The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has accused the Borno State Government of trying to wipe out churches from the state.
The association also condemned the demolition of a church building in Maiduguri and the killing of a church member on Thursday.
Security officials working with the Borno state Geographic Information System (BOGIS) shot at people protesting against the demolition of the church building, killing 20-year-old Ezekiel Tumba and injuring five others.
The BOGIS demolition squad was led to the church by its executive secretary, Adam Bababe.
Addressing a press conference on Saturday in Maiduguri, officials of CAN said Mr Tumba was the son of a pastor and breadwinner of the family.
The christian body said the state government refused to address the concerns they raised when BOGIS started demolishing churches in Borno in 2020.
In a statement following the clash, the state government last week said BOGIS officials were only enforcing compliance with reforms in the state’s land administration system, which necessitates the demolition of properties deemed illegal.
The EYN Church in Moduganari suburb of Maiduguri was one of the churches marked for demolition for allegedly carrying out expansion without the permission of the government, the statement said.
Eyewitnesses said things went out of control when officials of BOGIS and the security team provided by the Civilian-JTF began to seize the mobile phones of the protesting members of the church who were recording the demolition exercise.
Following alleged throwing of stones at the officials, some of the armed personnel opened fire on the protesters.
Governor Babagana Zulum had in a statement by his spokesperson, Isa Gusau, condemned the incident but blamed both sides for “throwing stones” and “shooting of guns.”
Mr Zulum commiserated with the families of the deceased and injured. He also ordered an investigation into the incident.
The governor has also met with CAN leaders in Borno on the issue.
But at its press conference on Saturday, CAN said the demolition of EYN Church building was part of a plot by the state government to “ensure the non-existence of churches in the state.”
Led by its state chairperson, Mohammed Naga, the CAN officials said BOGIS has singled out churches for demolition.
CAN described the deployment of earth-moving equipment to the EYN Church and the shootings on Thursday as the height of intolerance of churches by BOGIS and its officials.
The Christian body thereby called for a judicial panel of inquiry into the incident to bring justice for the victims of the “shooting and killing” at the EYN church.
Read CAN’s full statement below:
“The incident that occurred on Thursday which is the demolition of EYN LCC Moduganari and the killing of a 20-year-old Ezekiel Bitrus Tumba, the son of Pastor Bitrus Tumba of COCCIN church and injuring of five others working at the EYN church, by BOGIS security team was tragic and condemnable.
“Officials of BOGIS led by its executive secretary, Engineer Adam Bababe brought a security team to the church, not only for demolition but also ended up killing our brother and son.
“The reaction by youth which was reported was caused by the seizure of their mobile phones and refusal of return of the same phone to owners of the phone by BOGIS officials.
“The entire Christian community has been thrown into mourning as the brother who was a breadwinner of his family was sent to an early grave by an overzealous BOGIS head and security team for the simple reason of stopping church expansion in the state.
“It appears BOGIS, with this latest activity, is out to ensure no church is allowed to exist in the state, fuel tension and cause disaffection amongst peace-loving Christians and Muslims in a fragile state as Borno.
“We therefore condemn it and demand the following: One, the constitution of a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the unwarranted killing and shooting at the Moduganari church to truthfully bring the perpetrators to justice. We therefore demand that CAN should be a representative on the panel.
“And two (2), the Rebuilding of demolished churches and reopening of all church seized by BOGIS which include EYN LCD Moduganari, Jubilee sanctuary church Pompomari bye pass, Total Gospel International church, Mairi-Bakin Kogi, The Sanctuary Church behind AA Bappa Filling Station, Tudun Wada, and Christ Favor Land Pompomari Bye-pass.
“Three (3) the immediate return of seized phones by BOGIS to the owners as such action is an infringement to their right to communication and freedom of expression.
“And four (4) His excellency Professor Babagana Zulum should use his good office to address all existing pressing issues affecting the Christians Communi8ty in the state.”
“We call on all youth and the entire Christian community to remain law-abiding as you have been known for and allow yourselves to be guided by the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. We show the entire Borno citizens their concerns and the show of care over such unfortunate and avoidable incidents.
“Also, we commiserate with the EYN church, the injured brothers and COCCIN pastor and his family who lost their son. We assure that CAN will continue to encourage all people to be peaceful.”
Responding the journalists questions on why it took CAN this long to speak on the “serial demolition of churches, Bishop Naga said “when Jubilee Sanctuary Church in Pompomari was demolished on 16th April, 2020, and the sealing of Christ Favor Land on the same day, we raised concerns and His Excellency the governor even spoke on the issue; and it was our assumption was he would address the problem. Sadly we did not know that there are many more that will even follow that demolition.”
On the details of the Thursday evening’s closed door meeting with the governor, the CAN officials said they did not go there to betray the interests of the christians but to listen to the governor who expressed his sadness and promised to punish the person found guilty in the shooting incident.
Why Borno Churches Have no Title Document
On the alleged claims by the BOGIS that the demolished or closed down churches were found wanting because they don’t have title documents, the CAN chairman said the government of Borno state should be blamed and not the churches.
Bishop Naga, an indigene of Borno state said he was aware that the last certificate of occupancy given to any church by the state government was in 1979. And that since then the government has made it a tradition not to issue C of O to any church.
“When you talk of paper titles of land documents, I want to assure you that we have been here in this state – we are born here and brought up here; and we can tell you categorically that the last Certificate of Occupancy given to church was in 1979. And since then no church gets any land certificate,” he said.
“Had it been that the government of Borno state gives certificates for churches to build their places of worship, this (shooting) incident would not have happened. But there is none! Government does not allocate land to churches. Christians are forced to buy a piece of land and build a place of worship where they are living. We don’t build churches in the bush. As citizens with equal rights we also need a place to gather and worship. Had the government been giving permission in the form of an allocation letter or certificate to go and build churches, no one is willing to convert his or her house to church.
Despite that even after getting the land by ourselves we still approach the ministry of land to fulfil the deed of assignment requirement through a lawyer, but your file will disappear as soon as you submit them,”
The shooting incident at the demolished church has since generated a series of condemnations by angry residents who took to the social media accusing the Borno state government and its agency of infringing on the fundamental rights of citizens and for allegedly threatening the fragile peace in a state that is still battling with religious conflict.