Thursday, May 13, 2004

Nigeria: Christians die in Kano after Muslims die in Plateau.

Date: Thursday 13 May 2004
Subj: Nigeria: Christians die in Kano after Muslims die in Plateau.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.

Readers of WEA RLC News & Analysis will be very familiar with the consequences of Christian minorities being scapegoated and demonised for political gain through the playing of ethnic and religio-nationalist politics. The situation in Plateau state central Nigeria is the same as that, except in reverse, and this has led eventually to the appalling massacre of between 200 and 600 Muslims by "Christian" militiamen in Yelwa on 1-2 May.

In recent years Nigeria has seen some radical and devastating retaliatory attacks and rioting by northern Muslims in response to trivial "Christian" infractions, usually accusations of insulting Islam, the prophet Mohammad or the Qur'an. A prime example is the November 2002 Muslim riot in Kaduna, triggered by a journalist's comment concerning Nigeria's hosting of the Miss World contest. Muslims deemed her comment offensive and the ensuing riot left 200 dead, 1,000 injured, 11,000 homeless and 20 churches destroyed. Unfortunately these riots have become a feature of life in northern Nigeria, ensuring that the Christian minority lives in a perpetual state of fear-induced submission.

It therefore beggars the imagination to contemplate what might be in store for the Christians of Northern Nigeria after the appalling and devastating massacre in Yelwa, unless of course the government can restore calm.

On 11 May 04, in the northern state of Kano, a Muslim demonstration to protest the Yelwa deaths descended into chaos and rioting, leaving at least 11 Christians dead and two churches torched. Rioting continued on 12 May and the death toll rose to about 30 with some 50 injured and much property destruction. A dusk to dawn curfew has been imposed. Thousands of Christians have fled the city.

Even before the Yelwa massacre, Zamfara state had ordered the destruction of all churches in accordance with its implementation of "Sharia Phase 2". (Link 1) It is possible that the Yelwa massacre will be used to justify all manner of repression and persecution being unleashed upon an already besieged Christian minority. Security has been tightened in the northern city of Bauchi after leaflets were found calling on Muslims to avenge the Yelwa killings and on Christians to leave the region. Security has also been increased in Kaduna as tensions are running high.

On 11 May President Obasanjo held a crisis meeting with Muslim clerics in Abuja and implored them to be patient and give him time to deal with the matter. "I will appeal to you to restrain our Muslim brothers... because if you go for an eye for an eye, this country will be bloody."



Plateau State in central Nigeria is majority Christian. Before democracy came to Nigeria in 1999, the nation had been ruled almost exclusively by northern Muslims through a succession of military dictatorships. During those years, the Hausa Muslim minority of Plateau state gained privileges, and dominated politics, business and wealth. The poverty and marginalisation experienced by the Christian majority generated feelings of resentment.

When democracy did come to Nigeria in 1999, Christian political figures in Plateau discovered that ethnic politics could work for them, winning votes by feeding Christian resentment of Hausa Muslim domination and wealth. Hence there has developed in recent years a culture of "us and them" or of "indigene and stranger". The indigenes are Christian, poor and oppressed, while the strangers are Hausa, wealthy and dominating. People became political pawns - either majority vote-cattle to be appeased, or minority scapegoats to be demonised. This forms the backdrop to what has happened in Plateau in recent months.

Many Hausa-Fulani, though Muslims, have returned to or immigrated into Plateau state in recent years to escape the deteriorating conditions and harsh imposition of Sharia law in the northern states. There has been tit-for-tat conflict over land between the Hausa-Fulani cattle herders and the "Christian" Tarok crop farmers ever since.

The most recent cycle of violence, which has created the present crisis, began with Fulani cattle trampling Tarok crops. This is a real problem and needs to be addressed, as the crops are the Tarok's means of livelihood. Unfortunately the Tarok took the situation into their own hands and stole and killed Fulani cattle. This is also serious as the cattle are the Fulani's livelihood. This should have been addressed. Unfortunately the Fulani took matters into their own hands and on 24 February 2004 they, along with hired Islamic mercenaries from Chad and Niger, killed 90 Tarok in Yelwa, including 48 who were axed to death as they sought refuge in a Church of Christ in Nigeria church, which was then torched.

Two days later Christians in Gerkawa town in the Shendam district of Plateau state turned on their Muslim neighbours to avenge the Yelwa killings. At least 40 Muslims were killed with swords or cutlasses and their bodies burned. The army evacuated some 3,000 Muslims from Gerkawa to Yelwa as Christians fled Yelwa out of fear of further attacks.

These tit-for-tat attacks have been occurring across Plateau and escalating, taking on the dimensions of a religious war. The Muslims are recruiting Islamic mercenaries from Chad and Niger, while the "Christian" militia that attacked Yelwa was allegedly armed and supported by retired generals, further escalating the violence. The state government seems to have made little effort to stop the violence.

In the most recent attack, the "Christian" militia that attacked Yelwa on 1-2 May used high-powered automatic assault rifles mounted on jeeps. There are rumours circulating that the "Christians" were aiming to inflict a final solution and rid the region of Hausa-Fulani "once and for all".

