The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has accused the Borno State Government of trying to wipe out churches from the state, while condemning 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.
According to the christian body, the Prof Babagana Zulum led government refused to address the concerns they raised when BOGIS started demolishing churches in Borno in 2020.
But 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 necessiates 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.
According to witnesses, 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.
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 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,” CAN said.
“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.”