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Christian Foundation Condemns Demolition of Nigerian Church by State Agency

Logo of the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Credit: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a UK-based human rights organization,  has condemned the demolition of the Church of the Brethren located in Borno State in Northern Nigeria by men working under the supervision of the Borno State Governor.

The Punch has reported that members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) opened fire on locals as the Borno State Geographical Information System (BOGIS) demolished the Church of the Brethren, also referred to as Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa (EYN), in Borno’s suburb of Maiduguri, without prior notification. 

Government agency, BOGIS, which is charged with the responsibility of managing land matters in the Nigerian State is directly under the supervision of Governor Babagana Zulum.

The Thursday, August 5 demolition is said to have been accompanied by a heavy confrontation between locals and the government forces in which a 27-year-old man named Ezekiel was shot dead and scores of other protesters injured.

CSW’s Press and Public Affairs Team Leader, Kiri Kankhwende, has expressed solidarity with victims of the confrontation and called upon Governor Zulum to be on the forefront in promoting religious equality in the country rather than encouraging persecution of Christians.

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“Our prayers are with the victim’s family, and with the injured… We urge the Governor to be at the forefront of challenging the divisive ideologies of terrorist factions by upholding the right to freedom of religion or belief for minority faith communities within Borno, in line with the federal constitution and Nigeria’s international and regional obligations,” Mr. Kankhwende said in a Saturday, August 7 report

The CSW official adds, in reference to the Governor of Borno State, “We also urge him to review the circumstances surrounding the demolition of the EYN Church in the Maduganari suburb, which appears to have occurred without due process, and to ensure justice for the victims of this unfortunate event.” 

The Christian foundation, which specializes in religious freedom all over the world notes that there has been an increase in Church demolitions in Borno with reports indicating that three other Churches have been demolished in the State capital.

“Indications that a spate of church demolitions may be underway in the Borno State capital are particularly disheartening, as they come at a time when all people of goodwill, regardless of creed or ethnicity, should be uniting against the terrorist threat,” the CSW official says. 

According to local reports, the EYN building is the third church to be demolished in Maiduguri by BOGIS, a body which reportedly operates under the direct supervision of the Borno State Governor.

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Meanwhile, CSW has reported a rise in the killings in Plateau and Southern Kaduna States with at least 70 people having been hacked to death in just a fortnight by assailants of Fulani origin in farming communities in the two Nigerian States.

In a statement, Rev (Dr) Baba Panya, the president of the Evangelical Church Winning (ECWA) lamented that “the last two weeks, especially from Sunday, July 23 to Monday, August 2 have been the worst nightmare” for the predominantly Christian Irigwe ethnic group, who are indigenous to Bassa Local Government Area (LGA) in Plateau State, and to Kaura LGA in neighboring Southern Kaduna. 

CSW reports that at least 15 villages were destroyed, over 400 houses burnt down, including churches and an orphanage, around 20,000 people were displaced, and thousands of hectares of farm crops deliberately destroyed, in the spate of attacks on Bassa LGA.

The assailants also attacked villages in Kaura LGA, Southern Kaduna, where at least 48 people were killed, over 100 homes were razed to the ground and at least 68 farmlands were destroyed.

According to the August 7 report by CSW, attacks by heavily-armed Fulani militants on farming communities in central Nigeria, which have been ongoing since 2010, increased in both geographical scope and ferocity in 2015, “with perpetrators enjoying apparent impunity due to inadequate official intervention.”

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The ECWA president notes that many of the villages where these killings and burnings are taking place, are located behind the 3rd Armoured Division Barrack of the Nigerian Army.

Even then, the militants are allowed to continue their heinous murders and carnage without any intervention by the Nigerian Army and other security agencies, a situation that the Church leader says is eroding the confidence of the populace in the military and security agencies that are supposed to act as unbiased protectors of all, devoid of tribe, ethnicity or religion.

“No single AK-47 wielding militia has been arrested, prosecuted or brought to justice,” Mr. Panya says, adding, “Instead, the indigenous youth who tried to defend themselves with crude instruments are paraded as aggressors.”

According to the CSW leadership, deadly attacks by Fulani assailants are now occurring increasingly in the South of the country, amidst consistent reports of abductions for ransom, murders, displacements and destruction and occupation of farmlands. 

On August 1, at least nine people were killed in the Isi-Uzo LGA of Nigeria’s Enugu State, including a pregnant woman whose fetus was reportedly removed and left on top of her corpse. 

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Local people claim that the police, who arrived 24 hours after the attack, were refusing to release the bodies of victims of an earlier attack for burial until the local community signs an undertaking to allocate land to Fulani herders.

In a message of solidarity with those experiencing persecution in Nigeria’s Northern region, CSW’s Press and Public Affairs Team Leader has gone ahead to condemn attacks by the Fulani herdsmen, which he says are strategically staged during the harvesting seasons to destroy the Christian farmers’ sources of livelihood.

“We extend our deepest condolences to communities in Plateau, Southern Kaduna, Enugu and other States where these attacks continue to occur with apparent impunity,” Mr. Kankhwende says, and adds, “Indigenous ethno-religious minorities are being targeted in a relentless campaign of violence, which involves decimation, displacement, and demographic alteration, and which accelerates during farming or harvesting seasons, indicating a deliberate effort to engineer starvation and complete economic disempowerment.”

The CSW official opines that it is time for the international community to put aside debates about the origins and nature of the Nigerian violence and to focus instead on pressing and assisting Nigeria to address the network of organized armed non-state actors.

He describes Nigeria’s situation as “a tragic indication of failing or failed governance” in which groups with ready access to small arms can continue to unleash the most appalling violence across the country.

It is the minority ethnic and religious groups bearing “an alarming burden of death and loss” in the violence, Mr. Kankhwende says.