To calm frayed nerves, the Borno state government must immediately set up a judicial panel of inquiry to investigate the Thursday shooting that caused the death of a youth injuring five others by security personnel working with the Borno state Geographic Information System (BOGIS) during a demolition exercise, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) said.
Can have also demanded that the government of Professor Babagana Zulum should rebuild all churches demolished by BOGIS over alleged infractions concerning land or title documentation.
It was reported last week that a 29-year-old man, Ezekiel Tumba, was shot dead while five other persons had bullet injuries when BOGIS officials led by their boss, Engineer Adam Bababe moved equipment to demolish EYN church on Thursday.
Though the church members did not prevent BOGIS from carrying out the forewarned demolition, the BOGIS personnel were said to have seized the mobile phones of some of the church workers who were filming and taking photo shots of how their place of worship was being brought down.
That singular action triggered the bottled anger of the Christians and even some of the non-Christian residents of the Moduganari neighbourhood who demanded their phone be returned as the seizure infringed on their fundamental rights of filming a public demolition of the church. The situation went out of control and the angry residents began to thrown stones at the BOGIS officials. To prevent them from being mobbed, some of the Civilian-JTF deployed to protect them opened fire directly at the protester which resulted in killing one person and inflicted bullet injuries on five others.
Addressing a press conference in Maiduguri, the CAN officials said both either the church demolition and the seizure of their members’ mobile phones were all gross acts of rights violation that needed to be addressed by the state government.
Recall that the Borno state government had last week stated to condemn the attack on stone-throwing civilians by the operatives of C-JTF working with BOGIS. Governor who later had a closed-door meeting with CAN had also sympathized with the victims of the shooting even as he announced the setting up of a committee to unravel the root cause of the “faceoff”.
The government had in the same statement defended BOGIS claiming it was out to enforce the new reforms in the land administration laws in the state. That the demolition was not restricted to churches alone, that even mosques were so demolished in the past.
Reacting to the incident on Saturday, CAN officials insisted that the demolition of EYN church was an ongoing plot by the Borno state government land agency to “ensure the non-existence of churches in the state”.
Chairman of CAN in Borno state, Bishop Mohammed Naga, said several other churches had been demolished by BOGIS in the recent past over claims of different claims of infringement. That the EYN church demolition which sadly led to the death of one of their members could have been avoided had the state government hearken to them over 40 years demand for issuance of certified lands to build churches.
The Christian body said the last time a church was issued a C-of-O by the Borno government was in 1979, a development that forces Christians to convert their homes into churches and related places of worship.
Kindly read the full text of the press conference: 👇
“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 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 same phone to owners of the phone by BOGIS officials.
“The entire Christian community has been thrown into mourning mood as the brother who was a breadwinner of his family was sent to an early grave by 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 of 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 issue affecting the Christians Communi8ty in the state.”
“We call on all youth and entire Christian community to remain law-abiding as you have been known for and allowed yourselves to be guided by the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. We show the entire Borno citizens for their concerns and 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.”
Earlier, members of the demolished EYN Moduganari church had held a press conference on Friday during which they condemned the shooting and killing of Mr Ezekiel Tumba and injuring of five other members of the church.
The grieving worshippers said the demolition would not deter them from building even a better and bigger church on the same premises.
Borno is a multi-religious state like many other Nigerian states. Though the Muslims population is higher, the state has enjoyed relative peace despite the over two decades of Boko Haram insurgency.
Most social media comments concerning the Modiganari demolition worry that BOGIS action as justifiable as the government might view it could trigger internal religious strife should government fail to rethink handle issues that pertain to faith and worshipping carefully.