christ The King Catholic Church, along Yoruba Road, Sabon-Gari, Zaria. In the ensuing explosion, 20 persons, including the bomber, died instantly, while 52 persons suffered severe injuries.  As at last Wednesday when this report was filed, a church member confirmed that seven of the injured victims later died at St. Louis Hospital and Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, ABUTH, Zaria, where they had been on admission.

When news of the Zaria bombings filtered into Kaduna around 9.35 a.m., scared church members rushed out mid-service. They were still asking questions on the Zaria church attacks when they heard a bang that reverberated round the city. Panic-stricken, they began making phone calls to know whether it was a bomb or just a harmless explosion. In no time, it was confirmed to be a bomb blast, this time at Shalom Church International, Trikaniya, along the Nnamdi Azikwe express way, Kaduna. The bomber drove to the gate of the church’s expansive grounds and called on the private guards to open up. But the guards insisted the car’s boot must be checked before he could be allowed in.

A member of the church said the bomber dressed like a Christian, so there was no reason to suspect him. He added that while one of the guards moved to check the boot the driver had opened remotely, he rammed into the compound and headed straight for the main church auditorium. But the car ran into a big gutter in the premises and exploded. Though eye witnesses said the gutter the car ran into reduced the devastation it could have wrought, two private guards, a soldier attached to the church to ensure security and the bomber himself were killed. The General Overseer of the Church, identified as Pastor Israel, told Suleiman Fakai, a Deputy Inspector-General of Police who visited the church a few hours after the blast, that none of the church members was killed in the attack, though one usher sustained slight injuries.

The death toll of the three attacks was put at 34 by the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, and the Police, but the Red Cross, at about 7p.m. that Sunday, released a statement that put the figure at 50 persons killed and 131 injured. Matthew Ishaya, a member of Christ The King Cathedral Church, Zaria confirmed that more than 20 members of the church died and over 60 injured persons were still receiving treatment at ABUTH and other hospitals in Zaria.

Solomon Shendong, a member of ECWA, Wusasa, Zaria also flayed the police and NEMA reports of 34, and later 74, killed. “In this church alone, we lost more than 30 people… so where did they get their statistics?” he asked angrily. But by Tuesday morning, the official death toll had risen to over 100, and the injured put at 350.

This time, however, the dastardly attacks, unlike in past, attracted reprisals. Some angry Christian youth in the Christian-dominated southern Kaduna, who said they could no longer watch continued attacks on Christians and churches, quickly mobilised and blocked all roads bordering Trikaniya, Sabon-Tasha, Romi, Goni-Gora and Ungwar Television. Around 1 p.m., the angry youths took to the streets in their hundreds, chanting: “We can no longer accept attacks on churches, we must retaliate.” They embarked on a spree of killing, burning of cars and motorcycles, as well as looting market stalls of all persons identified to be Hausa-Fulani in those areas. Houses, business premises and worship places identified to belong to those of Hausa-Fulani stock were also destroyed and burnt.

Boko Haram seems determined to coerce Nigeria into a religious war through a relentless bombing campaign.

It was a bad day for the Hausa-Fulani trapped at Sabon-Tasha, Ungwar Romi, Goni-Gora, Mararaban Rido, Narayi, Kudenda and other Christian-dominated areas. Red Cross officials said most of those that fell victim were cab drivers, traders, hawkers, shoemakers and commercial motorcyclists. Many of those killed were burnt after. The killings and destruction continued for more than two hours before the state government drafted Army and Police personnel to quell the carnage and maintain order. It also imposed a 24-hour curfew.

Some Christian youths interviewed after the Sunday carnage expressed sadness over the Christians that died in the Zaria and Kaduna church bombings, but affirmed that they had no regrets over their retaliatory attacks. “What we have done today is small. If they continue to bomb Christians, we’ll continue to kill and destroy property belonging to anyone related to these Boko Haram people,” said one of them who preferred to be called Spider. Many others that spoke to this magazine expressed similar views. The common thread was that, if Boko Haram continued their bombings in Kaduna, they, too, would continue to retaliate. By implication, the worst is yet to come.

