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Events leading up to the riots: the Miss World contest and ThisDay article

The decision to hold the 2002 Miss World contest in Nigeria (an option that arose because the winner of the previous contest was a Nigerian) was always likely to be controversial and to attract disapproval from conservative sectors of society, particularly in the Muslim-dominated north of the country. Initially scheduled to take place at the end of November, it was eventually postponed to December 7, to avoid coinciding with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In the weeks preceding the violence in Kaduna, there had been a number of low-level protests in various parts of Nigeria, especially in the north, and negative public comments, mostly by conservative Muslims who opposed the beauty contest on moral grounds and objected to it taking place in Nigeria. Although there was much debate in the media and other fora, these protests generally passed off without violence.

On Saturday, November 16, an article was published in ThisDay, one of the main daily newspapers in Nigeria, which is based in Lagos, but has correspondents and regional offices in a number of other states, including Kaduna. The article, by journalist Isioma Daniel, suggested that the Prophet Mohammed would have approved of the Miss World contest. It stated: “What would Muhammed think? In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from among them.”

The article provoked a storm of outrage from Muslims in different parts of the country. It was reported that Muslims across Nigeria were alerted to the article within a short time, particularly through text-messages on their mobile phones. However, Kaduna was the only place where the protest took a violent form, even though neither the newspaper nor the writer had any particular link to that state. On Wednesday, November 20, demonstrators took to the streets in Kaduna town. According to several witnesses, an initially peaceful public protest against the content of the article was hijacked by a group of people who were apparently intent on causing trouble, and the demonstration quickly turned to violence. A group of protesters composed primarily of young Muslim men, believed to include students from Kaduna Polytechnic, arrived at the Kaduna office of ThisDay in three buses; others used motorcycles. They attacked and burned the newspaper’s regional office on Attahiru Road Malali, ransacked the newspaper depot and distribution centre and made bonfires out of piles of newspapers. There were no casualties, as the newspaper staff were not on the premises at the time. At no point did the police intervene to stop the violence by the protesters or make any arrests, despite the fact that the office of ThisDay was attacked in broad daylight and in full view of many residents and passers-by.

A group of protesters also marched to the office of the Kaduna State Governor. They demanded to meet him, and some protestors were further angered by his refusal to do so. There were conflicting testimonies as to whether the protestors who went to the governor’s office were demonstrating in a peaceful or a threatening manner.

Three days of killing and destruction

The following day, on Thursday, November 21, organized groups of Muslim youths in different areas of Kaduna town took up arms and began attacking Christians. They advanced in large groups, armed with a variety of weapons, including machetes, knives, sticks, iron bars, and firearms. They sought out Christian homes, particularly in mixed Christian-Muslim neighborhoods, and specifically targeted people on the basis of their religion. Many Christians were killed and many were injured; others fled for their lives, leaving their homes and belongings behind, which were then looted by the rampaging youths. The attackers also destroyed or burned houses and other buildings, including a large number of churches, schools, hotels and other properties.

All the people interviewed by Human Rights Watch, whether Muslim or Christian, agreed that this first wave of violence was initiated by Muslim groups, that it was unprovoked, and that it appeared to have been planned in advance. However, within a short time, Christian groups started retaliating. Most of the attacks by Christians took place on the second day, on Friday, November 22. Their tactics mirrored those of their opponents: similarly armed with traditional weapons as well as firearms, they specifically targeted Muslims, setting up roadblocks and interrogating those who passed by to ascertain their religion, then singling out the Muslims and attacking them. They also attacked several mosques and many houses and other buildings in Muslim areas.

