NIGERIA: Muslim Students Set Fire to Chapel in School

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Muslim students twice have set fire to a high school chapel here since it was rebuilt last August, after Islamists burned it down three years ago.

In January, Islamic students at Government Science Secondary School in Kufena, in the northern state of Kaduna, set fire to the Chapel of Adonai, which was rebuilt last year with services restored in September. The most recent arson attempt, as well as one in December 2006, failed when Christian staff members and students at the high school put out the fires.

Pastor Samuel Nuhu, a teacher and patron of the Fellowship of Christian Students in the school, told Compass that in 2004 Muslim students burned down the chapel and attacked Christian students, many of whom were injured and hospitalised. The attack resulted in large-scale withdrawal of Christian students from the school, he said.

"In January, Muslim students attempted to burn down this chapel again," Nuhu said. "The wooden door into this [chaplain's] office was burnt. We had to mobilise ourselves to put out the fire."

Nuhu said that, previous to the most recent arson attempt, two letters were dropped into the chapel warning Christian students and staff members of an impending attack unless they left the school. The letter included derogatory comments about Jesus.

"The principal summoned a meeting of the staff and students to warn of the consequences of returning the school to a crisis situation," Nuhu said, "but his warning was not heeded, as we have continued to receive threats from the Muslims."

School officials have notified the Kaduna State Ministry of Education of the threats to the Christian staff members and students - without effect, he said.

"The director of Science and Technical Schools in the Ministry of Education received a report from us, and he personally came here," Nuhu said, "but it seems authorities are helpless about this threat on us, as it has not abated."

Some 1,000 students attend the Government Science Secondary School, out of which only 300 are Christians. Formerly a Christian high school, the institution has about 40 teachers, including 16 Christians.

The school principal, Alhaji Usman Pateh, was said to be out of town at the time Compass visited the school. When he was finally reached by telephone, Pateh declined to speak on the issue.

Kaduna is one of 12 northern states in Nigeria that have imposed Islamic (sharia) law.

The introduction of Islamic law in Kaduna state in 2000 has contributed to the escalation of religious conflict in some parts of the state. Kaduna operates with a dual legal system, sharia and a "customary" legal system run in accordance with traditional animist practices - neither of which serves Christians in the state, Christian leaders say.

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