Churches destroyed in wave of religious violence in Nigeria

Around 1000 people were displaced, several critically wounded, and every church reportedly destroyed in Shira Yana, Bauchi State, Nigeria on 2 February 2008. This is the latest in a series of recent incidents of religious violence in northern and central Shari'ah states, reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The violence erupted after a young woman was accused of blaspheming against the prophet Mohammed. According to local sources, the young woman had spurned the advances of a young Muslim man on the previous day. In a last effort the man appealed to her to speak to him "in the name of the Messenger" to which she responded that she knew no messenger.

On the following morning the youth attacked her house accompanied by a crowd, claiming that she had blasphemed against the prophet Mohammed. When the girl fled to a police station for protection, a pursuing mob proceeded to set fire to the building. Policemen responded by firing live ammunition, killing a young man in his 20s and triggering a rampage in which police and Christians were attacked and their homes and churches destroyed.

Tension is also mounting in Kano State, where around 200 Shari'ah police or Hisbah were reported to have patrolled the streets of the Christian area of Sabon Gari in Kano City during the evening of 1 February. They were armed with an array of crude weaponry, including bows, arrows, sticks and machetes.

Around 70 women are said to have been detained during this operation, allegedly for involvement in prostitution. However, a local journalist saw at least one woman held in chains and being punished. He reported this was a result of her refusal to divulge unspecified information. The operation took place despite a 2007 Supreme Court ruling against the use of Hisbah and a warning by Kano State Police Command that Hisbah activities were unconstitutional.

The move by Kano State authorities to enforce a decision taken in November 2007 to demolish four church buildings in Kano City without discussion or compensation has also added to tension in the area. The demolition was supposedly to make way for the construction of roads and a hospital.

Elsewhere, a Baptist church and a Deeper Life church were set ablaze in the Angwan Pama area of Shendam in predominantly Christian Plateau State on 31 January. A car owned by a local Christian that was parked close to the churches was also destroyed in the blaze. Then on 1 February reports began to filter through indicating that six Christian-owned houses had been razed to the ground in Mavo, in the Wase Local Government Area of southern Plateau State.

Engineer Samuel Salifu, General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide that his organisation commended the speed with which the governor of Bauchi had moved to ensure that the injured would receive treatment, churches would be rebuilt and the victims were compensated. He added that he hoped other governors would adopt a similar response in the event of outbreaks of religious violence.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert, said: "This recent wave of violence in central and northern Nigeria is disturbing, and we can only hope it does not indicate an upsurge in religious violence during 2008. While it is particularly encouraging to hear that the Bauchi State authorities have moved swiftly to assist victims of the recent violence, this has not always been the case elsewhere.

"Thus while commending the Bauchi State authorities, we continue to urge all state governments and the federal authorities to consistently deal with each situation in a timely and sensitive manner and to deliver justice and adequate compensation for all concerned. We particularly call on Kano's state government to end the use of the Hisbah and disband them, in line with the Supreme Court ruling."