Saying it was too close to a mosque, Islamists destroy sanctuary in Kwara state.
ILORIN, Nigeria, September 2 (Compass Direct News) – Muslim extremists on Sunday (Aug. 31) set ablaze a church building in the Baboko area of this city in central Nigeria’s Kwara state.
The Rev. Samuel Ogowole told Compass that the extremists barred members of his Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) from getting to the building on Sunday, and the Town Planning Development Authority had sealed off the premises following pressure from area Muslims. The congregation had gone to a site on the outskirts of the city for worship when the Muslim extremists destroyed the church building, a 20 million naira (US$170,575) structure built four years ago.
Rev. Ogowole told Compass that area Muslims had complained that the church building is located near a mosque. Compass found that the church building was 500 meters from the Baboko mosque.
Muslim leaders had filed a complaint with an interfaith panel called the Inter-Religious Committee, established by the Kwara state government to mediate Muslim-Christian conflicts. Rev. Ogowole said the body initially ruled against the Islamists’ claim, but under Muslim pressure later issued a second resolution ordering the church to relocate.
“The Inter-Religious committee after investigating the issue explained that it is not true that our church is close to the mosque, and as such there is no justification of the claims of the Muslims,” he said. “But the Muslims still have not allowed us to worship here in peace.”
To appease the Muslim community, Rev. Ogowole said, the Kwara state government offered church leaders 3 million naira (US$25,580) and ordered the congregation to relocate. Church leaders rejected the order, saying they had spent nearly seven times that much to construct the church building.
Muslims had objected to the church building soon after construction began in 2001 on property that the church had legally purchased. Rev. Ogowole told Compass that Muslims initially applied pressure on town planning authorities in 2005.
“This ultimately resulted in a relocation notice, asking us to relocate the church out of the area in seven days,” he said. “However, we objected to the relocation order. Our position was that relocating to another place would mean creating hardship for our members here, who would have to travel many kilometers in order to worship.”
The Rev. Cornelius Fawenu, secretary of the Kwara state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told reporters yesterday that a review of the inter-religious committee’s ruling is under discussion by panel members and leaders of CAN and the church.
“Both CAN and the church are currently dialoguing on the review of the final resolution with the committee on the matter, all in the interest of equity, justice and fairness, even though the committee had earlier resolved in favor of the church before the twist of events necessitated a second resolution, which we have since appealed against,” Rev. Fawenu said.
The building had been constructed with approval from the Kwara state government, which issued a right of occupancy certificate to the church. Compass obtained property documents from church leaders showing the legality of the building: the certificate of right of occupancy, an Environmental Impact Assessment report, town planning approval and certification and land rental fees that to date were all paid.
Sunday marked the second time that Muslim fanatics attacked the church. On June 16, they broke into the church sanctuary, destroying musical instruments, burning pews and pulling down part of a fence around the premises.
The fanatics also wrote Islamic inscriptions on the church gate. Rev. Ogowole told Compass church leaders reported the incident to the police.
“A bag containing Islamic items was recovered by the police the following morning in the church premises,” he said.
Originally the church was planted in 1993 in the Surulere area of Ilorin. It had 300 members, including three pastors and three evangelists, before its building in the Baboko area was destroyed. The construction of the church building began in 2001, with worship services beginning in 2004.
Rev. Fawenu of CAN confirmed the manner in which the church building was burned and said leaders of the association opposed the relocation order on the grounds that it “amounts to persecuting the members of that church.”
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Rev. Fawenu said he hopes the state government will intervene to prosecute the arsonists.
“If this matter is not addressed and the perpetrators of this sacrilegious act made to account for their sin and the concerned church adequately compensated, we will not be left with any other option than to believe that Kwara state is a state whereby everybody is at liberty to visit their fellow human beings with jungle justice,” he said.
Leaders of the Muslim community in Baboko declined to speak on the issue. A Kwara state spokesperson said officials would comment on the destruction of the church only after an investigation.
Report from Compass Direct News