On the afternoon of Friday, November 22, the violence spread to the federal capital, Abuja (about 185 kilometres south of Kaduna town), where Muslim youths began smashing vehicles and lighting fires in the center of town. The police intervened fairly promptly, and nobody was killed in Abuja; however, this was seen as an alarming development as it was the first time that the capital was directly experiencing the effects of inter-communal or inter-religious violence more commonly associated with other parts of Nigeria. According to an Abuja-based human rights activist, the outbreak of violence in Kaduna had led to an internal dispute at the Abuja central mosque. Youths there reportedly asked the imam how they should respond to the situation in Kaduna; when the imam replied that they should remain calm, the youths were not satisfied. They reportedly threatened him, then went on the rampage in town.21

On Friday, November 22, ThisDay published an extensive and unreserved apology by its editor for any offense caused by the original article; retractions and apologies had already been published in two earlier editions, on November 18 and 19. However, these apologies, barely noticed by the rioters, made no impact on the spread of violence, which was already beyond control.

The fighting in Kaduna continued into Saturday, November 23. By this time, the violence had taken on a life of its own. Some of the rioters did not even know what had sparked off the fighting but were nevertheless systematically hunting down members of the other faith and destroying their property; others seemed more interested in looting than in killing. People reported seeing many bodies lying in the streets as they fled in panic, but often did not know whether the victims were Muslim or Christian or who had killed whom. A young man who had fled from the Nasarawa area (a mixed Muslim/Christian area) described the pervasive violence, chaos and confusion, in which people from all different ethnic groups and religions found themselves trapped:

“It started on Thursday, at about 1 p.m. People tried to calm us down. Muslim youths were putting fire to people’s houses […] On Thursday, they grabbed a person and cut him on the head with a knife. He was an Idoma man [an ethnic group from central Nigeria] aged about thirty-five. More than ten of them surrounded him. He died immediately. On Friday, a Christian man called Suleiman, in his forties, was shot in the head with a gun, in Dokaji Street.

When we ran away, they put fire to our house. My house was destroyed. My shop was also burnt to ashes. I ran to my brother’s place. I saw some dead bodies on the way. They had been burnt. I saw five bodies in Dokaji, Market Road, Fulani Street. They were cut with knives. Three were burnt. I don’t know their identity or whether they were Christians or Muslims. A Hausa businessman, a mature man who has children, was shot with a gun. I don’t know who killed him. I saw his body. He was shot in the head, in his house. 22

In several localities, Christian and Muslim community and religious leaders made desperate attempts to rein in the youths and contain the violence. For example, a Christian leader in Nasarawa gathered Christians and Muslims in his area on the first day of the violence: “Tires were burning around Flourmill. I went there. I called Muslims and Christians. The Christians told me Muslims were killing Christians at Kabala and they had to retaliate. I asked them: ‘Have you seen it?’ They said no. I said: ‘We made an agreement not to fight in Kaduna.’ Then they left, both the Christians and the Muslims.”23 In some instances, communities succeeded in setting up joint patrols of Christian and Muslim civilians, which managed to limit or prevent killings by keeping people out of certain neighborhoods; however, overall, the impact of their efforts was limited.

Around 250 people were killed in Kaduna between November 21 and 23,24 most of them men and boys, and between 20,000 and 30,000 people were displaced.25 The attacks were carried out by groups of teenagers and young men, operating in groups of around ten to more than fifty people, and in some cases around one hundred. Most of these groups did not appear to have identifiable leaders, although their actions were, in some cases, well-coordinated. Some of the attackers were known to their victims, as they were neighbors or residents from nearby communities; in other cases, the victims did not recognize their attackers and believed they had been mobilized to come in from outlying areas. Some attackers wore paint or charcoal on their faces to conceal their identity. Some of the worst fighting was concentrated in mixed Muslim-Christian areas, such as Nasarawa, and at the borders between predominantly Muslim and predominantly Christian areas, which turned into frontlines.

The use of small arms was widespread. While many of the youths used machetes, clubs, sticks, bottles and whatever other weapons they could find, many also used firearms. Staff of several hospitals interviewed by Human Rights Watch, by local human rights activists or by journalists reported that a significant proportion of the patients they treated had gunshot wounds.26 Some of these injuries had been inflicted by Christian or Muslim youths, others by members of the security forces, while some of the victims had been caught in the cross-fire.