This much unfolded when the state government relaxed the curfew to 12 hours; from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., on Tuesday 19 June. Immediately, another round of crisis broke out, this time in the heart of the metropolis, the Sheikh Gumi Centre, Kano Road, Katsina Road and Oriapata areas. It was discovered to be a counter-attack by Muslim youths from Tudun-Wada, Rigasa, Ungwar Mu’azu and other Muslim-dominated areas who were shocked by the high toll of their Hausa-Fulani  brothers, relatives and friends that were gruesomely killed by Christian youths two days earlier. Though there were signs that such reprisal attack was imminent, many people were caught unawares. Like the Christian youths, they maimed, killed and burnt innocent persons seen on roads, on motorcycles, in cars and in the market areas. An immigration officer who narrowly escaped death told TheNEWS: “I was buying something in the market when suddenly I saw a large group of people screaming, ‘Kill him, kill him, he’s a Christian’. Confused, I ran and continued to run, but they were still able to attack me. I escaped with these injuries on my head; you can see.”

A mobile policeman was among the victims.  Soaked in blood gushing from  machete wounds, he abandoned his AK47 rifle and ran for his life. At about 11.20 a.m. he ran into the Bida Road Police Headquarters to inform his colleagues. It took the intervention of policemen, soldiers and other security agents drafted to the scene to contain what was taking the complexion of genocide. The Kaduna Police Commissioner, while briefing newsmen on the effort of the police to control the violence, hinted that the seized rifle was later recovered by the police team deployed to contain the violence.

Instructively, those mostly affected in attacks launched by Muslims were Igbo traders and people who rushed to the market that morning to purchase food items. One of the Muslim youths arrested by the police at a violence scene confessed to have killed some Christians that Tuesday. But he begged the police to understand that it was anger over his killed cousin , a trader at Sabon-Tasha, that made him kill. “They brought his corpse for burial and it sparked off anger in me and my neighbours, who took to the streets for vengeance… I am sorry for what happened,” he said.

A bizarre twist was added to the strife, when the Zaria branch of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in an e-mail forwarded to this medium on Tuesday 19 June, stated that Christian leaders in Zaria had the premonition of Sunday’s attack on churches before it took place. This they also told Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, when he visited the ECWA, Zaria to condole members of the church.

Secretary of ECWA, Rev Chris Dariya, informed Yakowa about information that the Boko Haram sect planned to attack churches. He said when CAN members got the information that Boko Haram members were in Zaria and were meeting on Friday 15 June on how to carry out attacks on churches, the chairmen and secretaries of CAN in the zone were quickly summoned for a meeting on the issue. But he raised a critical question when he said: “I was surprised that the military personnel that were drafted to help secure and maintain peace around the churches were withdrawn. At this point, I became apprehensive.

“I came back from the Saturday meeting and drove into my office, which was just behind the church. I saw soldiers packing their things and I drove closer and asked them what was happening? One of them said that the community members were disturbing them so they had to leave on instruction. After they left on Saturday, the churches were bombed [the following day].”

According to a source close to the Islamist group, Boko Haram will continue to launch attacks on churches not only in Kaduna but across the North until federal government agrees to release all its members in prisons and meets other terms put forward by the sect for ceasefire. With this threat from the Boko Haram sect, and the Christian youths vowing to retaliate any bombing of churches henceforth, it’s obvious that a religious conflagration is imminent in Kaduna. No doubt, the crisis has taken a religious dimension, like almost every other crisis that rocked the state in the past.

There are fears that the reprisals recorded in Kaduna may spark more in other parts of the country, raising the likelihood of a full-fledged religious war that may shatter the unity of the country. “I believe they want to ignite a religious war and threaten our national unity. Those who have turned places of worship as targets of bombings should know that they are fighting God and the Lord will surely at an appropriate time give His own judgment,” Senate President, David Mark, said last week.

