Nigerian Archbishop calls on Muslims to hand back the dead

Jos, Nigeria - The Anglican Archbishop of Jos has called for Muslims to hand back the bodies of any Christians shot in last week’s riots that he says could have been taken to the mosque in error.

The Most Rev Ben Kwashi said that Christians had been made the scapegoats for sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims that left nearly 500 people dead in the central Nigerian city. Those who took part in killings that nearly wiped out a village on the outskirts of Jos have yet to be found.

The Archbishop spoke to The Times as another Anglican bishop in Nigeria, the Right Rev Peter Imasuen of Benin City in southern Edo state, was ambushed and kidnapped shortly after arriving home from Sunday eucharist.

“We were told he was kidnapped yesterday,” said Samuel Salifu, secretary general of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

“We are trying to establish what exactly happened but we understand the kidnappers are asking for 15 million naira” said Mr Salifu.

Bishop Imasuen was CAN chairman for Edo State. Archbishop Kwashi, who has survived two attempts on his own life, confirmed that Bishop Imasuen had been kidnapped and said the younger colleague, a close friend, had also survived an earlier serious shooting.

Archbishop Kwashi said: “At the heart of this is that they [Muslims] want to overrun this part of the world and make it Islamic. The operation is like terrorism.”

He said that Christians in Jos in church on Sunday had been in tears because so many of their loved ones had disappeared in last week’s violence and they had been unable to find their bodies.

“This means that the corpses we are shown on television in the mosque must include people the Muslims have killed,” he said. “Quite a number of local people, Christians and other non-Muslims, are finding that people are missing. They have been looking around for the last three days and can’t find them. They have come to the conclusion that their bodies are among the corpses in the mosque that are being used to whip up emotion against the church.

“Sunday’s services were full of tears. It is unbelievable.”

He called for peace and said the Bible ruled out retaliation. “The Gospel that I preach does not allow for vengeance in the face of provocation.”

The Anglican church in Nigeria is the largest after England, and numbers 17million of the 70million Anglicans in 38 provinces.

Acting Plateau State Police Commissioner Ikechukwu Aduba said that officers have arrested 303 people in connection with the rioting in Jos, a one-time tourist and mining town that straddles Nigeria’s Christian south and Muslim north. Of those arrested, 139 have been taken to Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, for questioning.

Mr Aduba said that more suspects remained at large, including those who took part in killings that nearly wiped out a small village on the southern outskirts of Jos. Volunteers there discovered bodies shoved into communal wells and sewer dumps. Others lay dead in the bush outside the village, victims of gunshot and machete wounds.

Mr Aduba also promised those arrested would face trial in Jos. Government leaders in Jos have complained that those involved in previous riots later made bail in Abuja and never faced justice.

Sectarian violence in this central region of Nigeria has left thousands dead over the past decade. The latest outbreak came despite the Nigerian government’s efforts to quell religious extremism.

There are conflicting accounts about what unleashed the recent bloodshed. According to a state police commissioner, skirmishes began after Muslim youths set a Christian church ablaze, but Muslim leaders denied that. Muslims say that it began with an argument over the rebuilding of a Muslim home in a predominantly Christian neighborhood that had been destroyed in November.