Nigeria's Christians fear backlash after bin Laden's death

Nigeria has erupted in yet another terrible round of violence in which hundreds of Christians were killed; hundreds of churches and Christian business were burned down or destroyed, all in the aftermath of the recent presidential election.

Nigerian's Christian President Goodluck Jonathan last month won a presidential election in a vote that has sparked rioting in the country's northern states that backed his leading opponent.

With results from all of Nigeria's 36 states, electoral commission president Attahiru Jega announced that President Jonathan was the clear winner.

President Jonathan's nearly 22.5 million votes is almost twice the number of the second-place finisher, former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who won a little more than 12 million votes. President Jonathan thus avoided a runoff election by winning at least one-quarter of the vote in at least 24 states.

Now, with the death of Osama Bin Laden, Christians across northern Nigeria are bracing up for possible reprisal attacks by Muslim extremist who are opposed to Bin laden's death. My cousin woke me up last night worried that several of their church members have received anonymous text messages warning them of an impending attack due to Osama's death.

Reports are coming out across five northern states that some Muslims are planning to demonstrate the death of bin Laden. Northern Nigerian Christians have always been at the receiving end to violence when Muslim extremist vent their anger when they feel they have been offended.

For instance, in 1990, angry Muslims mobs who convinced themselves that George Bush senior was attacking Iraq because it was a "Muslim" country, and the Christians in northern Nigeria were unfortunate enough to be within striking distance.

In 2002, a Muslim protest against the proposed hosting of the Miss World Beauty Pageant by Nigeria, led to the deaths of hundreds of Christians in Kaduna state. In the same vein, a cartoon of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper led to the death of hundreds of Christians in northern Nigerian in 2006.

The recent excuse for the killing spree against Christians, this time around, is the perceived rigging of the April 16 presidential election.

As usual, there is no nexus between the majority of the victims of this orgy of violence and the reason given for it. Even a cursory glance at the quarry of this carnage would dispel any such notions that they had anything to do with manipulating the outcome of the election, other than casting their votes as a means of exercising their franchise. I must point out that a few of the sufferers to these sadistic acts who were not Christians were targeted because they were deemed to be too sympathetic to the interests of the enemy - or Christians.

Many reports indicate that this was a pre-meditated attack because of the scale on which it was perpetrated; the spread and the precision with which the targets were selected point; to the careful strategizing on the part of its masterminds and perpetrators. The peasants in the villages couldn't have known to target the exact same group simultaneously without prior instructions.

Reports coming from some villages in the north, such as Bara at the border between Bauchi and Gombe States, indicate that commercial vehicles were stopped; the passengers that looked and quacked like Muslims were excused while the rest were brutally murdered in cold blood. In some parts of Bauchi and Gombe State, in places like Tilden Fulani, Magama Gumau, Moslem mobs went door to door looking for Christian homes and individuals. In some specific instances, some of the Christians, so captured, were burnt at stakes.

This attack is very personal for me and my family because some of our family members and friends were recipients of the anger. My aunt Hadiza, her husband and children in Gombe state, narrowly escaped with their lives but their home was completely destroyed.

Another close person is Pastor Reuben Yaro, my spiritual son in the Lord. Pastor Yaro, pastors a congregations of about 700 people at ECWA church Pantami in Gombe state. He informed me that on April 19th while he, and his wife, were having breakfast, their home was surrounded by over hundred Muslim mobs. They could hear them shouting in the Hausa language, "set the house on fire."

Pastor Yaro told me that he and his wife escaped through the window. The managed to get to a neighbor's house, but they were followed and the neighbor recognized some of the miscreants and asked "you too?" That question sealed the neighbors' fate as he was hacked to death with machetes. The pastor escaped once again, and lived to tell the story.

By the time the dust settled, seventeen churches in Gombe had been razed, about thirty people had been killed, at least twenty-four houses were burnt and about a hundred and fifty people were hospitalized.

Several Christian-owned businesses, cars and properties were burnt or vandalized. Pastor Yaro informed me that he and his wife escaped with only a cell phone. He reported that a dozen of his church members were attacked and are currently receiving treatment. Pastor Yaro reported that his church was among the churches that were destroyed in Gombe.

One of my father's closest friends "Peter." an elder and business man at ECWA church Tilden Fulani in Bauchi state, whom I talked to when I traveled to Nigeria last November, was pulled out of his bed and hacked down with a machete and then burned at stake. His house and the church was then set on fire and burned down.

The story is not too different in other parts of the north. In Jigawa State, at least twenty-four churches and three vicarages were burnt. In Zamfara State, at least nine churches were burnt, looted or destroyed. In fact in some cases, the churches affected are those that had been destroyed in prior religious crisis and rebuilt by the parishioners out of what little they can scrounge up from their labors, only to be destroyed again. The loss of personal properties and Christian-owned businesses were also tremendous. Most of those who escaped, or who were displaced by the violence, only managed to make it with the clothes on their backs.

In Katsina, Buhari's home state, sixty-five churches were either razed or damaged, at least seven people were killed and hundreds of Christians were displaced. Others have put the number of casualty significantly north of the aforementioned figure. As a matter of fact, in towns like Daura (Buhari's home town) and Funtua, no church is currently standing and the area has been described as "Christian-free zone" by the protagonist of the violence.

This is by no means an exhaustive list as more facts are still being gathered. But the general picture shows that at least as many as fifty-thousand persons have been displaced (according to the Red Cross) and the death toll may be somewhere significantly more than the one thousand mark (unconfirmed reports from several places) where there is difficult terrain in some parts of the country.

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