…I’m here With Reporters You Can See There Was No Mosque Here…Wike.
Gov Nyesom Wike of Rivers State shows up at the site of a structure reported in the media as a demolished mosque on Monday, August 26, 2019 (Twitter: @GovWike)
There have been reports in a section of the Nigerian press and on social media pertaining to the ‘demolition of a mosque in Rivers State’, South of Nigeria.
Rivers is a largely Christian state and Nigeria is almost evenly split between a predominantly Christian south and a predominantly Muslim north.
Even though the Nigerian state is constitutionally secular, skirmishes and tensions from devotees of both religions are common; and extremists from both ends of the religious divide have sometimes taken intolerance to dangerous levels.
The reported ‘demolition’ stirred plenty of debate and chatter online because of Governor Nyesom Wike’s antecedents. In June of 2019, the Governor pronounced Rivers a Christian state.
“I repeat once again without apologies, Rivers is a Christian state. That is why nobody can touch us. When it mattered most, the Christian community prayed and God heard your prayers”, Wike, a Christian, said at the venue of a crusade organised by the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Church in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital.
It would be the second time he was going public with the declaration. “I will continue to support the activities of all churches. This government will always partner the churches, whatever the programme they are engaged in. I urge the church to continue to pray. Each time you pray, put us in your prayers”, he had added.
The governor’s comments at the time were interpreted as his attempt to alienate the Muslim minority population in his state or shut them out completely.
On August 20, the Rainbow Town Central Mosque located at the Trans-Amadi area of Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, was reported to have been demolished by the state government. Social media videos of the demolition were supported by claims from the secretary of the mosque, Aliu Sidiq.
Sidiq had told journalists “There was demolition, that is the correct statement and it was carried out by the state government on August 20. And what they did was they pulled down the fence, the foundation to DPC level, and the pillars. If you go there now, you will see things for yourself”.
However, Sidiq would further state that what was demolished was not a completed structure but the foundation of a budding property. He also added that the piece of land on which this foundation work stood, has been the subject of a dispute in court.
“A building was ongoing, that is the true situation of things; the building has not been completed, it was ongoing. “Since we have been there since 2008, praying there, and this is the second time demolition was done by the Rivers state government. The first one was done by Rotimi Amaechi, and now, Wike. And we have all the approvals.AFP
“We are appealing to the governor not confrontational”, Sidiq was quoted as saying. In a chat with journalists on Monday, August 26, Wike denied that he had ordered the demolition of a mosque.
The governor stated that the relevant government agency had stopped the development of a property on the site because an approval had not been issued.
“I received calls from several prominent Nigerians on the fake news being circulated online. I have come here with reporters and you can see there was no mosque here,” Wike said.
“It is most unfortunate that fickle minded persons will claim that a mosque was demolished at this place, when no mosque existed here. The story was concocted by mischief makers to score cheap points.
“The persons who started the foundation had already dragged the state government to court on the disputed land. The Rivers State Government won the case. What they attempted to do was to start the illegal construction to tie the hands of the state government.
“The government gave them notice not to do anything on the land. But they went ahead with the illegal foundation and the relevant agency stopped them.
“Why would we want to bring down any mosque, when there are other mosques across the state? What is the special interest on this one?”
The developers were going to erect a structure on a disputed parcel of land and Wike and his team stopped further development of whatever it was going to be—whether that was going to be a church, school, office or mosque. The government considered the property development a contravention.
When Wike says “there was no mosque here,” he is right because technically, no mosque was brought down. A mosque isn’t a pile of blocks on a construction site. Maybe a prayer ground, yes, but not a mosque.