The state government imposed a curfew soon after the fighting began, but this seemed to have little impact, beyond giving the security forces licence to shoot people caught outside after hours (see below). The police were finally deployed on the evening of Thursday, November 21, although according to some sources, they were only fully deployed on the following day. As the police were unable to contain the violence, the military were eventually also deployed on November 22. Joint police and military patrols were set up, but did not immediately succeed in quelling the violence; killings and rioting continued, sometimes before their eyes, sometimes behind their backs. In addition to those killed in the fighting between Christians and Muslims, scores of people were shot dead by the security forces. It was only on Sunday, November 24 that calm gradually returned to Kaduna.

Attacks by Muslims27

Most of the attacks by Muslim groups took place on the first day of the violence, on Thursday, November 21. The attacks seemed well-planned and targeted several different areas. They specifically sought out Christian households, with the intention of killing Christians or destroying and looting their homes and belongings. Churches and other buildings were also destroyed. Many residents reported that when the Muslim youths attacked, they were shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and asking local residents to show them the houses of arna (infidels).

In Abattoir Close, a largely Muslim area within the predominantly Christian area of Kabala West, many Muslim residents managed to save their Christian neighbors by hiding them, or pretending that the houses inhabited by Christians belonged to them. It was largely thanks to their efforts that no one was killed in Abattoir Close. However, in other cases, Muslim residents pointed out Christian houses to the attackers. About three quarters of the Christian houses in this area were looted, as well as two churches, which were also burnt. A twenty-two-year-old Christian student and his sister living in Abattoir Close described how Muslim youths began targeting Christian houses there:

On Thursday 21 November, at about 8.30 a.m. or 9 a.m., we were sitting in the room without knowing anything. My elder sister came in shouting that the Hausa were demonstrating outside about the article on Prophet Mohammed in ThisDay. The protest started against ThisDay then became a religious crisis.

Here it started at Kabala Junction. The Muslims said that they would beat us if we didn’t put leaves on our cars to show our support for them [a symbol used to denote solidarity].

This is a Muslim area. There are only a few Christian houses. The Muslims surrounded the area. They said: “Where are the Christians? Where are the Christians?” We heard them from inside the house. Some of our Muslim neighbors hid us in their houses. I heard the Muslims say they wanted to burn our house because it belonged to a Christian. Some Muslim neighbors pretended that the house belonged to their father, in order to protect us.

About fifty Muslims surrounded the area, first one group, then another group. They looted and they burned two churches on Thursday: CST (Cherubim and Seraphim Temple) and the United Church of Christ. We saw them putting fire to the United Church of Christ: they poured petrol then lit it. They had machetes, local guns, and gariyu (curved knives) […].

The youths were up to twenty-six years old, all boys. Some were as young as twelve, carrying knives. When they were looting, their leaders would ask them: “Did you kill before you carry it?” Some said yes.

The attackers came from other areas. We didn’t recognize them. They were not from our neighborhood. They had their faces covered with black charcoal except their eyes. There were all in civilian clothes, mostly kaftan. They were shouting: “Allahu Akbar!” They were saying anyone who insults the Prophet Mohammed must die. They said any Hausa who is hiding a Christian should bring them out to be killed, but the Hausa refused.

We heard the attackers say they would come back after the fasting had ended. The Hausa who protected us also asked us to leave before the end of the fasting. 28

A businesswoman from the same area, who lost everything when her shop was looted, gave a similar account of how the attack began in Abattoir Close on the morning of November 21:

At about 8 a.m., we heard people running. It was total chaos. I saw a group with guns and knives, chasing people […] They were aged between sixteen and twenty-six. They had guns, knives, cutlasses, butchers’ knives. They were saying: “We’re going to kill these Christians! We’re going to do away with these useless people!” They wore tattered clothes and had painted faces. I couldn’t recognize them. They wanted to set my house on fire. People were pointing out Christian houses to them […] My neighbor stopped them from burning my house. He said it was his. 29

Another resident from the same area, a twenty-five-year-old student, witnessed further violence as he fled from Abattoir Close:

At about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., when the situation was calmer, we came out. I left with my mother and brothers […] On Nasarawa bridge, we saw a gathering of Hausa. There were more than fifty of them. Some had long double-barrel guns and locally-made gariyu. They also had short knives and cutlasses. They put up a roadblock and were stopping cars and breaking windscreens. We stopped. They pursued us so we reversed. We created a distance between us. One man was with them on the bridge, acting like a leader […] If you’re unlucky and they blockade you, they ask if you’re a Christian. If you’re a Muslim, they let you pass. If you’re a Christian, they kill you.