The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF,  shares the same view. In a statement issued by Anthony Z. Sani, its spokesperson, the ACF identified the attacks and counter-attacks as genuine threats to the country’s democracy and oneness.

And in an advertisement published last Wednesday, CAN alleged that Boko Haram has launched a war against Christians. The advertisement, which was signed by Kenny Ashaka, Special Assistant (Media and Public Affairs) to CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, said the latest attacks in Kaduna and Yobe states hint at “a systematic religious cleansing, which reminds Christians of the genesis of the jihad”.

CAN also alleged that Boko Haram’s next target is the South-east geo-political zone.

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Anglican Bishop of Enugu Diocese and CAN Chairman in the zone, Bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma, claimed to have documents showing the exact plans of the Islamist sect and details about the group’s alleged sponsors.“We have information and documents to show that this is a jihad being sponsored and we have our documents to show where they have dispatched 2,000 people to prepare for jihad to South-east, 2,500 to South-south and about 2,000 to South-west…We have our information because there is already a Boko Haramist that was converted and has leaked most of these secrets to us and we have our documents and information. So, at the appropriate time we shall strike and we are waiting for them,” Chukwuma told journalists at a briefing.

The tension generated by these is already evident in Onitsha, Anambra State, where soldiers and policemen, last Monday, beefed up security to prevent attacks on Muslims. Many Muslims in Onitsha fled to the Central Police Station and divisional police stations for refuge after hoodlums intimidated and harassed people suspected to be Muslims.

A combined team of policemen and soldiers has taken over the security of the Onitsha Central Mosque, where some Muslims have taken refuge. Chief Imam of Onitsha, Alhaji Hamza Abdulrahman, said Muslims in the city are living in fear. “Right now, we are all taking refuge in various places, both in the mosque here and police stations. Soldiers and policemen have taken over the places where we are taking refuge and our brothers are indoors due to fear, but we’ve not heard any bad story yet from anybody today,” Hamza said. Alhaji Iliyasu Yushau, Sarkin Hausawan of Onitsha, said the fear of the Hausa community in Onitsha was heightened by a newspaper report that quoted a leader of  CAN, threatening reprisals on Muslims any time Christians are attacked in any part of the country.

“This type of comment or reaction should not come from a religious leader who should be an embodiment of peace and love. And with that type of statement issued out, we are afraid that if the security agencies do not come to our aid, a group or gang of hoodlums might attack us,” the Hausa community leader said.

Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, and prominent Igbo leaders have called on their people to leave the troubled North. Uwazuruike, who slated the Joint Task Force, JTF, for withdrawing security from churches in Kaduna despite having information about the attacks, called on Igbo to abandon their businesses in the North and return home until normalcy returns. The Igbo in Kano have announced that they are ready to comply with the directive of their leaders to quit the north. President-General of Ndigbo in Kano, Chief Leonard Nwosu, said his people have been living in fear.

Last Wednesday, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, warned that that the attacks on Christian worshippers by the Boko Haram sect in Kaduna and the reprisals on innocent Muslims may mark the beginning of violent break-up of Nigeria as it happened in Yugoslavia. In a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Deji Kolawole, PENGASSAN said it would not hesitate to call out its members, starting from its Kaduna zone, on a strike if the government is unable to stop the violence. “The attacks on Christian worshippers in Kaduna and Zaria last Sunday, claimed by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, and the consequent reprisals on innocent Muslims, represent a dangerous descent into anomie, reminiscent of the horrific inter-ethnic and religious war that marked the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia,” the statement said.

Late last Wednesday, the crisis made a brief resurgence at Kiyama, near Kaduna, where allegedly armed Christian youths killed some Muslims after tearing a hijab off a Muslim woman in the Christian-dominated area.

Kaduna’s potential for combustion is well known. Both religions are heavily represented and their adherents, over the years, have complained about abridgement of their right to freedom of religion. Since 1987, when the tension between the two religions caused them to openly clash in Kafanchan, the once-peaceful state, has always fizzed with tension. This has resulted in a situation that has seen adherents of the two faiths drifting apart. Kaduna city, once a model of tolerance, is now spatially divided into a Muslim Kaduna north, and a Christian Kaduna south.

