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Nigeria : Muslim Officials Dismiss Christians from Posts

ICC Note

“We were branded as dangerous people because we are Christians,”

Nigeria , October 24 (Compass Direct News) – Asabe Ladagu, a Christian widow in this capital city of Borno state in northern Nigeria , has survived without income the past 16 months. It was that long ago, the former librarian told Compass, that Muslim administrators at Ramat Polytechnic forced her into early retirement – without pay – after she and others requested land to build a chapel.

“We were branded as dangerous people because we are Christians,” Ladagu said.

Ladagu had put in 35 years of government service as Ramat Polytechnic’s librarian and chief lecturer.

“I have been forced out of office now for more than 16 months, not retired and not on staff roll of Ramat Polytechnic,” Ladagu said. “Other Christian brethren too have either been forced out or have been the subjects of witch-hunts.”

Roots of the conflict go back to 1991, she said, when a Muslim student attacked a Christian student, threatening to cast the institution into religious crisis.

“The Muslim student slapped the Christian student on claims that Christian students were disturbing them with worship songs in a classroom,” Ladagu said. “At this time, we were using classrooms for our worship services, Bible studies, and prayers because we didn’t have a chapel.”

She and others were able to calm Christian students, averting large-scale violence at the institution. “Sensing that this ugly situation needed to be arrested, we, the leaders of the Christian community, felt that we should apply for land to build a chapel,” she said.

Community Christians managed to raise enough funds to build the chapel, but the polytechnic’s administration did not grant their request for land. Ladagu recalled a time when they were told to shut up or be shown the way out of the institution for advocating for a chapel.

“I remember Ummara calling both Christian staff and students to a meeting in the school and telling us that we were in the school for educational purposes only and not for religion,” she said. “He warned that he would not tolerate our request to have a chapel in the school. It was from this point that we were marked out for elimination.”

The Christians viewed the denial as deliberate discrimination against Christians by Muslim administrators at a time when there were seven mosques on campus.

“It was baffling that in spite of this number of mosques in the institution,” she said, “our demand for just a parcel of land to build a chapel became a thing for the Muslim administration in the institution and in the state to use to discriminate against us leaders of the Christian community and begin a witch-hunt.”

Shortly after the request for land to build a chapel, colleague Deacon Anyetebo’s appointment at Ramat Polytechnic was terminated, Ladagu said. The shock of receiving the notice and the stresses of having no income contributed to his death barely a month later, she said.

After Ladagu and co-worker Maryam Fika were forced into early retirement, they successfully petitioned the Commissioner of Education to be re-instated – only to be dismissed again.

“We were recalled, but later told that we must leave,” Ladagu said. “After we left, Deacon Anyetebo was also retired; he died soon after because of shock. And then Maryam Bwala became the fourth Christian victim to be retired because of the chapel matter.”

Another Christian leader in the institution, Barnabas Atiyaye, was the next to go.

“He was suspended and dragged before security agencies and harassed several times, all because of the same chapel problem,” Ladagu said. “Eventually they forced him out, and he is currently working with the United Nations country office in Abuja .”

Two other Christian staff members, John Ojediran and a worker identified only as Dr. Poopola, were also forced to leave, Ladagu said.

According to Ladagu, all administrators at the institution during the period were Muslims, including Babagana Tijani, Alhaji Modu Mustapha, Umar Baba Ummara, and Babagana Ummar. They were unavailable for response, as government officials are prohibited by law from commenting on disputed issues, especially sensitive religious matters.

Discrimination has weakened the Christian community at the school, a public institution owned by the Borno state government, Ladagu said. The school was established in April 1978 and named after the late Muslim military head of state Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed, who was killed in a military change of government in 1976.

Ramat Polytechnic now has one Christian among the five principal officers in its administration.

Islamic Bias

Discrimination against Christians in Borno state goes well beyond the Ramat Polytechnic case.

The Rev. Joshua Adamu, chairman of the Borno state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, asserted that persecution of Christians has become a state policy.

“Discrimination against us in this state is very common,” the 67-year-old Adamu told Compass. “It is practiced in all government agencies and ministries. Our children too are not left out in the practice, as they are denied admission in schools or even denied the teaching of their faith, the Christian faith.”

Consequently, Adamu and other Christians took the Borno state government to court for failing to teach Christian Religious Knowledge (CRK) in schools.

“The government requested that we settle the case out of court, and we did, but up till now that I am speaking to you, the teaching of CRK has not been permitted, and yet Islamic Religious Knowledge is being taught in all schools,” Adamu said.

Difficulties in the state emerge against a backdrop of violence still fresh in the memory. Under the guise of protesting cartoons of Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, Muslims in Borno killed 57 Christians and burned over 52 churches.

“One Catholic priest was also killed, and in my church, the Church of Christ in Nigeria , Gambaru local congregation, 82 women and two pastors were injured,” Adamu said. “I and my associate were attacked by Muslims too. All my theological books worth over 1.5 million naira were destroyed when the pastorate was burned by Muslim militants.”

Land, Adamu said, has become very difficult to acquire for new church auditoriums or for expansion of existing buildings – an increasingly disturbing obstacle. Even lands acquired decades ago by churches have not been government certified, rendering them illegal.

The Rev. Paye Pama, pastor of Rhema Assembly and secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Borno state chapter, echoed the problems enumerated by Ladagu and Adamu.

A pastor in Maiduguri for 20 years, Pama said working in the Islamic-dominated environment has been dangerous.

“If you are a Christian and your blood brother is a Muslim,” Pama said, “whenever there is a religious crisis, he would be ready to kill you.”

During last year’s cartoon violence, he said, some pastors were killed by Muslim relatives or Muslims whom they had served.

“These Muslims had received assistance from these pastors in form of money, food, clothing, etcetera,” Pama said. “They knew where the pastors lived, and so they brought their fellow Muslims to kill these pastors.”

The number of Christians killed in the February 2006 violence is probably higher than the 57 known dead, he said.

“It is difficult today to say exactly how many Christians were killed because security agents kept the figures secret,” Pama said. “In addition, they removed some corpses and buried them in a mass grave. We have only been able to count those we recovered, and that is the figure we’ve been using.”

Pama lamented that persecution has resulted in the fleeing of many Christians to other parts of the country, depleting the population of Borno state churches.