July 6 (Compass Direct) – Church leaders here said Muslim extremists overwhelmed police officers providing refuge for an unidentified Christian woman in this town in Niger state on June 28 and stoned and clubbed her to death for doing street evangelism.
David Atabo of the Roman Catholic Church in Izom said he witnessed the killing of the woman. He told Compass that she had met a group of Muslim youths, shared the gospel with them and gave them some tracts to read.
“As soon as the woman left, some Muslim elders standing by sought to know from the youths what the woman told them,” Atabo said. “When they learned that the woman had preached to the youths, they claimed she insulted the prophet of Islam, Muhammad, and directed that the woman must be killed.”
Atabo said the Muslim leaders’ allegations inspired hundreds of Muslims to pour into the streets to track down the woman. They caught up with her around the River Gurara area and started beating her, he said, but police rescued her.
Officers took the woman into protective custody at the Izom police station. But the restive mob stormed the premises, demanding that the woman be released to be stoned to death in accordance with sharia (Islamic) law or else they would burn down the police station.
“The police, realizing that the Muslim crowd was overwhelming, smuggled the woman through a back door to escape with her, but the Muslims blocked all escape routes, and at this point the police abandoned the woman to save their lives,” Atabo said. “She was clubbed to death.”
Police later moved the woman’s corpse to the mortuary at the Suleja Government Hospital. Atabo added that three policemen were injured in the fracas.
Christian leaders in Izom said they were disturbed that police have not identified the woman.
“This woman was killed before the police could identify her or even question her,” Atabo said. “We have also tried to find out which church she comes from, but without success.”
The area Christian leaders suspect the murdered woman might have come from neighboring Suleja town.
Atabo, chairman of the local chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Izom town, said the Muslims claimed that the Christian woman dropped a document containing derogatory remarks about Muhammad.
When he asked the police to allow him see the alleged document, though, “there was nothing like that,” he said.
Daniel Mazuri, pastor of the Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) Good News Church in Izom, said those at the scene of the incident told him Muslims accosted the woman and accused her of insulting Muhammad. The Muslims claimed she dropped a letter in a mosque insulting Muhammad, he said, but friends of his in the police force told him this was false.
“I believe the Muslims just wanted to ignite a religious crisis in this town,” Muzari told Compass. “This is a very unhealthy development, and it has now opened the door for unending religious conflicts.”
Mazuri said his inquiries led to the conclusion that Muslims doctored a document in order to create a religious crisis in this town.
“They are known for this attitude, and we are not surprised at the occurrence of this incident,” he said.
The Rev. Tanko Madaki of the ECWA, Hausa section, also concluded that Muslims planned the attack with the aim of igniting a religious crisis in the town.
“We are aware of the antics of the Muslims,” he said. “They are always good in fabricating falsehood and then anchoring their actions on such falsehood.”
It is common in Nigeria to find Christians engaged in street evangelism – preaching the gospel in marketplaces, buses and trains. Muslims are believed to constitute about half of the residents of Izom town, in the Gurara local government area.
The death of the unknown Christian woman marks the first fatality of Niger state’s Islamic legal system, introduced in 2000. Niger is one of the 12 states that has implemented sharia in northern Nigeria.
“We are hoping that the police will be able to unravel the identity of this woman eventually, or that any of her relations may contact us soon,” Atabo said.
There are nine churches in Izom town, including the Roman Catholic Church, the ECWA, All Christian Fellowship Mission, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), The Apostolic Church, the Baptist Church, and the Deeper Life Bible Church.