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Northern Cities Under Siege

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Kaduna, Zaria and Damaturu are still smouldering with smoke following another round of Boko Haram bombing of churches and reprisal attacks by Christians

The June 17 bombing of three churches in Kaduna is not the first time Boko Haram is causing havoc in that environment. But that particular case of bombing marked the beginning of a new dimension to the security crisis - reprisal attacks by Christians who have hitherto endured losing relatives and properties to Boko Haram bombings.

For the first time, Christians reacted spontaneously, taking up arms against their Muslim brothers after the multiple bombings in the state. The first blast occurred at the Shalom Church, Trikaniya, at about 9a.m. It left scores of people dead and others wounded. Few minutes later, another blast hit the roof of Christ the King Catholic Church, Sabon Gari, Zaria. At almost the same time, another bomb exploded at the ECWA DCC Church also in Zaria. Irked by the incident, Christian youths on their part, barricaded the Kaduna/Abuja expressway and carefully vetted passersby. Those with black spots on their foreheads, a sign mostly developed from performing the Muslim prayer regularly, were promptly executed. The Muslims, on their part, also identified Christians amongst their midst and swiftly eliminated them. The cycle continued in almost all parts of the state and majority of those who died, were never complicit of the offence that cost them their lives. They simply paid for the crimes committed by people who share their faiths.

Newswatch gathered that no fewer than 70 persons died and more than 130 severely wounded in the reprisal attacks alone as at Tuesday, June 19. Up till Wednesday, June 20, there were still cases of killings carried out by rioters.

Sunday Ali, the public relations officer of St. Gerald Catholic Hospital, Kaduna, gave Newswatch insight into the casualty figures. “From what we have here, 11 corpses have been deposited. We are presently treating 50 people with various degrees of injuries. And more are being brought in. I don’t know if the dead or wounded are from the bombed church or from reprisal attacks. Our work here is to treat them. I will not be surprised if more victims are brought in later. Please call me back after an hour,” he said.

More dead bodies were later brought into the St Gerald’s Morgue. The bodies were mostly from reprisals. Most of the bodies had cutlass wounds. But some escaped death by the whiskers. One of such lucky survivors is Nathaniel Jibrin, a photo journalist with the Daily Independent Newspaper. He survived the reprisal attack. He was macheted by some angry youths from the Trikaniya area very close to the scene of the bomb blast as he went to carry out his duties as a photo journalist.

Narrating his ordeal from his hospital bed at St Gerald’s hospital, Kakuri, Jibrin who had machete cuts on his head and arms, said he was on his way to take photograph of the scene of the blast alongside the photographer of ThisDay newspaper when suddenly some people pounced on him and started cutting his body with machetes.  “I was at home on that Sunday morning when my colleague from ThisDay called to inform me of a bomb blast at a church in Trikaniya. I had to suspend the day’s church service and headed straight to the place. On my way close to the area, some youths stopped me and the next thing I could remember was to see myself on the ground with blood gushing all over my body. I could not recall what happened again until when I saw myself in this hospital the following day. I lost my expensive camera and other valuables in the attack,” the photographer said.

Nathaniel, an Igala from Kogi State and a Christian, has lived in Kaduna State, for close to 30 years. He said he was rescued and brought to the hospital by some good Samaritans who saw him lying in the pool of his blood.

Another survivor of the horrendous reprisal attack is Saidu Danbata, a commercial motorcycle operator. He was almost killed with machetes by some youths but managed to escape. He said some youths at Gonin Gora stopped him after the bomb attack at Shalom church. According to Danbata, “I had gone to drop a passenger at the Federal Housing at Gonin Gora from Sabo Tasha, and was heading back to my base when suddenly I was stopped by some people who were carrying dangerous weapons including guns and machetes. They said I was a Hausa man and that I deserved to die and they immediately descended on me and cut me with machetes. It was by the grace of God that I managed to escape.

A student of Kaduna Polytechnic whose name is yet to be ascertained, also died during an attack in the main campus of the institution in Tudun Wada on the same Tuesday. Following the killing of their colleague, the students who had come to write their semester exams that day fled to the nearby 44 Army barracks where they took refuge until they were able to go back to their respective homes. Those who were staying in the hostels could not go back for fear of being killed.

What is even more disturbing with the crisis in Kaduna, is that two days into the 24-hours curfew, security operatives, were still unable to stem the tide of violence. This is despite the visit by Oluseye Pentinrin, chief of defence staff, and inspector-general of Police to the crisis areas. There were reports of killings in areas such as Hanyan Banki, Unguwar Dosa and Malali despite the heavy presence of soldiers on the streets of Kaduna.