Nigerian Red Cross staff told an AFP reporter that at least 630 people had been killed. A spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency, Ibrahim Farinloye, said however that a government team had visited Yelwa and put the death toll at between 200-300. Yelwa residents talk of a mass grave. However the National Emergency Management Agency investigated the grave and said that it had been in use for some time and that not all the bodies were recent. While the death toll is disputable and may possibly never be known, even 200 dead is a massacre of unacceptable and shocking proportions. (Link 2)

The Yelwa massacre has led to an exodus of Muslims from the region, further entrenching the religious polarisation of Nigerian society. The Plateau state government, which has fed ethnic and religious tensions for its own political gain, and has been totally ineffective in dealing with the crisis, must shoulder much of the blame.


Islamic zeal is strong in the northern state of Kano. Kano's governor, Ibrahim Shekarau, was elected on a radical, hardline, pro-Sharia platform. Christians suffer intense persecution in Kano, their schools and churches having been closed and burned. It is compulsory for all public-school girls to wear Islamic hijab, and as the Christian schools have been closed Christians don't have much choice. On the night of Shekarau's election (21 May 2003), pastor Chikezie (Sunday) Madumere and his whole family were burned to death in their home in "No Man's Land" Kano city, by Muslim mobs celebrating Shekarau's win.

Kano has recently introduced a Mobile Court to monitor and deal with people selling and screening foreign films or videos, and selling or playing foreign audio CDs. The Mobile Court will be guided by Sharia law and is charged to work toward the institutionalisation of Islamic norms in all spheres of life. (Link 3)

In early May, Sheik Kabo informed Kano's Sharia Enforcement enforcers (HISBA) that the Kano State Sharia Commission would no longer permit any area or any person to be exempt from Sharia. He recommended that anyone who is not willing to adhere to Sharia should leave the state. (Link 4)

Reports that Christians had massacred more than 600 Muslims in Yelwa, Plateau state, quickly reach Kano. On Tuesday 11 May, Muslim leaders led a protest march that started off peacefully but degenerated into a violent riot.

Associated Press writer Oloche Samuel reports that angry Muslims hunted for "nonbelievers" whom they then killed with machetes before burning the bodies. "The violence came hours after thousands of Muslim protesters - some carrying daggers, sickles and clubs - marched from the main mosque in the northern city of Kano, traditionally a hotbed of religious tensions.

"Amina Usman, a 19-year-old university student, recounted seeing two mutilated bodies next to a makeshift checkpoint where young Muslim Hausa-speaking men armed with sticks, knives and clubs were searching cars for Christians and animists and asking passengers to recite Muslim prayers.

"An Associated Press reporter saw youths at a makeshift checkpoint of burning tires strike three young women with machetes after accusing them of being 'nonbelievers' for wearing Western-style skirts and blouses. The women escaped with bleeding head wounds after several motorcycle taxi drivers intervened."

Oloche Samuel reports that Umar Ibrahim Kabo, the most senior Muslim cleric in Kano, told protesters, some of whom burned U.S. and Israeli flags, 'This violence is a calculated global Western war against Muslims, just like in Afghanistan and Iraq. Muslims are in grief'."

According to Samuel, "Kabo issued a seven-day ultimatum to Obasanjo to apprehend the Yelwa killers 'or be blamed for whatever happens' afterward." (Link 5)


Genuine followers of Jesus Christ are paying a heavy price for this ethnic and religious conflict. Obed Minchakpu reported for Compass Direct on 2 April that the violence in Plateau in late March had resulted in the deaths of 8 pastors and 1,500 Christian believers, and the destruction of 173 churches. Reverend Dr Alexander Mamdip Lar, President of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN), reports concerning the Plateau crisis (2 May), "We [COCIN] lost two ordained ministers in Jos and Rim [and] 117 of our churches were destroyed, while six pastors, one ordained minister and hundreds of members were killed in Wase, thus completely obliterating the church there." As he says, the Church in Plateau is "under siege".

While genuine followers of Christ are not likely to be involved in atrocities, they will be (and are) hit first and most savagely in any retaliation.

- Elizabeth Kendal


1) Zamfara Launches Sharia Phase II. 24 April 2004

2) Death toll in Nigerian 'massacre' revised. 10 May 2004

3) Kano Establishes Mobile Court to Preserve Culture, Beliefs
Vanguard (Lagos) 20 April 2004. By Tina Anthony in Kano

4) Sharia: No Part of Kano is Exempted --Kabo
Vanguard (Lagos) 3 May 2004. By Tina Anthony in Kano

5) Nigerian Muslim protest turns violent in wake of sectarian
killings. By Oloche Samuel, Associated Press, 11 May 2004
Shoot-on-sight order in Kano as death toll hits 30
By Tina Anthony, Taye Obateru, Charles Ozoemena & agency report
Vanguard (Lagos). 13 May 2004
Bigotry and avarice fuel Nigerian conflicts.
By Dave Clark, 8 May 2004
Tears for Plateau (Daily Trust, Abuja)
OPINION Ujudud Shariff. 11 May 2004