31 December 2003

Nigeria: Religious Sect Invasion

Maiduguri — Communities flee Geidam

There was still confusion, unease and mass exodus out of Geidam town, headquarters of Geidam local government area in Yobe State, two days after a hitherto unknown religious sect took over the town after sacking the divisional police office and the local government headquarters.

Troops were however said to have been deployed to the area by yesterday evening when members of the sect were said to have withdrawn from the town.

Witnesses who fled Geidam said members of the sect numbering about two hundred, got to Geidam from the northern town of Kanamma, headquarters of Yunusari local government area, where they had also sacked the police station while chanting, "God is great" and marching towards the town centre.

Their march plunged Geidam town into pandemonium as several people, unsure of the intentions of the members of the sect, fled to neighbouring towns and villages.

The police in Geidam responded by firing tear gas canisters to disperse the sect but the protesters turned towards the police station sending the policemen and civilians running for cover

Daily Trust gathered that members of the sect were apparently not affected by bullets and security agents who believed this became confused and unable to control the situation.

Our correspondent also gathered that members of the sect had earlier camped in the bush around Kanamma in what they called "migration" from the "sinful and unjust Nigerian state" where their teaching was said to have emphasised what they called the "strict doctrine of Islam" and the negation of all authority other than that of God.

Followers of the sect, many of them young former university students or sons of the rich in the society, were said to be grounded in the believe that having "migrated" out of the Nigerian state, they had a right to form what amounts to a state of their own where they can translate their teachings to reality.

Unconfirmed sources said that the sect members had already replaced the Nigerian flag with their own, but efforts by Daily Trust to reach Geidam proved abortive due to the presence of security personnel who barred people from either entering or leaving the town.

When our correspondent contacted the Yobe State police command, the Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) in charge of Bauchi zone, Mr Fatai Fagbemi who was personally supervising the security clampdown on members of the sect, said he could not talk because there information he wanted to have at hand before granting an interview.

"Come on Wednesday morning. I am in the office from 6 a.m. I will talk to you then," he told Daily Trust.

As more people fled Geidam, armed mobile policemen were deployed to the town to contain the insurrection and sources said that soldiers from the Recce Battalion at Nguru, Yobe State and the 21-Armoured Brigade, Maiduguri, had also been deployed to Geidam to contain the crisis.

Ideas such as those of the Geidam religious sect have recently surfaced in Maidu-guri through a religious teacher, Malam Mohammed Yusuf, who claimed that working for the government or joining formal schools was Haram (unlawful in Islam).

Several people who spoke to Daily Trust said that considering the membership of the Geidam sect, it was highly most they might have been influenced by the teachings of Malam Yusuf.

Daily Trust learnt that Malam Yusuf has been away in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment for over a month when our correspondent sought to speak with him over the matter.

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