Uchenna Chukwu who sells motor tyres in Kaduna, is still counting his losses from the gruesome experience that almost cost him his life. He told Newswatch that a mob stormed into his neigbour’s shop and killed him instantly. While Chukwu was lucky to escape, his shop was burnt to ashes.”

The attack in Kaduna and the reprisals that followed shook almost all the other states in the North. In Yobe, Boko Haram engaged the JTF in a battle for the control of the state capital for the whole night of June 19. Close to hundred of their fighters were said to have descended on Damaturu, capital of Yobe State, from Maiduguri.  The gunmen, who were partly dressed in military combat uniforms, all had bullet proof vests on them. They were armed with sophisticated weapons ranging from AK47 to hand grenades. Sources said the sect members came to avenge the killing of one of their members believed to be their co-ordinator in Yobe State.  The co-ordinator, it was learnt, was a polythene sack seller at the Damaturu motor park, but remained an influential force in the group. The Boko Haram co-ordinator was killed when security operatives got information on his relationship with the sect. The news of his arrest and execution, on Tuesday, June 18, at about 4:45 p.m, brought out members of the group who occupied the popular Damaturu Roundabout, near fire service for more than 14 hours.  The first batch of policemen that tried to dislodge them couldn’t match their fire power. Reinforcement came, but still, the Boko Haram fighters remained undefeated. At that point, the military was contacted. The policemen had to use teargas to buy time for the military to come. The tear gas, indeed helped slowed down the tempo of assault by the Boko Haram sect because the militants had to retreat from the choking gas zone. 

Few minutes later, the sect members regrouped. By this time, the military had arrived also, but that didn’t slow down the gun battle between the combined efforts of the police and military with the Boko Haram fighters. Even when the Military got to the scene of the gun battle in Hilux jeeps and armoured tank carriers, the JTF still faced severe resistance from the enemies. A source who witnessed the gun battle between the two sides, said the Boko Haram fighters appeared to be highly skilled in the art of warfare. “They knew when to shoot, when to retreat and when to flank their enemies.” He also said he heard the terrorists barking orders in Kanuri language and sparingly, they would shout Allah Akbar (Allah be praised), a way of keeping the morale of their fighters high. The Yobe State police commissioner said they were able to kill 34 Boko Haram fighters during the gun battle while eight others were captured alive. On the side of the security agents, four policemen and two military personnel lost their lives. He didn’t give the figures of civilian casualties.  

As at press time, the state was still under 24-hours curfew.  But members of the Boko Haram sect still managed to bomb two schools and three churches. The churches are: Redeemed Christian Church of God, Sabon Pegi, COCIN Church, Shagari Low Cost and Unity Chapel, also in Shagari Low Cost. This is contrary to the information Abdullahi Bego, chief press secretary to the Yobe State governor, gave. He had said no church was attacked.

 The sect members also pasted a notice at the Yobe State University, Damaturu, directing all students of the institution to leave campus or get bombed along with the school. As at press time, the students were still trapped in the school because of the 24-hours curfew in place.  

 In Kano, there was no violence in the state but the state governor took a proactive measure by declaring a curfew to forestall any breakdown of law and order. In Bauchi, the State Security Service, SSS, arrested a suicide bomber who had his right hand blown off by his own bomb before reaching his destination. Before he died in a hospital in the state, he told the SSS that he was fighting for God.

The Sunday bomb attacks against Christian churches in Zaria, were believed to have the support of security agents. This hint was given by Chris Dariya, pastor of the bombed ECWA DCC in Zaria, who said they actually got information that the Boko Haram sect member were planning to attack churches on that Sunday. “We got information few days before the attack that members of the Boko Haram group were in Zaria, and met on Friday, to plan how they would strike on Sunday.” He said Christian leaders swiftly called a meeting to discuss the issue. But Dariya said that they were surprised when on the eve of the attack, soldiers drafted to maintain peace around the church were withdrawn. “Soldiers patrolling and guarding the area left before the attack. I saw them parking their things on Saturday. I drove there and asked them what was going on. I said I’m sure you heard that Boko Haram would be attacking. You are parking your things and it does not speak well for the community and for me as a religious leader. They told me that the community was disturbing them and that they had to move. I told them that it was not the community that kept them here, but the government. But they told me that they were ordered, but I don’t know where the orders came from,” Dariya said this while briefing Patrick Yakowa, the Kaduna State governor, during the governor’s visit to the bombed church. Although the governor has not said anything on the allegation that security agencies tacitly aided.

