Nigeria Riots Target Christians

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SUMAILA, Nigeria, - A policeman was killed and two Christian teenagers were injured in this town in Kano state when Muslim high school students went on a rampage over claims that a Christian student had written a "blasphemous" article on the prophet of Islam, Muhammad.

Killed at the local police station after the attack on students at Government Secondary School-Sumaila, was Inspector Jibrin Garba, also a Christian.

One of the injured minors who suffered knife and machete wounds, Ahmadu Inuwa, said the accused Christian student, Ashiru Danlami, could not possibly have written the alleged English-language article as he could hardly speak in English, much less write in the language. Inuwa said school authorities had established this fact.

The Rev. Samaila Kogo of the Evangelical Church of West Africa , from Sumaila, told Compass his investigations showed that Muslim students wrote and published the blasphemous article as a pretext for attacking Christian students. This strategy, he said, is used in schools across northern Nigeria to force Christian students out of schools.

"The school authority investigated the claims of Muslim students and found that Danlami was actually not guilty of the accusations leveled against him, but because of the desire of the school authority to maintain peace they sent Danlami away from the school just to please the Muslim students," Kogo told Compass.

Rev. Kogo said that Danlami had been suspended from school in an attempt to defuse the planned attack of Christian students, but it was not aborted. Rather, he said, the plan received the backing of area Muslims.

"In spite of the suspension of Danlami from school, the plan to attack Christian students there went on, and this forced all these Christian students to flee from the school," Rev. Kogo said. "It was at this point that the school authority and the police met and decided that the Christian students be called back to school with an assurance that nothing would happen to them."

Nevertheless, only two of the 57 Christian students who had fled threats dared to return to the school, he said. Inuwa and Isiaku Dogo - final-year students with only a few months to graduate - felt they needed to be in class to prepare for finals. Muslim students assaulted them with knives and machetes.

Having injured the two Christian students, Christian sources said, the Muslim students went directly to the town's police station, where they killed the Christian police officer and burned down the police station. Inuwa was receiving treatment in Kano city, while Dogo was being treated in his home village of Gani town.

The incident was the second instance of Muslim violence in the area in less than three months. During local council elections in the state last November, Muslims attacked Christians in Gani town in the Sumaila Local Government Council area, killing one person because a Christian candidate contested councillorship elections for the first time.

Victim Admonished

The Rev. Murtala Marti Dangora, Kano state secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria , told Compass that the police divisional officer of Sumaila had told CAN that the police had advised the school to suspend Danlami as a pre-emptive measure knowing that he had not written the "blasphemous" article.

"The DPO told us that he advised that the Christian student be suspended from the school for security reasons, but not that the student actually committed the crime of blasphemy," Rev. Dangora said. "The DPO said this was to curtail the desire to use it as an excuse to attack other Christian students."

School authorities had established that Muslim students were responsible for writing the article so that they could justify attacking Christian students, he said. Consequently, Principal Alhaji Shehu Umar on Thursday addressed Muslim students, urging them to learn to live in peace with Christian students.

This was not taken kindly by the Muslim students, Rev. Dangora said, as they suspected Umar was trying to douse their plan to attack Christian students.

Pressure to indefinitely suspend Danlami, according to his classmate Inuwa, initially came from school and town Muslims to punish the student even after school authorities had established his innocence. The letter suspending Danlami from school, addressed to his parents, does not indicate the real motive of defusing tensions with Muslims.

"This is to write and refer to the above subject matter in respect of your ward Ashiru Danlami for indefinite suspension for violating the school rules and regulations after serving him with series of warnings," states the letter obtained by Compass. "He is to be accompanied by his parents/ guardian for further discussions on the date stated above unfailingly."

The letter does not state what date Danlami's parents are to accompany him to the school for discussions. It is signed by the school's vice principal on behalf of a disciplinary committee.

Strategy to Deprive Education

Rev. Dangora concurred with Rev. Kogo that it is no longer a secret that charging students with "blasphemy" of Muhammad has become a common ploy by Muslim students and their Islamist backers in northern Nigeria in order to shut out Christians from public schools. He cited attacks on Christian students in various schools in the state.

"This same story was used in Government Secondary School-Gwarzo, where Christian students were attacked and forced out of school in October last year," Rev. Dangora said. "It was also used at the Government Secondary School-Kura, three years back, and also in Government College-Tudun Wada Dankadai last year, and now the same story is being peddled in Government Secondary School-Sumaila."

He said there are no more Christian students in these schools. "There is no doubt that this is a strategy being used by the Kano State government to keep children of Christians away from public school," Rev. Dangora added.

Rev. Dangora said the ploy to keep Christian students out of schools would hurt Christians in the state as many of them are poor and cannot afford to educate their children in private educational institutions. He called on the Nigerian government to save Christian students from becoming endangered and being denied education that is important to their well-being.

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