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Nigeria : Northern Church Survive Arson By Muslims

After 28 years, Kano state still refuses to grant approval to beleaguered congregation.

ICC Note

“Because approval for the church has not been granted by the Kano state government, we have been forced to use an abandoned property of the Nigerian government as a place of worship over the years,”

Wednesday March 05, 2008 Nigeria (Compass Direct News) – The Kano state government has refused to grant approval to a church in this northern Nigerian town for 28 years, further emboldening area Muslims to attack it numerous times, the pastor said.

Since Christmas 2006, said pastor Jacob Bako of the local Evangelical Church of Christ in Nigeria (ECCN), local Muslims have set fire to the congregation’s makeshift worship place three times.

“Because approval for the church has not been granted by the Kano state government, we have been forced to use an abandoned property of the Nigerian government as a place of worship over the years,” Bako said. “What we have done is to use grass to thatch the uncompleted building, and then we constructed benches using blocks in it.”

Due to the church’s lack of official permission, its worship place is located in an abandoned housing project that had been under construction. The 115-member congregation, founded in 1980, is the only church in the Dawakin Kudu local government area, Bako said.

“Over the years we’ve had bitter experiences with the Muslims in this town, who are against the existence of this church,” the 47-year-old Bako said. “Muslims set fire on it on Christmas day in 2006, and in the months of April and June 2007 they repeated these acts of arson against us.”

On several occasions Muslims have gone to the site to write hate messages against Christians on the walls of the building, he said; they have also defecated at the site and spread the mess on the structure.

“I remember that on the Christmas day of 2006, Muslims went to the building the previous night and messed the place before burning down the thatched roof,” Bako said. “We had to clean up the mess before holding worship service on that day. Also, in April and in June 2007, Muslims again burned the place. These acts of arson on the building have become a common practice here against us.”

The Rev. Nelson Jebes, president of ECCN-Kano, verified Bako’s accounts of the attacks, concurring that such hostilities are “a reality here in Kano – it is part of our lives and is now our lifestyle.”

“Most of the times Muslims rise against Christians,” Rev. Jebes said, “and in the process, most of the churches get burnt and homes of Christians destroyed.”

Recalling last year’s riotous September 28 attack on Christians in Tudun Wada Dankadai in Kano , Rev. Jebes said all churches there were burned down.

“There is not a single church standing there today,” he said.

Rev. Jebes said that prior to Bako’s church using the abandoned building as a place of worship, the Christians were worshiping under trees – and area Muslims would cut those down.

“It was these acts of attack on Christians that forced them to make a decision to use the building as a place of worship,” Rev. Jebes told Compass. “But even then, they are being chased out from the structure through acts of arson by Muslims.”

Compulsory Conversion in Schools

Bako said the hostile attitude of Muslims and their administrators has forced some Christians to leave the area. Were most of his congregation not made up of policemen and their families, he said, more than two decades of hostilities would have killed the church long ago.

But not even policemen are spared, Bako added.

“Recently during the local government elections here, a Muslim policeman shot and killed a voter who had gone to cast his ballot, yet the Muslim policeman is free today with no charges against him,” Bako said. “But recently too, armed robbers attacked a company after attacking Christian policemen on duty there. Yet the Christian policemen are in detention as I talk with you now – not because they committed any crime, but because they were overwhelmed by the robbers during the robbery operation. Now, why the discrimination?”

Christians in Dawakin Kudu also face discrimination in public institutions, he said – they are shunned from employment in public offices, and their children are refused admission into public schools.

“Our children are compelled to change their names to Muslim names before they get admission into government schools,” he said. “Even when they change their names to Muslim names, they are still required to convert to Islam or face expulsion from these schools.”

Wearing of the hijab (head covering) is mandatory for Christian girls in public schools to prove that they are converts to Islam, he added. Bako said discrimination is rampant at two public high schools, Government Science Secondary School-Dawakin Kudu and Government Secondary School-Maidubi.

Officials of the Kano state Ministry of Education declined to comment. Police authorities also declined to speak on these issues.

Sharia (Islamic law), Bako said, “was introduced in Kano state not for Muslims, as the Kano state government had always claimed, but in order to deal with Christians and to stop what Muslim here perceive as Christianity’s threat to Islam.”

Bako sees only one way out. The only chances for peace in northern Nigeria , he said, depend on the federal government taking urgent action to check religious discrimination against Christians.