Christians link the limitations of their rights to the adoption and part-implementation of Sharia. Many Muslims are, however, displeased that full scale Sharia was not implemented because of the protests by Christians.

The first major clash took place on 6 March 1987, when a Christian group held a revival at the College of Education, Kafanchan. One Reverend Abubakar Bako, a convert from Islam, was the guest speaker at the revival, to which members of the Muslim Students Society were not indifferent.  As Bako quoted from the Qur’an to explain why he believed in Jesus as his saviour, a Muslim girl grabbed the microphone and the fighting started. The riot, which spilled to Kafachan town, left Muslims with the greater number of casualties and losses. Immediately, Zaria, Kaduna as well as Funtua, and Katsina–then in the old Kaduna State–erupted. At least 200 churches were burnt and many Christians killed.

On 6 March 1988, the anniversary of the Kafanchan riot, Muslim students at Kaduna Polytechnic brought down the walls of a church under construction on the campus, which already had three mosques.

A few months later, it was the turn of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, when Muslim students attacked the place where votes for the students’ union presidency were being counted. From the vote count before the violence, the Christian candidate appeared to have defeated his Muslim opponent.

Then, in February 1992, a riot broke out in Zangon-Kataf. The conflict in Zangon-Kataf offered an ample view of the explosive mix of religious and ethnic rivalry, as well as the absence of even-handedness of the part of the government. The 1992 crisis broke out over a local government decision to relocate a market from a Hausa-Fulani area to one dominated by Atyaps. Conservative estimate put the death toll at over100.

Worse rioting broke out again in May 1992, after a series of Atyap attacks against the Hausa-Fulani. The violence spread to Kaduna, where Hausa-Fulani Muslims accounted for the burning of churches and killing of priests. Officially, the death toll was 300. Unofficial estimates gave considerably higher figures running into thousands. Over 60,000 people fled their homes.

The official response to the violence took the form of mass arrests among Atyaps, most of whom were held without charge. Hausa-Fulani Muslims were spared the ordeal of arrest. Six prominent Atyaps, including Major-General Zamani Lekwot, a former military governor, were charged with complicity in the riots before a specially  constituted tribunal by the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. The prosecution withdrew its case, but the accused were re-arrested by security agents as they were about leaving the tribunal. In September of the same year, they were charged again. Fourteen of them, including Lekwot, were sentenced to death. The government later commuted the death sentences to five years imprisonment.

In certain instances, even peaceful protests degenerated into violent conflict. For example in February 2000, an attempt by Christians to demonstrate against plans by the state legislature to pass the Sharia Bill resulted in bloody clashes that claimed hundreds of lives and property.

A bloodier sequel was produced in 2002, when Muslims protested against the Miss World beauty pageant, which was to be hosted by the country. In 2001, a Nigerian, Agbani Darego, won the title and Nigerian organisers siezed the chance to host the event in Abuja in 2002. Immediately the bid was won, protests broke out. Muslims called it a spectacle of indecency and were particularly riled by the fact that the contest date fell within the lunar month of Ramadan, Muslim’s holiest month.

The organisers tried to stave off the protests by postponing the contest for a month.

But an article in ThisDay considered to have slighted Prophet Mohammed was the fuel that got the fire of opposition burning again. This time, it burned wildly and licked everything in its path, as riots broke out in Kaduna and spread to Abuja. The death toll was in excess of 200 people.

In February 2006, Muslims in Nigeria, protesting cartoons of Prophet Mohammed published by a Danish newspaper a year earlier, went on rampage in various towns and cities in the North. The riots were fiercest in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State in North-west Nigeria, where Muslims attacked people they suspected to be Christians. The death toll was 51, with hundreds others suffering serious injuries. At least 40 churches were burnt down by the irate Muslims.

After the results of last year’s presidential election were announced, violent riots also broke out in many parts of the state in protest of the election results.

—Femi Adi/ Kaduna

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