Outbreak of violence in Plateau state results in burning of 10 church buildings.
LAGOS, Nigeria, January 27 (CDN) — Two pastors and 46 other Christians have been confirmed killed in the outbreak of violence 10 days ago in Jos, Plateau state in Nigeria, according to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
In the religious clash, triggered when Muslim youths on Jan. 17 attacked a Catholic church, 10 church buildings were burned and 27 Christians are still missing, CAN officials said at a press conference in Jos today. Police estimate over 300 lives were lost in the clash.
The Plateau state CAN chairman, the Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, said the CAN Directorate of Research has carefully investigated the clash “without any sentiment and come out with a factual account.”
Kaigama said flashpoint areas where clashes have repeatedly occurred should be identified and security personnel deployed.
Police said violence was triggered by an unprovoked attack by Muslim youths on worshippers at the St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Nasarawa Gwong, in the Jos North Local Government Area. Burned buildings included the Christ Apostolic Church, Assemblies of God Church, three branches of the Church of Christ in Nigeria and two buildings of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), Christian leaders said.
The ECWA on Saturday (Jan. 23) reported that some of its members were missing and appealed to security agencies to help locate their whereabouts.
“Many of our members whose houses were burnt have to date not be found, despite all efforts by the church and their relatives to find their bodies or know their whereabouts,” said the Rev. Anthony Farinto, national president of the ECWA. “ECWA suspects strongly that many of the dead bodies hurriedly buried in mass graves by the Muslims included some of its members who were murdered within the Muslim neighborhoods.”
The Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) accused the state General Officer Commanding (GOC), Major-Gen. Salleh Maina, and some soldiers of taking sides in the clash.
“Soldiers were seen in some parts of Jos watching Muslim youths shooting Christians and burning places without any efforts to stop them,” read a PFN a press statement.
The process of selecting GOCs nationwide should be open and brought under the supervision of the National Assembly, as the choice of GOC by one man does “not augur well for the peaceful co-existence of the nation,” according to the PFN.
The PFN urged the state government to form an Anti-Religious Riot Vigilante Group “whose officials should be well trained in surveillance, intelligence, security and brute self-defense as the first response group to any uprising before the arrival of the police to quell any uprising and save senseless killings.”
The Rev. Chuwang Avou, secretary of the state chapter of CAN, said the crisis broke out when Muslim youths pursued a woman into a church during worship on Sunday, wreaking havoc on the service. A Muslim group in the area, however, dismissed claims that Muslim youths ignited the tensions. They accused Christian youths of stopping a Muslim from rebuilding his house.
State Commissioner of Police Greg Anyating stated that Muslim youths were to blame for setting off the violence.
The violence comes at a time of a leadership vacuum in Nigeria, with illness requiring Muslim President Umaru Yar’Adua to leave the country on Nov. 23 to seek treatment in Saudi Arabia.
The same area suffered on Nov. 28-29, 2008, when murderous rioting sparked by Muslim attacks on Christians and their property left six pastors dead, at least 500 other people killed and 40 churches destroyed, according to church leaders. More than 25,000 persons were displaced in the two days of violence.
What began as outrage over suspected vote fraud in local elections quickly hit the religious fault line as angry Muslims took aim at Christian sites rather than at political targets. Police and troops reportedly killed about 400 rampaging Muslims in an effort to quell the unrest, and Islamists shot, slashed or stabbed to death more than 100 Christians.
Sectarian violence in Jos, a volatile mid-point where the predominantly Muslim north meets the mainly Christian south, left more than 1,000 people dead in 2001. Another 700 people were killed in sectarian outbreaks of violence in 2004. Located in Nigeria’s central region between the Muslim-majority north and the largely Christian south, Plateau state is home to various Christian ethnic groups co-existing uneasily with Muslim Hausa settlers.
Report from Compass Direct News