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Nigerian State ’s Policies Said to Strangle Christianity

Compass Direct

January 15 2007

LAFIA, Nigeria , January 15 (Compass Direct News) – As soon as Christians in this capital city of Nasarawa state tried to rebuild a Reformed Church building that Muslims burned down two years ago, more than 200 Islamists attacked the workers.

The rebuilding came to a halt, and the Nasarawa state government subsequently banned reconstruction of the facility. The church had been planted more than a century ago by missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa under the auspices of the then-Sudan United Mission , headed by German missionary Dr. Karl Kunn.

“I personally witnessed the attack on the workers at the reconstruction site of the church,” said the Rev. Jerry Modibo, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Nasarawa state chapter. “The Muslims were chanting, ‘Death to Christians, death to infidels. This town is for Muslims, we don’t want Christians here.’”

The church was known as NKST, or Nongo u Kristu u ken Sudan hen Tiv, Church of Christ in the Sudan Among the Tiv. The Tiv are an ethnic group of central Nigeria . The congregation in the Angwan Tiv area of Lafia had lost their church building in religious rioting.

Angwan Tiv is just one of many areas of Lafia town where the government now forbids building churches, Modibo said. At the same time, he said, the Nasarawa administration has financed the building of mosques across the state with public funds. Some of these mosques have been built on the premises of various government ministries and agencies.

The church leader said Nasarawa state has also built mosques in the Governor’s House and in the state House of Assembly, or parliament.

“If you are traveling from Lafia to Akwanga through Keffi to Abuja , you will see mosques being built along the road,” Modibo said. “These mosques are being built by the state government in towns and villages like Shabu, Nasarawa Eggon, Akwanga, Sabon Gida, Keffi, and Gora. Yet no single church or chapel has been built for Christians in this state.”

Christian public servants recently raised funds to build a chapel within the confines of the office of the deputy governor, who happens to be a Christian, Modibo said.

“They were ordered by the governor to stop the building of the chapel,” he said. “But there are two mosques built by the government in the same premises. That is the kind of injustice confronting us in this state.”

Gov. Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu was not available for comment, and his commissioner for information and internal affairs, Suleiman Adokwe, declined to speak on these and other issues to Compass. “Religious issues are sensitive, and I cannot therefore speak on them,” Adokwe said.

Muslim Chiefdoms

Nasarawa state policies are strangling Christian presence in the central Nigerian state, Modibo said. Officials deny Christians appointments to government institutions; at the same time, they promote junior-ranking Muslims above Christians in public service positions.

Nasarawa state has 51 “traditional rulers,” or community leaders recognized by the government. Modibo said that of this number, only 10 are Christians – the other 41 are Muslims.

“Abdullahi Adamu, the governor, did this by creating more chiefdoms to favor Muslims, and meanwhile he was stifling Christian community leaders by making them second fiddle in the scheme of things in this state,” Modibo said.

Discrimination in public service, the Christian leader said, has become a lifestyle for Christian public servants in the state. Of the 18 commissioners in government service, he said, only six are Christians.

“Last year Gov. Adamu appointed 18 commissioners, and 12 are Muslims,” he said. “Yet Christians constitute the largest population of the state – if you visit all 29 local government areas of this state and take statistics of all the people of these areas, you will discover that Christians constitute well over two-thirds of the state’s 1.2 million population.”

In addition, Modibo said, in the past 10 years appointments of federal ministers and ambassadors – based on recommendations from the state governor – have favored Muslims.

“Only one Christian in the past 10 years has ever been appointed a minister, and even then he was not allowed to complete his term of office,” Modibo said. “The same scenario played out in ambassadorial appointments – only one Christian has been appointed an ambassador in the past 10 years from this state.”

In the Christian-majority state, elections have been manipulated to perpetuate Muslim political leadership, he added.

Modibo, also a pastor with the Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ said Christians have made concerted efforts to dialogue with Gov. Abdullahi Adamu on these issues without success.

“Several attempts have been made by us to sit with the governor on a round table to discuss and find solutions to these issues, but our efforts yielded no results,” Modibo said. “In addition to personal contacts with officers of the protocol department, we have written thrice seeking to have an audience with the governor but have waited almost eternally.”

Pilgrimage to Justice

Nigerian state governments have assumed responsibility for helping to finance pilgrimages for Muslims to Mecca and for Christians to Jerusalem . Christians in Nasarawa believe the state has discriminated against them in this area as well.

In 2005, Nasarawa state budgeted and distributed 200 million naira (US$1.6 million) for Muslim pilgrims. The state budgeted 15 million naira (US$121,832) for Christians.

“Even this amount was not released for the sponsorship of Christian pilgrims after its approval,” Modibo said. From 2000 to 2005, Muslim pilgrims to Mecca sponsored by the state totaled 6,220, while the state supported only 355 Christians – and many of those encountered difficulties in obtaining the assistance, Modibo said.

“We have been facing a lot of tribulations, trials, and frustrations here in Nasarawa state,” he said. “The church here is facing the most difficult period of her life.”

Modibo noted that Proverbs 31:8-9 advocates speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defending the rights of the destitute, and letting justice flow.

“So, we are demanding that there be justice and fairness to all,” he said. “All religions in this state should be treated fairly.”