ABUJA — Sectarian violence has plagued central Nigeria for decades and tens of thousands of people have been killed. Many mosques and churches are still rubble and in some cities the population has segregated itself out of fear. It is the first anniversary of triple church bombings that sparked sectarian riots in the central city of Kaduna.
There is no roof on this mosque in Kaduna and no walls to protect worshippers from the smell of a nearby open sewer. It’s been almost a year since the last time it was burnt to the ground but people still come here to pray.
Mallum Abdullahi Bayero, a spokesman for the Supreme Council of Sharia in Nigeria, says because so many mosques have been destroyed in this area, some Muslims are afraid to attend services.
“A lot of Muslim brothers doesn’t have the free of fear atmosphere, a conducive atmosphere for them to practice and actualize their religion," said Bayero.
The third time this mosque was destroyed was last June, after three churches were bombed, killing 19 people. In the days that followed nearly 100 more people died in fighting between Christians and Muslims in Kaduna.
Christian leaders say despite the relative calm over the past year, their members are also still afraid to attend services.
Yohanna Buru is the president of the Peace Revival and Reconciliation foundation of Nigeria, a Christian non-governmental organization. He says nearly 100 churches and mosques lay in rubble in Kaduna.
To end sectarian violence once and for all, he says clergy members should not just preach peace, but Christians should rebuild the mosques and Muslims should rebuild the churches.
“Wherever Christians are, let’s stand up and begin to defend the mosques and protect the mosques, including the Muslims too. So that in the Muslim dominated areas, too, those that protect the churches and the Christians too so that we will live in peace and harmony in this country," said Buru.
Buru says his organization is working to rebuild three mosques and with an Islamic organization that is trying to rebuild churches.
Rebuilding this mosque, he says, could physically be done in a few months. But there are other constraints. Some members of his church resist the idea of building mosques, either because of anger or fear that angry youths will just burn them down again.
Emmanuel Dziggau is the president of The United Church of Christ in Nigeria. He says a lasting peace will require a fundamental change in attitudes towards religion.
“The government can’t do this alone. Even the religious leaders, we have to preach peace, preach understanding. We [should] preach what actually is found in the holy books in Nigeria. Religion in Nigeria is come to either to destroy people or to make the country unbearable," said Dziggau.
Kaduna is in Nigeria’s volatile “Middle Belt” and the city is divided much like the country at large, with mostly Muslims in the north and mostly Christians in the south.
Analysts say the clashes are not usually about religion itself, but politics, economics and reprisal attacks.
However in the Middle Belt, ethnic, economic and political lines are often the same as religious lines and people on the streets tend to identify the fighting as between Christians and Muslims.
And as both Muslim and Christian clergy struggle build a lasting peace, they say it can be difficult to gather the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to build a house of worship.