In his reaction, Samuel Kujiyat, chairman of Kaduna State chapter of Christians Association of Nigeria, CAN, said the incessant killings of Christians in the state by Islamic fundamentalists was no longer acceptable. He said the agenda of the sect was to Islamise the whole of the North by driving out all Christians from the region. The Christian leader, however, cautioned against reprisal attacks. “Categorically speaking, the leadership of CAN, Kaduna State Chapter, neither believes in, nor does it preach vengeance, or reprisal, for that is contrary to the command or teachings of Jesus Christ,” the chairman said. He appealed to the warring factions to remain calm and co-operate with the government to bring things under control in order to confront the bigger threat of Boko Haram. “What is happening is a deliberate attempt by enemies of peace and progress and development in Kaduna State and to turn Kaduna into an ungovernable state for Patrick Yakowa and frustrate him completely.  Today, they are pushing for a state of emergency, but we are saying no, it’s impossible. They have not imposed a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, why Kaduna?” he queried.

The recent crisis occurred barely a week after the judicial commission of inquiry into the 2011 post election crisis in the state submitted its report. The panel headed by Justice Mohammed Bello, noted that only a full implementation of its report would bring lasting peace and stability to the volatile state. Part of the commission’s recommendation was the creation of additional state for the southern part of the state in order to stop the recurrence of religious and ethnic crises in the state.

Abubakar Jinjiri, the state commissioner of Police, told newsmen that a total number of 21 persons were arrested in connection with the Tuesday reprisal killings. He said the suspects who are mostly youths, would be charged to court at the end of investigation. One of the suspects who confessed to the crime, said that they were angered by the large number of corpses brought to their area from the southern part of the state for burial and had no option than to vent their anger on Christians and non-indigenes.

Shehu Sani, president of the Civil Rights Congress, CRC, described as most unfortunate the wave of violence that engulfed the state. He urged Christians and Muslims to sheathe their swords and embrace peace. In a statement entitled: A Call For Peace, Sani said: “Our country is, today  passing through a bitter and bloody experience of insurgency and sectarian violence. Our unity as a people and as a country is threatened. Our freedom and democracy is under threat. Our region is becoming demonised and inhospitable. Collectively, we are sinking to the depth of irrelevance. Our cities and towns have been turned to land of bombers, gunmen and religious violence.  Peace is not an option, but the only option to reclaim those values of togetherness and harmony we lost. Religious leaders from both sides must stand up to the calling of our times; the calling of peace. We must collectively uproot the seed of hatred and intolerance that has today grown, threatening to consume us all. The insurgents engaged in these acts of violence must end the killings, embrace peace and the federal government must be genuinely committed to dialogue for a permanent solution to this protracted crisis. The option of the use of force by the government and the terrorising path of the insurgents is simply casting the helpless citizenry at the mercy of both sides. We must not submit or surrender to fear and we must not succumb to the phobia of dialogue.”

Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, said in a statement through Kenny Asahaka, his special assistant on media and public affairs, that Jonathan’s handling of the deadly group is less than inspiring.  “The bombings are clear indications that the Jamaatu Alhlisunnah Lidda’awatiwal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, has declared war on Christians and Christianity in Nigeria. In fact, the pattern of bombings and gun attacks suggest to us a systematic religious cleansing, which reminds Christians of the genesis of a Jihad.  The federal government should not be behaving like a man who stepped into a pitch dark room, straining his eyes to catch a reflection of the smile on his face in a mirror. Before last Sunday’s reprisals, we had reminded the federal government that what was happening to Christians in the northern parts of this country is an inescapable invitation to jungle justice and anarchy. Since July 26, 2009, when the sect members had their first clash with security agencies in Bauchi till today, Nigerians, particularly Christians, have been subjected to a kind of surrealistic existence. Since these terrorist acts began, nothing the President, Dr. Jonathan has done has assured that the end to this spate of bombings and gun attacks is in sight. What appears more worrisome is the management of the crisis by the President in whose hands the security of lives and property of Nigerians are. Indeed, the management is cavalier in approach as officials at the highest levels send out conflicting signals about strategy,” the CAN president said.

On his part, Matthew Hassan Kukah, Catholic Bishop of the Sokoto Diocese, said Nigeria was at a very difficult stage and running out of time because of the current security happenings in the nation. Speaking in Abuja, the Bishop said those who were pushing the country to the precipice were determined to start a war that will be irreversible - a war between Christians and Muslims. “It may be convenient for many of us to say it does not matter if  northerners kill themselves  because the battle is only taking place in the north, but many of us who have been voices of restraint no longer know what to say. This country is ours to build and construct, and how we are going to reclaim our lost glory and make Nigeria marketable again requires more than just moral exhortation,” the Bishop said.

