Death toll from violence in Nigeria higher than estimated
2 Oct 2007
Indications that the death toll following the weekend's violence in the Tundun Wada area of Kano State, northern Nigeria, may be higher than initially estimated are beginning to emerge as more information about the causes of the violence are brought to light.
Official figures suggest around nine Christians were killed, several churches were burnt and businesses and homes belonging to non- Muslims were destroyed during religious violence. Even Christian policemen are reported to have lost their homes and property.
As tensions slowly decrease in the area, the circumstances which triggered the violence are gradually being revealed.
The violence appears to have begun on the morning of 28 September 2007, when a group of Muslim students invaded a room shared by two Christian students at the Government Secondary School in Tudun Wada Na Kande, and began to assault them severely. When the Christian students asked what they had done wrong, their assailants initially told them to "mind their own business". However, once the school Principal arrived at the scene, the Christians were accused of drawing a picture of Mohammed on a mosque wall and of planning an assault on Muslim students.
Reports also indicate that following the violence, Tundun Wada's chief of police ordered the area to be sealed off. Local authorities transported Christians out of the area and removed all corpses in a possible attempt to obscure the true death toll. Even those seeking to assist victims of the violence were denied access to the area. Three pastors from the Mountain of Fire Pentecostal Church based in the State Capital, Kano City were detained when they attempted to evacuate members of their denomination. They were accompanied by three uniformed Christian members of the Nigerian Air Force who were also imprisoned. The three pastors have since been released on bail, while the air force men remain in custody.
As a result of this enforced isolation of the area, the exact number of fatalities is difficult to determine. However, sources suspect that the toll is far higher than originally stated. One policeman was overheard complaining of being "fed up of packing corpses".
Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive, Mervyn Thomas, said: "The news that the area was initially cut off from any outside assistance is deeply troubling. Until all the facts surrounding these attacks and resulting fatalities is uncovered, many victims may not be able to find out what has happened to their family and friends. These people have lost so much already in the violence that has destroyed their homes and livelihoods. We encourage the authorities to do everything within their power to bring peace and justice to this situation, an essential part of which is to reveal the truth and allow victims to mourn."