I saw some injured men, some dead. There was the dead body of a Christian at Abattoir/Kabala junction. He was killed with knives. He was pursued from Amigo junction going towards Abattoir.

We saw a car and a vespa [motor scooter] burning. Two people had been killed, burnt in the car. We saw their bodies in the vehicle. The victims must have been Christians as the area was under the control of Muslims. 30

Human Rights Watch also visited Nariya, a predominantly Christian village on the edge of Kaduna town. Nariya had already been attacked during the 2000 crisis and a number of people had been killed; at that time, the population consisted of both Muslims and Christians, the latter mostly from the Gwari ethnic group. Since then, many Muslims had moved out, but a few remained—mostly Yoruba, rather than Hausa.31

At least three residents of Nariya were killed — two by Muslim youths and one by soldiers; at least fifteen houses, two churches and several other buildings were destroyed. The local primary school, which normally teaches about 250 children, was completely destroyed. Residents saw several large groups of Muslim youths arriving in the morning, at about 8 a.m., armed with guns, machetes and sticks; some were teenagers. They were not from Nariya; residents believed they came from the neighborhood of Rigasa. One resident said that some of the youths were holding a red flag, that they were shouting: “We must finish Nariya!” and saying they would celebrate the end of Ramadan in Nariya.

One of the victims was Sylvester Agada, a married man in his forties, who was killed in the afternoon of November 21. A resident of Nariya who helped bury him said that the attackers had shot him, then used a machete to amputate one of his hands, one of his legs and his genitals and cut out his eyes; they then burned his body.32

Another victim was Boni Lakut, a father of six, aged about sixty years old, who worked as a cleaner with the state radio. He was killed not in Nariya, but at Kabala West junction on his way home from work, on November 21. Eyewitnesses told his family that Muslim youths stopped Boni Lakut as he was riding home on his bicycle, dragged him and beat him with machetes, then hit him hard on the head. He fell down. They then put a tire on him and set it on fire. Witnesses said he was calling for help. The attackers put his bicycle on top of him and he was burnt alive with his bicycle. His relatives, who saw his body from a distance with the bicycle on top, wanted to remove his body straightaway, but claimed that government officials prevented them from doing so and insisted on removing it themselves to bury it with others in a mass grave.33

According to a local human rights organization, two Muslim students — a university graduate and a polytechnic student — were killed by Muslims on Zango Road, in the Muslim area of Tudun Wada, on November 22. A mob surrounded them, presuming they were Christians because they were wearing jeans and T-shirts, rather than traditional Muslim dress. Despite the students’ protestations that they were Muslim, they hit them on their heads with gariyu, then slaughtered them. The attackers only realized they were Muslims after they were dead, when they found their identity cards as they searched their pockets for money.34

Attacks by Christians35

The reprisal attacks by Christians against Muslims, which took place mostly on Friday, November 22, were as brutal and systematic as the initial attacks by Muslims, resulting in widespread killings and destruction. A witness gave the example of an incident in which Muslim youths set up a roadblock and shot fifteen people; within an hour, Christian youths had reorganized and “did the same thing on the other side, only even harder.”36

A student from a Christian area known as Television Village described how two Muslim men were killed in front of him:

In my presence, on the express road, two people were killed. There was a group of more than twenty Christians who had set up a roadblock. They killed two Muslims. They also burned two cars down. The Christians were young boys in their twenties. They were stopping Muslims at the roadblock. They beat them with their bare hands and sticks and burned them with petrol. The two victims were an elderly man (about fifty years old) and a man in his thirties. One was in a car, the other in a commercial bus. The Christians were shouting words of retaliation and revenge. They were saying: “Let’s kill them!”, “We will not agree!” and “We will kill!” They were local boys from Television. Some of them had charcoal on their faces. When they saw any vehicle coming, they would mount a roadblock. They stopped any car and checked if people were Christians. They made them recite parts of the Bible (John, chapter 3, verse 16). It was the same thing in the last crisis. I saw them asking the elderly man. He couldn’t recite it. They saw the beads in the car and realized he was a Muslim. After leaving the body burning, they left. It was at about 11 a.m. or 12 a.m. The military came at about 1 p.m. and drove everybody away. 37

A forty-year-old Muslim man was injured by Christians near Kurmi Mashi, on November 21, the first day of rioting:

A mob of youths, about twenty, with sticks, were blocking the streets in Kurmi Mashi, burning tires. I went back home to see what was going on. Christians had surrounded my house; three other houses were already burnt. I removed my wife and children. […] I went to a nearby mosque. I heard something and then felt that a bullet had passed through my leg. On my way to the mosque, on the road, I had seen a lot of Christian people surrounding the mosque, trying to burn it. I tried to sneak around behind the mosque when I heard the shot and felt it in my leg. Among the people looting, around ten of them, there was one person shooting. I saw him shooting, probably with a dane gun [locally-made gun].38

A man living in the Christian area of Ungwan Boro explained that following rumours of attacks by Muslims the previous day, Christians decided to retaliate on November 22. Christian youths from the Sabo and Ungwan Boro areas joined forces and threatened to match the Muslim attacks. The man saw the bodies of three Muslim men who had been burnt, near a market, and two mosques that had been burnt, one by the road, the other in the market place. He said a group of around 500 Christian youths from the Sabo area prepared to attack an area near Maraba Ridu, where many Muslims lived, but were stopped by the military. Four Muslims were killed and several others injured by armed Christian youths in the predominantly Christian area of Ungwan Yero.39

21 Human Rights Watch interview, Abuja, December 6, 2002.

22 Human Rights Watch interview, Nasarawa, Kaduna, December 11, 2002.

23 Human Rights Watch interview, Nasarawa, Kaduna, December 12, 2002.

24 None of the individuals or organizations contacted by Human Rights Watch in Kaduna were able to provide a break-down or estimated proportion of Christians and Muslims among the victims.

25 According to the Nigerian Red Cross, there were initially around 22,000 internally displaced people in the sites set up to assist them (Human Rights Watch interview, Kaduna, December 9, 2002). However, this figure does not include those who fled to other locations and who did not register at the centers for the internally displaced.

26 Human Rights Watch interviews in Kaduna, December 2002, and other sources interviewed by telephone between December 2002 and March 2003.

27 This section is not an exhaustive account of attacks by Muslims in Kaduna. The examples and testimonies included here are intended as illustrations of the patterns of violence.

28 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kabala West, Kaduna, December 8, 2002.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid.

31 The majority of Muslims in Kaduna State are from the Hausa/Fulani ethnic groups. It is not known whether Muslims of other ethnic groups also participated in the attacks in Kaduna. Information gathered by Human Rights Watch indicates that the Yoruba, in particular, played a positive role in saving Christians from attacks by Muslims. The Yoruba ethnic group is composed of both Muslims and Christians. As indicated elsewhere in this report, some Hausa also protected their Christian neighbors.

32 Human Rights Watch interview, Nariya, Kaduna, December 9, 2002.

33 Human Rights Watch interview, Nariya, Kaduna, December 9, 2002.

34 Human Rights Watch interview, Kaduna, December 10, 2002.

35 This section is not an exhaustive account of attacks by Christians in Kaduna. The examples and testimonies included here are intended as illustrations of the patterns of violence.

36 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, March 21, 2003.

37 Human Rights Watch interview, Television Village, Kaduna, December 8, 2002.

38 Human Rights Watch interview, Tudun Wada, Kaduna, December 10, 2002.

39 Testimony to a Nigerian human rights activist, Abuja, December 7, 2002.

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July 2003