NIGERIA: TEN KILLED, THREE CHURCHES SET ABLAZE IN BAUCHI
Upset by damage to mosque under construction, Muslim students spark unrest.
BAUCHI, Nigeria, December 13 (Compass Direct News) – Ten persons have been killed and three churches set on fire after Muslim high school students in this northern Nigerian city began a rampage on Tuesday (December 11) that spilled into the city. Today tensions were still high in the area.
An eyewitness at the high school said the Muslim students attacked their Christian peers after unidentified people pulled out two foundation blocks of a high school mosque under construction.
Area Muslims joined the attacking students, resulting in the deaths and damages in the city, including the burning of dozens of homes belonging to Christians.
The identity of nine of the 10 people killed has been kept secret as the Bauchi state government has ordered security agents to remove the corpses and bury them in a common grave. Eyewitnesses told Compass they were buried this morning.
The 10th person killed was a Christian security agent with the State Security Service, identified by eyewitnesses only by his surname, Bogoro, a member of the Church of Christ in Nigeria in Yelwa.
The three churches set aflame in Bauchi after Muslim students began attacking Christian students at the Government Day Secondary School (also known as Baba Tanko Secondary School) in the Yelwa Tudu area of Bauchi are Pentecostal: Elim Church, Redeemed Christian Church of God, and the Assemblies of God Church.
In addition, area Muslims set fire to dozens of houses belonging to Christians. Among the houses burned was that of the Rev. Umaru Sule, associate pastor of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA ) of Yelwa Makaranta, and that of the Rev. Maina Joshua of Kagadama.
A teacher at the Government Day Secondary School-Yelwa, who pleaded that his identity remain undisclosed out of fear of Muslim attack and government penalty, said he witnessed the sparking of the rampage when Muslim students claimed that the foundation of the school mosque had been pulled down.
The teacher told Compass that the Muslim students had won approval to build a mosque at the 3,655-student school on December 2 and began building its foundation the same day.
“On December 3, which was a Monday, I was in the school and I heard the Muslim students complaining that unknown persons had pulled out two blocks from the foundation,” the teacher said. “They threatened to attack Christians in the area for this. The principal and other staff in the tried to solve the problem that day, and I thought all was over.”
The teacher said that on Tuesday (December 11) he was administering a geography test to senior students when Muslim students “trooped out from the classes and said they would not write the examination. They converged at the site of the school mosque and began chanting Allahu Akbar [God is Great].”
Muslim students began attacking Christians in their classes, he said. They reportedly had agreed not to take exams until the school administration resolved the problem of the damaged foundation of the planned mosque.
“They broke chairs and desks,” he said. “They also attacked their Christian colleagues with knives and daggers. I had to run for my dear life because the situation became uncontrollable.”
The teacher explained that this situation snowballed into a town riot, resulting in the deaths of 10 people and the three fire-damaged churches. Nigerian press reports of unidentified mosques set aflame have not been verified.
“A neighbor of mine, one Mrs. Kadiri, was shot on the leg by Muslims on Wednesday morning, the second day of the Muslim rioting,” the teacher told Compass.
Today tensions remained high in the city. Many people were still fleeing to army and police barracks or leaving Bauchi altogether.
Shattered Appeal for Calm
The Rev. Ishaya Danyaya, 57, pastor in charge of ECWA-3 in Yelwa, said when the rioting began, Islamic and Christian leaders, along with security agents, met at the house of the Muslim village head of Yelwa, Sarkin Yelwa, to discuss how to prevent riots from spreading to them.
“We met and resolved that we should not allow this incident spread to us,” he said. “We were told to nominate six members to serve in a security committee, and Muslims too were asked to do so. Four policemen were also appointed into this committee, and they were all mandated to keep watch over our area.”
Immediately thereafter, he said, Muslims in the Yelwa area began attacking Christians.
Rev. Danyaya said he saw Muslims setting fire to the house of his associate and the houses of other area Christians.
“Our church building and that of the Church of Christ in Nigeria were not burned, because we had to risk our lives to defend the two sanctuaries,” he said. “The Muslims attacked us in an effort to burn down these churches.”
According to him, policemen came to the area in four trucks to help them repel Muslims from burning down the two churches. “We have been sleeping in the church just to keep watch over it,” he added.
In front of the house of the Yelwa, the Muslim village head, Muslims cut the head of a female Christian student with a machete and injured the leg of a pastor, Rev. Danyaya said.
“It was in the presence of Sarkin Yelwa that the Assemblies of God Church here had fire set on it,” he added.
Umaru Sule, 46, associate pastor of ECWA 3 in Yelwa, said he was he was sitting in front of his house when his son raced up to tell him that Muslims were heading for their home.
“He urged me to leave, but I told him I was not leaving,” Sule said. “After a few moments of persuasion, I left with him, heading for the church. And just a few meters away from the house, I saw the Muslims setting fire on my house.”
Sule said he lost all of his possession in the fire. “Not even a Bible now do I have,” he told Compass on the church premises at Yelwa.
The Rev. Timothy Dogari, pastor of ECWA Church Kagadama, told Compass that Muslims also targeted his church since the disturbance broke out.
“We have had to mobilize ourselves to keep guard over this church building, as Muslims have tried in the past three days to burn it down,” he said. Rev. Dogari, who said he was nearly killed in the rampage, said many homes of Christians have been destroyed and many people injured.
“Even as I talk to you now,” he said today, “Christians are still being attacked and many are fleeing out of Bauchi.”
In addition, he said, his motorbike was burned. Other Christians whose properties Muslims have destroyed, he said, include the Rev. Joshua Maina, one Elder Luka, and a widow from another church close to his church.
While Christian leaders in Bauchi said the mahem had a clear religious motive, Bauchi Gov. Isa Yuguda portrayed the disturbance as an attempt by political adversaries to discredit his All Nigeria Peoples Party administration.
Taking pains to deny any religiously based violence while appealing for peaceful religious co-existence, Yuguda told the press on Tuesday (December 11) that his political enemies hired hoodlums to instigate the crisis. The governor had put off his planned pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia to attend to the crisis.
He set up a 13-member committee to investigate the immediate and contextual causes of the outbreak of violence, to be completed within 10 days.