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Compass – Religious violence sparked by a Muslim cutting off a Christian’s hand last Wednesday (October 26) in Niger state’s Tungan Rogo village left three Christians dead and at least 13 others injured. Adams Erena, secretary to the government of Niger state, told journalists on Thursday (October 27) that a Muslim Fulani tribesman had taken his cattle onto the farm of a Christian from the Gwari tribe, damaging his crops. When the Christian demanded to know why, the Muslim used a machete to cut off one of his hands.

News of the severed hand ignited violence that spread to Tungan Rogo, where a policeman, Sgt. Danladi Wasse, was among the Christians who died. The violence destroyed 18 houses.

Religious nerves in Niger state were already on edge following a September 21 attack by Muslims at the Bosso campus of the Federal University of Technology (FUT) at Minna. A group of Muslims, including at least one extremist brandishing a knife, broke into lecture halls at the school in an effort to enforce sharia, or Islamic law.

Joshua Ochoge, president of the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) at the university, said students were in class “when suddenly, the fanatical Muslim students stormed the halls and began attacking Christian students. The situation later resulted in a fight between the fanatics and the Christian students.”

According to another account, a Muslim student had gone into one of the lecture halls and saw a Christian girl who did not have a veil as required by the Islamic dress code. He then stabbed her with a knife.

It was at that point that other Muslim students joined in the attack on other Christian students in other lecture halls, according to a university source. The result was a melee between the Christian students and their Muslim counterparts.

Ochoge, a fifth-year chemical engineering student, told Compass that five Christian students were injured. “Some Christian students have been taken to hospitals in the town, while others have left for medical attention out of the town,” he said.

Christian students and lecturers told Compass that since the introduction of sharia in Niger state five years ago, pressure has mounted on the university administration to impose the Islamic code on Christians. As a result, school officials have set up a committee to design guidelines that will allow the enforcement of sharia.

David Jimoh, Patron of the FCS and a lecturer at the university, told Compass that the attack on Christians there did not come as a surprise.

“For years now, we’ve had to contend with problems that have their roots in religious fundamentalism, especially with the implementation of the sharia in Niger state,” Jimoh said.

He noted that the university has refused to allow Christians to build a chapel, while Muslims have had a mosque constructed on the campus.

At the time Compass visited the university’s Bosso campus the second week of October, the atmosphere was still tense and school activities were paralyzed.

Authorities at the university confirmed the attack on the Christians and announced the suspension of the Muslim students responsible.

A university newsletter released by the vice chancellor’s office on September 30 states that the attack on the Christian students has threatened peace on the campus. The bulletin states that nine Muslim students participated in the attack, though only eight have been suspended.

Prof. Hameed Tukur, the university’s vice chancellor, said the suspended students were Abubakar Abdullahi, Muhammad Tijani, Abdullahi M. Abubakar, Ahmed Raji, Binyaminu Umar, Mohammed Abdullahi, Yahaya Zubairu, and Ibrahim Habibullahi.

These students “were identified as the principal actors who fully participated in the unfortunate crises, which engulfed the Bosso campus on Wednesday, September 21, 2005.”

University authorities expressed fear that the extremists may attack the Christian students again. Tukur’s report indicates that security was again threatened when Muslim students responded with “an irrational reaction to the suspension order handed down on nine students who willfully attacked and injured innocent students for no just cause.”

“The security situation of the Bosso campus was again threatened as a result of the unnecessary escalation of tension,” the report says. “Academic activities were put on hold as students vacated the classroom due to growing anxiety. In order not to allow the situation to degenerate, the police were promptly invited to the campus to protect lives and property.”

Muslim students angered over their suspension are planning to attack not just the university’s Christians, but the larger Christian community in Niger state, the report says.