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Violence Over Funeral Procession Leaves at Least 39 Dead in Nigeria

May 15, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Nigeria

Security forces have been enforcing a 24-hour curfew in Wukari, Taraba State, in Central Nigeria to prevent the escalation of violence between Christians and Muslims that began Friday, May 3, and left at least 39 people dead and 30 injured.

The bloody clash between the majority Christian Jukun community and the minority Fulani Muslims occurred during a burial procession for a traditional leader from the Jukun tribe. The Jukuns are the ancestral people and majority inhabitants of Wukari and other parts of Taraba State. Many are Christians, a much smaller minority are animists, and a few are Muslims. The mainly nomadic Fulani, predominantly Muslims, have migrated to Wukari over the years.

In accordance with Jukun tradition, the bodies of high-ranking chiefs must be carried around the city prior to interment. When the burial procession reached a predominantly Fulani area of the ancient city, Muslim youth blocked the road and said no ‘arne’ (‘infidels’) would be allowed to pass through their part of town, claiming the procession was interrupting Friday prayers. The heated encounter quickly escalated into violence.

CSW Nigeria reports that around 70 homes and shops were destroyed in the violence along with vehicles and other assets and that local sources estimate the damage at over $6 million, but World Watch Monitor (WWM) has so far not been able to verify this.

Police called a 24-hour curfew according to Joseph Kwaji, police spokesman. Two days after the funeral, he confirmed that, “All residents are indoors. Policemen and soldiers are patrolling the street to maintain law and order.”

Former federal Senator Danlami Ikenya, a Christian from Wukari, told World Watch Monitor that the clash was unfortunate considering that residents of the town have lived together for years in peace despite their different ethnic and religious affiliations.

“There is a place for burying traditional leaders where they have always been buried in the past,” Ikenya said. “I don’t understand why such a burial should result in a clash between Christians and Muslims. The issue at stake is probably more than the religious differences which appear to have triggered off the clash.” Retired Nigerian Gen. Adamu Tubase Ibrahim, a Muslim leader, also expressed surprise about the incident, noting that many innocent persons were killed during the attack over what he said should have been resolved amicably. “What happened is unfortunate. The warring groups should sheath their swords and allow peace to reign,” Tubase said. “There is, however, need for the government to properly investigate what the real problem is.”

The May 3 clash is not, however, an isolated incident. In February of this year, an altercation between Muslim and Christian youth left 40 dead and about 400 homeless in Wukari. A judicial panel to investigate that incident was commissioned on May 2, one day before the clash over the funeral procession.

In addition, Open Doors USA issued an urgent appeal for prayer after receiving news that suspected Boko Haram terrorists attacked the predominantly Nigerian Christian village of Zangan in the nearby state of southern Kaduna.

Local sources reported fatalities, and Open Doors says it understands “the entire village has been destroyed.” The village chief’s residence was reportedly burned to the ground and the village chief’s whereabouts remain unknown after he fled Zangan. Churches and homes were among the buildings destroyed in the attack.

“Zangan villagers are fleeing in large numbers for fear of escalating violence,” reports an Open Doors representative. “Local sources have told us that Boko Haram had vowed earlier to destroy the predominantly Christian communities located in southern Kaduna.” Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra adds, “The extremists group Boko Haram wants to create an Islamic state and put Sharia Law into effect in a country split almost equally between Christians and Muslims.”

Father, whether attacks are a result of local strife or organized assaults by Boko Haram, we pray for our fellow Christians in Nigeria. Protect them by Your strong right arm, give them Your peace which is beyond understanding and grant them wisdom and discernment in the midst of unrelenting conflict. Where people of different religions and cultures must now live together, grant forbearance and grace. May Your peace rest over this troubled nation. In the name of Jesus, our only true peace, Amen.

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