'Inaccurate Reporting' Could Fuel More Anti-Christian Violence, Nigerians Say

Tension has eased in Nigeria's central city of Jos following a weekend of deadly violence, but resentment is growing among members of the Christian community there who feel that the international media's reporting of events has been "biased and inaccurate," according to a human rights organization.

The wave of violence saw rioters armed with guns, spears, machetes and other weapons attack a number of Christian businesses, churches and the homes of clergymen.

They are angry that several international news agencies reported that the wave of violence was triggered by the results of a local government election.

Sources in Jos, however, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide that voting took place peacefully and that the violence broke out in the early hours of last Friday, before electoral results had been announced.

A local source told CSW, "As usual they took Jos by surprise, and are now hiding behind election results to launch and excuse their mayhem."

The Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Plateau State, the Most Rev. Ignatius Kaigama, said the attacks were religiously motivated.

"We were taken aback by the turn of events in Jos. We thought it was political, but from all indications it is not so," he said.

"We were surprised at the way some of our churches and property were attacked and some of our faithful and clergy killed," he continued. "The attacks were carefully planned and executed. The questions that bog our minds are why were churches and clergy attacked and killed? Why were politicians and political party offices not attacked if it were a political conflict? Why were the business premises and property of innocent civilians destroyed?

"We strongly feel that it was not political but pre-meditated act under the guise of elections."

CSW said it was even more concerned over reports that appeared to suggest that Christians had killed 300 Muslims and deposited their bodies at a central mosque over the weekend.

The persecution watchdog said that the men died while obeying orders from a mosque in the Dilimi area, which issued a call over its loudspeakers to all Muslims to defy the authorities, participate in the "jihad," loot properties for money and then burn them.

Local security sources say the rioters were shot while defying a night-time curfew and launching fresh attacks, including an unsuccessful attack on police barracks.

Commenting on the deaths, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) General Secretary Engineer Salifu said, "It was not Christians who killed them; it was their own unfortunate attitude."

He added that such inaccurate reporting could fuel further violence against Christians in other parts of the country.

The number of Christians to be killed in the violence has yet to be confirmed but Salifu informed CSW that more than 16 churches are known to have been burnt down and at least four pastors are confirmed to have been killed. They include a pastor belonging to the Church of Christ in Nigeria (COCIN) who was shot dead in the suburb of Congo-Russia, and another from the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA), who was killed in the Rikkos area.

He said he expected the final death toll to be above 100.

Evidence suggests that the violence was planned in advance, with some of the 500 Muslim rioters so far arrested wearing fake police and military uniforms.

Some 200 rioters are citizens of neighboring Niger, while 300 are from the northern Nigerian states of Kano, Katsina and Sokoto.

Some of the rioters appeared to travel to Jos particularly to take part in the violence, with some informing police that they had arrived in the city three days prior to the outbreak of attacks.

"They had weapons, many weapons," said another source. "They were ready, very ready."

Commenting on the weekend's violence, the Most Rev. Dr. Benjamin Kwashi, Anglican Archbishop of Jos told CSW: "This crisis is a wake up call to state and federal authorities to undertake a serious appraisal of all the previous crises in Jos and elsewhere that have affected the church in northern Nigeria, and to ensure that truth is told, truth is maintained and justice is done.

"We have become a convenient scapegoat and target for those with grievances about events both at home and abroad. The Church in northern Nigeria needs urgent national and international protection. We have suffered this violence for over 20 years and it is now becoming unbearable."

While expressing deep sadness at the violence against Christians, CSW's Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said, "It is to a grave indictment of the international media that they failed report accurately on such terrible events."

She echoed Archbishop Kwashi's call for urgent national and international protection for the Christian church in Northern Nigeria.

"We stand with our Christian brothers and sisters in Jos state as they face the aftermath of religiously motivated violence within their community, and we call on the world's media to ensure they publish accurate and balanced reports of this situation forthwith," she added.