Terror in Nigeria

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CWN.org -- Nigerian born social worker Helen Bako didn't expect to be right in the middle of post-election violence in the central Nigerian city of Jos, where she was just visiting.

The violence, which broke out on Nov. 28 and left hundreds dead and thousands fleeing their homes, began when Muslims started attacking Christians on charges of vote-tampering.

Compass Direct News reported that after officials reportedly refused to post local council election results on Nov. 27 , Muslim gangs in the Ali Kazaure area of the city began attacking Christians, according to local residents.

Violence along political, ethnic and religious lines followed, with security forces said to be responsible for killing hundreds of Muslims whose bodies were later brought to one mosque.

Bako, who lives in Southern California, told her story recently by e-mail. She said she feels her visit to Jos and the surrounding areas was a divinely ordered appointment. Bako said she was visiting Nigeria to celebrate her father's birthday and to also visit some of the orphans that her ministry is helping support.

She said, "God wanted me to see things with my eyes, hear with my ears and feel the pulse with my entire being. At the end of it all, He allowed me to escape unharmed, or even killed. Many people were not as lucky as I was."

Bako left Jos in the early morning hours of Nov. 27 after visiting with a friend at the ECWA Theological Seminary. She said that as she drove out of the city of Jos to go back to her parent's home, about 15 kilometers away from Jos city, she noticed an unusually large number of military men on the streets.

Bako said she had planned to return to Jos a couple of days later for some speaking engagements, in addition to some other appointments. However, that wasn't to be. Strife erupted on Nov. 27. Bako said as the news of the violence in Jos spread around the country, an understandable fear began to permeate the surrounding villages-including the one where her parents lived.

Bako said, "We heard that eight Moslem men from my parents' village armed themselves with knives to avenge the blood of their brothers who were killed in Jos. As you can imagine, we were very fearful for our lives."

With most of their neighbors being Moslems, Bako and her family were in a quandary as to where they could go. Compounding their problems was a city lock down.

Bako said, "The streets were empty. Most people were indoors. Although my father led the family in prayer and encouraged everyone to not fear but trust God, I still could not sleep well at night. I was afraid that our house would be set on fire other homes."

Bakos said all public meetings were discouraged, as suspicion was rampant. Although nothing happened in her parents' village, Bako said the situation is still very tense.

Bako said when the curfew in Jos was finally lifted, she was able to leave to return to the States. That was Dec. 4. She said the drive was nerve wracking.

Bako added, "As I drove through Jos, I saw some of the destruction. It was a horrific, very sad sight. I observed burned vehicles on and along the street. I saw an entire car dealer company that was set ablaze. There were homes and businesses burned to ashes."

On her way out of the country, Bako said she stopped briefly to check on her cousin Ruth and her husband. Bako said that Ruth's co worker said her brother, a pastor, was brutally tortured and murdered during the crises.

Ruth's church had narrowly escaped being set on fire during a worship service. That potential tragedy was averted by quick action by security officers who were tipped off by a alert citizen.

Bako said, "They apprehended some men in a vehicle that was loaded with weapons and at the vicinity of the church. , there were stories of some churches that were burned."

Some of those displaced by the violence in Jos.

The terrible aftermath of the situation is still continuing. Bako said, "As I write this, thousands are still lying , scattered in emergency wards in the hospitals. The number of casualties has overwhelmed the medical personnel and. the facilities in the hospitals."

Bako added a horrifying description of conditions in Jos. She said, "The displaced are jam packed in concentrated camps with little or no coverings for their bodies. Most of them narrowly escaped death, hence they had no chance to carry any of their belongings with them. The month of December is one of the coldest in Jos. Therefore, the majority might not even escape the harsh, winter. weather. They are out in the open no food, water or shelter."

She added, "Most of the emergency improvised camps are operating under the most unhygienic conditions. Because of the curfew , many are starving as they are not able to buy food. Not many people have refrigerators in their homes to keep a supply of perishables."

Bako said that all the schools in Jos have been closed down since the strife. Bako said that the Jos plateau is considered to be the Bible belt of Nigeria, so there are many Christian schools and institution in the area and believing parents all over the country send their children to attend Jos schools, because the Christian schools there offer an excellent education.

Bako said the emotional trauma being suffered by Jos residents is unbelievable. She said, "Hundreds of woke up to discover that suddenly, their bread winners and loved ones were no more. Many children watched their parents brutally butchered. What horrible sights have been ingrained in their little minds."

According to Bako, most of the school children who were forced to vacate were left stranded with no place to go and no loved ones to embrace.

She said, "This is a hell on earth. As other people are thinking of celebrating Christmas, the majority of the victims are thinking of where to go."

Bako said while reports say this is one of the worst crises to ever hit Jos, what is being reported doesn't capture the reality of what she heard and saw.

She said, "Please urge your to continue to pray for Nigeria and Jos in particular. Pray for Christians to exercise the spirit of Christ to show love instead of hatred and desire to seek revenge."

Bako said the immediate challenge is providing relief materials such as food, water, clothing, shelter, medication and counseling.

"Later on we ensuring that the orphans of the victims continue with their education and are being provided for," she said.

Bako founded the Universal Dorcas Ministry, an organization involved in AIDS awareness in rural Nigeria, also supporting and sponsoring orphans.

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