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Close Churches or Risk Attacks, Nigerian “Fulani association” Warns Christians in a Letter

Map showing Nigeria's Zamfara State. Credit: Public Domain

Christians in Nigeria’s Zamfara State have, in an “anonymous letter” circulated by the office of the State Commissioner of Police, been cautioned against public worship in churches lest they be attacked, abducted, and their places of worship torched.

The warning, which a “Fulani association” claims responsibility for, is contained in an eight-page document signed by the Assistant Commissioner of Police (DFA), Makinta Mohammed Saleh, on behalf of the Commissioner of Police in Zamfara State at the Gusau Command.

“The command has already alerted its Divisions/Formations for immediate proactive action and deployment of men at churches especially during services,” the Police leadership in Zamfara State says in reaction to what it describes as “an anonymous letter threatening to launch attack on churches, especially churches located at the outskirt of the metropolis.”

The letter with the threats was "submitted to Police Headquarters Gusau by unknown person through one Uzaifa Yunusa 'm' aged 11yrs of Unguwar gwaza area Gusau on 19/11/2021 at about 1631hrs", the Commissioner of Police in Zamfara State recounts in the document dated November 23.

The Police Commissioner’s note that he says is aimed at providing information about the threats and room for precautionary measures is addressed to government officials including persons at the helm of Zamfara State security headquartered in Gusau, the capital of the Northwestern Nigerian State, as well as representatives of Gusau-based Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). 

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The Governor of Zamfara State, the Commissioners in the State ministry for security and home affairs and his counterpart in the State ministry for Islamic affair are among government officials notified about the threats. 

Others notified are the Director of the department of State Security Services (DSS), the Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) in Zamfara State, and the Chairman of CAN in Gusau, among others.

In the document availed to ACI Africa Wednesday, December 1, members of the "Fulani association who are planning to launch war against Christian religion" claim responsibility of the "anonymous letter".

“We want churches to be closed from now to the next three years. If they are not closed, we will start burning them,” those behind the letter threaten, and add in reference to Christians in Nigeria’s Zamfara State, “We will follow their pastors to their houses whether during raining or in the mid night and kidnap them and their family.”

They claim responsibility of some previous attacks on Nigerians saying, “We have been harming people but we have forgotten the Christians. So, we will start from now until Christmas time. We are going to start with churches located out skirt of Gusau.”

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“We are going to start kidnapping of Christians and burning of their churches located outskirt of Gusau town and we are going to do it when no one expect it to happen,” they say in the document the Commissioner of Police in Zamfara State titled, “Anonymous letter of threat to attack churches in the State and its English translation.”

Those behind the letter go on to explain the reason for their threats saying, “We are taking this action because they (Christians) were the one that started causing this problem; they harmed our children at Saminaka area and chased away our cows while on rearing behind Karma Hotel.”

According SaharaReporters, security officials in Zamfara State say they have taken precautionary measures following the threats.

“We are on top of the threat. Yes, I can confirm that it's true, a threat letter was sent to the Christians in Zamfara State to stop worship and to close churches,” the Spokesperson for the Zamfara State police command, DSP, Mohammed Shehu, has been quoted as saying in the November 30 report. 

Mr. Shehu has invited CAN leadership in Zamfara State to “discuss security measures around the churches.”

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“In that regard, a special squad has been created by the CP to patrol and protect worshippers, especially on Sundays,” the security official says, and adds, “plain-clothes personnel have been deployed for intelligence gathering and to unravel those behind the threat letter.”

Speaking to ACI Africa Wednesday, December 1, the Director of Communications of Sokoto Diocese said measures are being taken to protect Christians.

“No formal statement has been made by Church officials in the State but internal strategies are at work,” Fr. Chris Omotosho said, and added, “There are meetings going on; no formal statement for now.”

Meanwhile, Christian leaders in Zamfara State have called on the Department of State Security and the Inspector General of Police “to investigate those who are speaking for the terrorists with a view to unmasking their sponsors and beneficiaries of their criminalities.”

In their December 1 message, CAN representatives in Zamfara say, “Threat against Christians and churches by the terrorists is a divisive strategy against the effort of Christian and Muslim leaders towards ending criminalities in the North-West.”

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“We know that all kidnappings and other criminalities being perpetrated in the North-Western part of the country are the handiwork of terrorists who either migrated from the North-East or those who were released under the purported rehabilitation program of the Federal government,” the Christian leaders say in their message titled, “No Christian Should Be Killed in Zamfara.”

They further say, “Now that a Federal High Court has labelled those criminals terrorists, we call on the Police, the military authorities and other security agencies to rise up to the challenge of the terrorists who have turned kidnappings into the biggest business venture in the geopolitical zone.”

Nigeria has been grappling with insecurity since 2009 when the Boko Haram insurgency began targeted attacks with the aim of turning Africa's most populous nation into an Islamic State.

Members of the Islamist group have been organizing random attacks on various targets including civilians, political and religious leaders.

In their December 1 statement, CAN representatives in Zamfara State say, “The way and manner by which our security agencies have been handling those criminals are totally unacceptable, reprehensible and unprecedented. Criminals are criminals irrespective of their religious, political and ethnic affiliations and they should be treated as just.”

“The leadership of the national Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in our recent visit to Sokoto and Kebbi states was alarmed, surprised and shocked by the record of those criminals who are killing and kidnapping with impunity in the area as if there was a pact between them and the security agencies,” the representatives of Christian leaders in the Nigerian State recall.

Now that both the leaderships of Christianity and Islam in the country are working together on how to stop their criminalities in the Northwest, CAN representatives say the criminals “are now trying to introduce divisive ways by declaring war against Christians and churches in the zone especially in Zamfara State where they are gradually turning into their strongholds.”

“We have no problem with Islam or with our Muslim brothers and sisters but with the handful fanatics and their financiers who have declared war against Christianity,” they say.

As a way forward, CAN representatives in Zamfara State appeal to all peace-loving Muslims “to speak against those who are painting Islam what is not. We know that there is no right-thinking Muslim leader who will be happy with the killings of Christians.”

“We call on President Muhammadu Buhari to sanction any Commissioner of Police or Zonal Police Commanders and the Director of State Security Services wherever kidnappers operate in the country henceforth. This will go a long way in reducing the menace as we are approaching the Yuletide season,” they say.

The Christian leaders urge the Federal government “to refund all the ransom paid for the release of those who were abducted in the last five years.” 

“President Buhari should also direct the Police to arraign all suspected kidnappers, bandits and terrorists in their custody with a view to stopping those who are perpetrating the atrocities. Failure to do this will force the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to ask our members to embrace the principle of self-defense wherever the security agencies appeared compromised,” they add.

CAN representatives in Zamfara State call upon all Christians and peace-loving Muslims “to pray against their threats and for our security agencies to be able to stop all criminalities in the country. Enough is enough.”