On Tuesday, June 19, northern leaders under the auspices of Northern Re-Awakening Group, took the whole night, to brainstorm on a way out of the circle of violence that has become a feature of the North. The meeting attracted northern eggheads like Ghali Na’Abba, former speaker of the House of Representatives; Audu Ogbeh, former national chairman of PDP, and present chieftain of ACN, Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, former Secretary to the government of the  Federation; Bishop Matthew Kukah of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Enyantu Efene, Aliyu Modibo, Ceril Stober of NTA and a host of others. Though, participants at the forum unanimously said it was irrelevant to apportion blames, they observed that it was necessary to trace the root of the age-long challenges of the region so as to be able to administer the right solution. 

Last week, Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, governor of Niger State and chairman, Northern States Governors’ Forum, NSGF, added a controversial angle into the Boko Haram activities. The Niger State governor said he did not agree that Boko Haram was solely responsible for series of bombing attacks and killing of innocent people in the North. He said the spate of explosion currently rocking the north may be part of a co-ordinated attempt to cripple the economy of the region. Aliyu, who was reacting to the latest attacks on churches in Kaduna and Zaria, said “given the level of sophistication involved in the activities of the perpetrators of the bombings, it is easy to conclude that some oblique forces are behind the violence in the North and not Boko Haram alone as widely believed” The statement was signed by Danladi Ndayebo, his chief press secretary. He described the targeting of churches as a diversionary tactic used by the perpetrators of the dastardly acts, knowing fully well that religion was a sensitive tool that could be easily used to cause disaffection in the region.

Many Nigerians were unhappy that in the midst of killings in Kaduna and Yobe states,  President Jonathan left the country for Brazil on Monday, June 18, with a 116-man delegation to attend the Rio conference. The president has since been receiving bashing for jetting out of the country despite the bloodletting with such a large delegation. But Reuben Abati, senior special assistant to the president on media, has responded to the outrage saying that the president hasn’t abandoned his responsibilities. “The conference, Rio+20, is very important and nobody can doubt that. The issues that will be discussed at this conference are also issues that are relevant to Nigeria’s interest. It is also an opportunity for Nigeria to promote its interest in terms of its place in global community.

“The crisis in Kaduna and Yobe occurred almost on the eve of the President’s departure for this event and commitments have been made. I think what we can do is to appeal to the opposition not to always play politics with everything; that is the major challenge we face, people always want to play politics with everything,” he said. According to him, “If the President had refused to come to Rio, the same persons will turn around and say that there is an important conference attended by world leaders and the Nigerian President stayed away from it. It is as if there is nothing you can do to please our people. It is not that Nigeria is going to lose anything by Mr. President’s presence here, rather the country is going to gain a lot from his presence,” Abati said.

This latest attack by Boko Haram appears to be a response to President Goodluck Jonathans’ claim on March 27, that his administration would end the Boko Haram menace in June, this year. Jonathan had on March 27, in South Korea, told world leaders attending a conference on peaceful use of nuclear weapons that the problem was limited to certain areas in the country. “In terms of security challenges, we have some parts of the country where we have terrorist attacks, but it does not affect the whole country. We are in reasonable control. We have the belief that in the middle of this year; in terms of security of individuals, we will have full control. The danger is limited to some parts of the country. It does not extend to other parts of the country,” Jonathan had said then.

The Islamist militant group immediately reacted to the president’s prediction of ending their activities in three months. In a 14-minute video recording, Abubakar Shekau, spiritual leader of the group, belittled Jonathan for boasting to stop them.  “You, Jonathan, cannot stop us. We are proud soldiers of Allah. We will never give up as we fight the infidels. We will emerge as winners,” Shekau said.

But the real reason the group always attack churches was revealed by Ahmad Salkida, a journalist with huge access to Boko Haram’s intelligence and its former member before they metamorphosed into a deadly sect. Salkida had told Financial Times of London that the group which has since established links with al-Qaeda, based its doctrines on the works of Ibn Taymiyya, a 13th century Islamic scholar, who has also  influenced other modern radical Islamist movements. Ibn Taymiyya believed in the strict adherence to the Koran and principles of the Prophet Mohammed, and was devoted to the concept of holy war.

He explained to the London Newspaper that the recent attacks on Christian churches were designed to provoke retaliation against Muslims, which could drive more people into Boko Haram’s arms. He also rejects the notion that the insurgency is a reaction to having a Christian President Goodluck Jonathan, or that some northern politicians were involved. “If there was a Muslim president tomorrow, this would not end. The war is not about individuals, it’s about institutions. Boko Haram sees the northern governors and emirs as part of the institutions,” Financial Times quoted the journalist as saying.


Reported by Elaigwu Sule

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