Cover Story

Nowhere to run

"Nowhere to run" Continued...

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

In a refrain I would hear from other pastors in the five northern states I visited, Dan'Amariya said government officials have refused to grant permission to rebuild the damaged properties and have not come through with agreed-upon compensation for victims: "The state government says it is the responsibility of the federal government since the violence occurred over national elections," he said.

Christians throughout the Sharia states in the north faced post-election violence. In Kaduna state, Muslims destroyed 409 churches and over 2,000 homes, killing 137. In Gombe state, they destroyed 39 churches and 74 homes, killing 20.

In Katsina state, attacks took church leaders by surprise: "Until April last year we had no serious problems with the Muslims, only with the government," said one. Another: "This has never happened, and it took the churches unaware. Like an amateur I took my video camera to see what was happening, with no idea how deadly it would be."

Nearly all the pastors I spoke with are first- or second-generation Christians from the leading tribes in the region, the Fulani and the Hausa. Both tribes are majority Muslim but the majority of Christians also come from those tribes. One told me his village is "50/50 Christian and Muslim" yet all must follow Sharia law: "We don't have any other town than this one. We are part of the place, and we don't have anywhere to run to."

As election results came last April, young Muslim men in Katsina poured over the walls into church compounds, using propane and gasoline to set fire to church buildings and vehicles. The church leaders I met in the towns of Malumfashi and Funtua presented me with a detailed, printed, and signed assessment of the damages: churches from 16 different denominations burned or vandalized, and most destroyed; 22 houses destroyed and 23 families displaced; 13 businesses and one medical clinic burned; 25 cars, 36 motorcycles, and six bicycles burned and destroyed. The attackers killed seven in Katsina and injured six.

The rampage lasted only several hours but destroyed property that took decades to accumulate. Gone from the ECWA church compound in Malumfashi were the church, classrooms, offices, pastors' residences, and all material documenting the history of the church, including its 1936 certificate of occupancy. Members now meet in the original church, a low-slung colonial building with a tin roof they had converted to a Sunday school hall.

In Funtua, 30 miles south of Malumfashi, 29 of the city's 35 churches "burnt to ashes," said resident and church member Mezadu J. Dandada. They include an Anglican church with 2,700 members that today sits open to the elements, and a Catholic church where over 500 still walk over shattered glass to attend services under a repaired roof ("Many of our parishioners have left," church council chairman Sira Chukwu told me).

Funtua, with a population of about 225,000, gained international notoriety as the family home of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 25-year-old "underwear bomber" who tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Abdulmutallab grew up in nearby Kaduna state and attended Islamic school before moving to Kenya with his banker father, and going to high school in Togo.

At Funtua's Deeper Life Bible Church, pastor Aaron Reuben Kajang said he suspects that Boko Haram organized and participated in the attacks: "They said all Christians must leave, they even were sending text messages to some of our phones three days before the attacks, and many people did leave the town."

Gangs torched Deeper Life, along with many nearby homes and shops belonging to members of the church. Three children of one family at Deeper Life died, their charred bodies discovered inside their burned-out home. "The parents have fled, they have gone east," said Kajang, "but they are in a desperate situation financially. They have lost everything."

Kajang's church meets on the concrete slab of the burned-down site, in rescued chairs set up beneath a green tarpaulin. "We have 50 to 80 adults coming now and 10 to 20 children," he said. "Before we had more than 500."

The road climbs south to enter Plateau state and a cloudless sky does battle with the Harmattan, the dry season trade winds that blow into persistent dust storms in West Africa. Through the red haze swim the bright burqas of Muslim women on their way to market, but crosses dangle from car rearview mirrors and Scriptures adorn school buildings. Plateau is a mostly Christian state in Nigeria's Middle Belt-an imprecise designation of about 10 interior states south of Katsina and Kano whose makeup is a mix of ethnic and religious groups.

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