Cover Story

Nowhere to run

"Nowhere to run" Continued...

Issue: "2012 Cities Issue," March 10, 2012

Whole blocks of businesses are closed as city residents have taken flight from the terror. Some churches canceled services, and banks are open only a few hours each day.

This was not the first time militant Islamic groups attacked the city-Muslim riots in 1980 killed over 4,000 people in Kano in just 10 days-but the destruction of government posts brought a swift response from Nigeria's military and police. They've closed major thoroughfares near government buildings and sandbagged entrances to police stations. Because Boko Haram has used motorcycles in attacks, drivers of motorcycle taxis (okadas) must dismount at armed checkpoints, often at clogged traffic circles, and walk their bikes through security.

Kano, Nigeria's second-largest city, has been described as the sixth-biggest Muslim city in the world (after Karachi, Jakarta, Dhaka, Cairo, and Istanbul). With Christians the majority in the southern tier of the country, northern Nigeria is frequently differentiated as "the Muslim north."

Christians who live in the north say the characterization, while true overall (Christians make up just over 50 percent of Nigeria's 160 million people, the largest population in Africa, and most live in the south), dangerously misrepresents what's happening to them. The north's indigenous Christian population numbers well in the millions and is made up of converts from local tribal religions or Islam, yet unlike southern Nigerians most live under Muslim-dominated state governments that have since 2000 adopted Sharia law.

In those 12 states authorities prohibit Christians from holding office, discriminate against them in property and business activities, and subject them to Islamic law. Some districts in Kano state have Christian majorities, but district governments are run under the state's Sharia system. That makes Christians subject to the Islamic court system and requires students to take Islamic courses. In some areas I visited, Christian women wear hijab (Muslim head coverings) in public.

Most disturbing: Since Sharia law went into effect in northern Nigeria, over 13,000 mostly Christian Nigerians have been killed in religious-related violence, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Two thousand of those deaths, according to Open Doors, took place in 2011.

"Boko Haram is not doing anything new," said Peter Akinola, the retired archbishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. "More than terror attacks, this is part of an ongoing attempt to Islamicize Nigeria. This country began as a democracy, but now in my own country I cannot live freely."

Akinola held church offices in the north for decades before becoming archbishop of the area in 1998 then of all Nigeria in 2000, leading a church of 37 million at a time when it was considered the fastest-growing church in the world-and when the wave of violence from Muslim militants began. "Nigerians have lost count of the number of religiously induced but senseless bombings that have taken scores of lives-not only in Kano, but in Gombe, Maiduguri, Damaturu, Abuja, and elsewhere," he said.

South of Kano the cityscape rapidly turns to brown farmland and workers in silhouette stack millet into tall circular stacks. It's the dry season, time for harvest, and the grain will feed cattle, goats, and guinea fowl that free-range the cut fields. The road crosses from Kano to Bauchi state-also a wholly Sharia state-and in Ganjuwa a police station sits by the side of the highway, empty and blackened. Boko Haram gunmen bombed the station on Dec. 9 last year. It was late at night and one policeman inside escaped.

Stopping at a church in Bauchi City, pastor Muhamed Dan'Amariya recounts the recent damage from Muslims who rioted against Christians following last April's election of President Goodluck Jonathan: "Thirteen churches here were attacked and many homes burned, five Igbo Christians were killed and eight members of the National Youth Service Corps [a Christian ministry group]. A policewoman was beheaded and the killers put her head on her chest. Further north two church women-both Bible study and fellowship leaders-were killed. And in eastern Bauchi ..." he pauses, "... none were spared. There is no church left standing. All Christian homes, all Christian shops ... destroyed."

In all, Muslim attackers destroyed 92 churches, 104 houses, and 54 businesses in Bauchi state in April 2011. They killed 30 Christians and injured 69, according to the Stefanos Foundation, a research group. The attackers, Dan'Amariya said, included local "fanatics and terrorists" and members of Boko Haram: "They used the excuse of a Christian president elected, but they were looking for excuses."

In June, Boko Haram set ablaze police stations and looted banks in Bauchi. And two days after the January attacks in Kano, the terrorists struck two churches in the town of Tafawa Balewa (ECWA Church No. 2 and a Church of Christ in Nigeria church), leaving at least seven Christians dead. Sporadic attacks on Christian farms and houses killed 10 others that month.

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