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Sixteen Christians released from captivity in southern Kaduna as former governor's comments prompt concern

6 Jun 2023

Sixteen members of Bege Baptist Church, Madala in the Chikun Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State, central Nigeria, who were abducted in May, were released on 4 June after spending almost a month in captivity.

Around 40 members of the congregation were abducted on 7 May by armed assailants of Fulani ethnicity who attacked the church’s Sunday service. The majority managed to escape; however, 16 of them remained in the hands of their captors for almost a month.

The Kaduna State Chair of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev John Joseph Hayab, informed CSW that members of the local Muslim community had contributed funds towards the ransom, and had also purchased a motorcycle requested by the abductors as part of the payment: ‘I confirm and give thanks that all 16 are now back home. We are grateful to the local Muslims who contributed towards the ransom, and pray that from now onwards the two religious communities will work together to bring this painful era of kidnapping, violence and killings to an end.’

News of the encouraging cooperation between the faith communities comes as a viral video of the former governor of Kaduna State addressing his successor and Muslim religious leaders continues to cause consternation. In the video, Nasir el-Rufai expresses satisfaction at having secured Muslim dominance in perpetuity in key political sectors in Kaduna State through the adoption of a Muslim-Muslim gubernatorial ticket in 2019, and subsequently in Nigeria through the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket.

Speaking in Hausa, El-Rufai admitted, amongst other things, that during the 2023 electoral campaign he had assured members of the Christian community that the APC had looked ‘for people who will work and that we do not consider religion. Of course, we do consider religion,’ he continued, ‘but I would not tell them that we consider religion (openly).’

The former governor also claimed that ‘nobody will say because he is not a Muslim his rights were denied him’ under his tenure. In reality, predominantly Christian southern Kaduna experienced a significant rise in armed attacks during El-Rufai’s eight years in office, with thousands killed, thousands more displaced, and hundreds of villages destroyed, occupied by militia or too dangerous to approach.

Moreover, while perpetrators of this violence were rarely apprehended or brought to trial, survivors, journalists and human rights defenders who spoke out about the violence, and members of targeted communities who attempted to defend their homes, were regularly detained arbitrarily and indefinitely, disarmed, or harassed judicially. For example, the Fulani assailants who were eventually arrested for the 2018 abduction and murder of the paramount ruler of the Adara people, HRH Dr Maiwada Raphael Galadima, are yet to face prosecution, and the predominantly Christian chiefdom was subsequently balkanised and placed under two emirates, despite the fact that under 15% of the population in the area are Hausa or Fulani.

El-Rufai has also come under strong criticism for allegedly favouring Muslims in the allocation of state resources for capital projects and employment opportunities.

As his tenure drew to a close, El-Rufai issued a proscription order against the Atyap Community Development Association (ACDA) on 28 May, backdating it to 24 May. ACDA, previously known as the Kataf Youth Development Association (KYDA), has been registered with the Kaduna State Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) since October 1989, registered again under its new name in 2010, and has been effective in highlighting the suffering of the Atyap community of southern Kaduna, which experienced a renewed surge in militia attacks following the elections. The organization is challenging the proscription order, and has described it as being both illegal and ‘typically in tune with the hostile and vindictive posture of Malam Nasir El-Rufai to the Atyap ethnic nationality throughout his tenure.’

As his tenure was ending El-Rufai also ordered the demolition of over 900 buildings. 21 May saw the largescale demolition of properties in the Rigasa area belonging to the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), a minority Shi’a community that has experienced severe mistreatment under his administration, including the extrajudicial killings of at least 700 members in December 2015.  

The Gbagyi Villa residential complex in the predominantly Christian southern part of Kaduna City was the next to be targeted, beginning with the demolition of the Alheri Baptist Church on 22 May. At least eight people were killed and several others were wounded, including a 12-year-old girl, as the Kaduna State Vigilante Service (KADSVIS), a group created by El-Rufai, opened fire on protesting residents, when the demolitions continued in defiance of a court order. One of the victims, later identified as Luka Enoch, suffered 11 gunshot wounds. In addition, a woman reportedly died of shock as the demolitions began.

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: ‘CSW welcomes the release of the remaining 16 members of Bege Baptist Church and we wish them and their families and community a swift recovery from this traumatic ordeal. We join Rev Hayab in applauding the contributions made by the local Muslim community towards their release and hope it indeed marks the beginning of a new era of reconciliation and cooperation. However, the comments of former governor El-Rufai illustrate that the situation remains highly charged as violations in southern Kaduna continue to manifest along religious fault lines while those with the power to end them have prioritised other agendas. We also lament the unnecessary loss of lives in the latest irregular demolitions in Kaduna state, which largely target religious minorities or political opponents of the former governor, and were once again conducted in defiance of court orders. We urge the Nigerian authorities to challenge anyone who fosters religious division, to do far more to combat religion-related violence, and to prioritise the protection of vulnerable communities. Members of the international community must also be prepared to raise this human rights crisis which has been allowed to claim the lives of thousands for far too long, and the urgent need for redress and compensation for the extrajudicial killings and demolitions in Kaduna State, with the Nigerian government in bilateral talks and multilateral fora at every opportunity.’



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