CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY WORLDWIDE
For immediate release
November 22 2002
CHRISTIANS KILLED AND CHURCHES BURNED IN NIGERIAN RIOTS SPARKED BY MISS WORLD PROTESTS
At least one hundred people were killed and 200 injured yesterday as Muslim youths rampaged through the capital of Kaduna State in Nigeria in protest at a newspaper article that was said to have blasphemed the Prophet Mohammed.
Muslim youths arrived in Kaduna city in a convoy of buses bearing Arabic inscriptions which observers suspected of belonging to an Islamic organisation. As the day wore on the protest became more violent. Chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great), thousands of youths marched on the Kaduna offices of ThisDay where they proceeded to search for the Chief Correspondent, Mrs Josephine Lohor. When they failed to find her, they set fire to the office and went on the rampage, attacking at least two hotels and burning down four to ten churches. Non-Muslims were singled out for attack, with several people reported to have been burned, bludgeoned or stabbed to death.
In the article, published in the newspaper ThisDay on November 16, a journalist questioned Muslim objections to the Miss World contest to be held in the federal capital, Abuja, and stated that the Prophet himself would not have been averse to marrying a Miss World contestant had he been alive today.
The newspaper was inundated with calls from Muslims demanding an apology for the offending article. The paper immediately apologised unreservedly, through print and electronic media and during direct talks with key Muslim leaders.
The Kaduna State government initially instituted a 12-hour curfew, but this has now been extended to 24 hours. A senior police officer at the scene of the burning newspaper offices in Kaduna expressed surprise at how an article written in Lagos should generate such a level of violence in Kaduna. However Nigerian Christian leaders are no longer surprised by such events. There has been growing anger among Muslims about US policy towards Iraq and the Middle East. In the minds of Islamic extremists, the US is viewed as a major Christian country and Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere are targeted for attack whenever the United States is deemed to be threatening Islam.
Bishop Ben Kwashi of Jos, told CSW: “If this is a matter of the newspaper against the Islamic view, then why have at least four churches been burned down and several Christians been killed? Did the churches sponsor the publication or own the newspaper? What does this have to do with the lives that have been lost?
“Muslim extremists are looking for an excuse to kill people and they target the church. What continues to baffle us is the destruction that follows each Muslim demonstration even when it is said to be peaceful. If indeed the problem was the newspaper write-up, what has that got to do with the ordinary citizens who probably had no idea of what the whole story was? What has the Church and Christians got to do with the whole saga? Beneath all this is a plan against the Church. It would seem that at the slightest excuse they are looking for a religious fight.”
Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said: “The fact that Muslim youths were bussed into the area and committed these offences five days after publication of the offending article indicates that these attacks were deliberately orchestrated, and that the understandable anger at a newspaper article was used as a pretext for attacks against Christians and other non-Muslims. Unfortunately such attacks are becoming commonplace in northern Nigeria. A recent fact-finding visit to Nigeria by a CSW team found that far from this being a tribal or inter-ethnic conflict, this is primarily a religious issue, because in every attack, Christians are targeted, usually by Hausa-Fulani Muslims.
“Muslim members of other tribes are left unmolested while Christians and churches bear wave after wave of attack. We call on the Nigerian state and federal governments to uphold the country’s constitution and to be steadfast and impartial in keeping the peace.”
For more information, contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on 020 8949 0587 or 020 8942 8810 or email or go to http://www.csw.org.uk
NOTES TO EDITORS:
Nigeria has seen an increase in interreligious violence since several northern states began to call for full Shari’ah Law in 1999. Many observers believe the Shari’ah campaign has been engineered by the Muslim northern power elite which had dominated Nigeria’s political and military establishments since independence and which felt it had lost power to Christian President, Olusegun Obasanjo. So far over 6,000 people have died as a direct result of Shari’ah related clashes.
During a fact finding visit to Nigeria, CSW team members were repeatedly informed by Christian leaders that the violent events in northern Nigeria should not be dismissed as inter-ethnic conflict and be viewed in isolation. They said the violence was being orchestrated by the same forces of radical Islam responsible for the bombing of the Twin Towers in America, attacks on Christian churches and Aid workers in Pakistan, and on the nightclub in Bali, Indonesia.
Christian communities in countries such as Nigeria are held responsible for the actions of the perceived Christian countries of the West. For example, when the United States mounted air strikes against the Taliban in 2001, three churches and a Christian business were set on fire in Kaduna City, and posters of Osama Bin Laden were pasted to the gutted remains. Following this incident a protest in Kano against US involvement in Afghanistan turned violent when Muslim militants invaded the city’s Christian quarter. At least 100 people were murdered during the five days of rioting that ensued.
The CSW team also uncovered evidence of orchestrated attacks on Christian settlements in predominantly Christian Plateau State that usually involve gangs of 300 to 600 well armed Islamic extremists, some from Niger and Chad. The attacks appear to be part of a calculated attempt to alter the ethno-religious make up of the state so as to facilitate Muslim dominance and the institution of Shari’ah Law in this key state in the Middlebelt. Christian leaders point out that this is part of a plan to fulfill the wish of the late Sultan of Sokoto who was murdered during Nigeria’s first coup, to spread Islam throughout Nigeria and ‘dip the Quran into the Atlantic Ocean’.
For more information, please contact Richard Chilvers at Christian Solidarity Worldwide http://www.csw.org.uk