Nigerian Christians Decry Police Inaction in Church Burnings

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The head of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Zamfara state
told Compass Direct News that he was disappointed in the lack of response by state police to
recent church burnings by Muslim youths.

“It is
unfortunate that there has been no response from the police, and even the state
governor has refused to meet with us,” said the acting state chairman of CAN,
the Rev. Edwin Okpara.

The Redeemed
Christian Church of God building in Tudun Wada was partly burnt on Jan. 25, and
Christian Faith Bible church and the Living Faith Foundation Chapel, both in
Gusau, were partly burnt in attacks on Jan. 20 and 24 respectively. Zamfara
state, one of the predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria, was the first
in the country to implement Islamic law (sharia).

In the petition
dated Jan. 26, CAN stated that the church burnings came in the aftermath of “a
grand plot to unleash mayhem on churches and Christians in the state due to the
religious clash in Jos, Plateau state.”

The association alleged that
those who attacked the Zamfara churches were emboldened because officials made
no serious move to arrest those who carried out the Jos attacks. Two pastors and
46 other Christians were killed in the outbreak of violence in Jos on Jan. 17,
triggered when Muslim youths attacked a Catholic church; 10 church buildings
were burned, and police estimated more than 300 lives were lost in the clash.

“We are
seriously disturbed by the restlessness and panic these attacks have created
among the Christian community and ask that every necessary and urgent step be
taken by your command to secure the lives of both Christians and Muslims in the
state as citizens of Nigeria,” the CAN petition states. “Despite these attacks
and provocation, the church and Christians as peaceful people have remained calm
and have no plans to retaliate, but [we are] appealing to you to act and protect
our interest.”

The State Police
Command was not available for comment on the CAN request.

Okpara lamented
that Christians in the state have been suffering in silence with little means of
drawing attention to their plight.

“The level of
persecution in Zamfara is alarming, more than in any other state in the
country,” Okpara said. “Not even in Sokoto or Kano are Christians subjected to
the kind of discrimination we are subjected to.”

He said it was
impossible to get land to build churches in Zamfara state; Christians are forced
to sign an understanding binding them to refrain from using land in the state
for church buildings.

“We are more or
less operating underground churches in the state,” he said. “The present state
government has turned out to be more anti-Christian than the former government
in the state, which introduced the sharia law.”

Leaders of the
Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) on Feb. 23 decried cases of
persecution and discrimination against Christians and called on the federal
government to put an end to it. Virtually all churches in predominantly Muslim
northern Nigeria have been refused certificates of occupancy for their
buildings, they said.

“There seems to
be an unwritten law that churches are not welcomed in the northern part of the
country,” the PFN leaders noted in a statement.

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