Murder of Christian Leader Topples Nigeria’s ‘Bridge’
The July 8th murder of Gyang Dalyop Dantong, a Nigerian senator, physician and pillar of the Church of Christ, has had a profound impact, not only on the church he helped to build, but also on the entire country.
Open Doors News reports that Gyang Dantong was killed while attending a funeral. He was among a handful of elected members of the Nigerian government attempting to bury the more than 100 Christians killed just the day before, when Muslim gunmen went on a violent rampage through several villages in Nigeria’s central Plateau state.
The sheer scale of the July 7th violence convulsed a country where attacks upon Christians have become commonplace. Adding further injury to the grieving Christian community, the attackers returned the next day and killed scores more, including Datong, 53, and another elected government official, who had gathered to bury the dead. The two days of brutality have pushed Nigeria beyond shock into a debate about whether it can even survive as a nation. The death of Senator Gyang Dantong, a member of the National Assembly, demonstrates the powerful forces opposing Nigeria’s struggle to hold itself together.
“Senator Dantong was the bridge between religions, cultures and tribes,” said Senate Majority Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba at a July 18 valedictory session of the National Assembly. “Let his death not be in vain. Leaders of all inter-religions and cultures owe it to themselves and Senator Dantong to terminate this culture of hate and promote reconciliation and peace that Plateau was known for.” The void created by Datong’s death may be felt most directly by his wife, Hanatu, and their three children, but it will also be very apparent to the surviving members of his church and hospital, both of which he helped to build.
Gyang Dalyop Dantong was born in February 1959, in the village of Bachit, about 30 miles south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, in central Nigeria. The son of a pastor, he studied medicine at the University of Jos, and later at the University of Legon, in Ghana. He worked for several years at the Vom Christian Hospital, located southwest of Jos, before being elected into Nigeria’s National Assembly. He served four years in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate, where he had served for the past five years.
Though he had moved to Vom to be closer to the hospital where he served as physician, he remained active in the affairs of the church in Bachit where he had grown up. He also provided funding to build a church building in the village of Gashish, located south of Bachit. When the church building was later burned by Muslim attackers, Dantong again used his relative wealth to assist in the rebuilding of this church. “He was preparing for the second and last phase of the construction work when he died,” Rev. Bulus Alamba Bindi reported.
Dantong was a fixture at Vom Christian Hospital, serving as the hospital’s medical superintendent for about 10 years. “He was the only medical doctor we had for about two years here, and during this time, he was on-call every single day,” said David Yakubu, a radiographer at the hospital. “He never had time to even go back to his house to eat. Instead, his wife brought his food to him in the theater where he carried out surgeries,” said Sarah Elijah Kpadu, the hospital’s chief matron. Though his election to the National Assembly took him away to the capital, Abuja, Kpadu said that each week he still returned to perform surgeries at the hospital. At the time of his death, he was building a 12-room private ward as a donation to the hospital.
Thank You, Father, for the tangible evidence of the powerful work You have accomplished through Your servant, Dantong. Indeed, we pray that his death will not have been in vain, but that through this tragedy You will bring about justice and peace in this area of Nigeria that has seen so much persecution. We pray for his wife and children as they grieve their loss, that you will comfort them and provide for them. And we pray for the hospital and the churches he was so committed to and ask that You will help them move forward in the work he began. You used Dantong to help these institutions financially, but You are ultimately the helper and sustainer, and we pray for Your continued care for them. In the name of Jesus, our comforter and source of aid, Amen.