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Fact Check: Did Gov Wike demolish a Mosque in Rivers?
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.
We analyse recent reports concerning the alleged demolition of a mosque in Rivers State by Governor Nyesom Wike.
For context, 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.
Why was the controversy so heated?
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.
 Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike has declared Rivers a Christian state (Punch)
“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.

Did Wike really order the demolition of this mosque in Port Harcourt?
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 TheCable that: “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, 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.
 A mosque in Lagos, Southwestern Nigeria (Guardian)
A mosque in Lagos, Southwestern Nigeria (Guardian)
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.

“In 2010, they brought down the fence and all…The landlord, whom we bought the land from took the matter to court because the land we got was part of the ones he sold to other people too. And the case was decided on November 3, 2017, and which the government of Rivers state did not appeal the judgement. They did not appeal it.

“They have flouted the court’s ruling. It’s just like giving approval to somebody and you are turning back to collect it. That’s the scenario.
 Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim while the south is largely Christian and Kano city has been plagued by religious violence in the past (AFP) AFP
Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim while the south is largely Christian and Kano city has been plagued by religious violence in the past (AFP)

“We are appealing to the governor… what he has done is illegal because you cannot give something to somebody and you turn back and collect it without reason or discussion with the person. He is a governor today, he is a leader. If you want to collect land from anybody, the constitution made it clear that it must be for an overriding public interest and that the person you are collecting land from must be called, informed and duly compensated. And that part of the land you are taking must be gazetted. No reason was given for the action.

“We are appealing to the governor not confrontational”, Sidiq was quoted as saying.

What was the response from Wike like?
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.

 Wike at the site of a developing property in Port Harcourt, August 26, 2019 (Twitter: @GovWike)
Wike at the site of a developing property in Port Harcourt, August 26, 2019 (Twitter: @GovWike)
“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?”

What do we know?
Pulse' checks reveals that all parties in this mosque demolition saga are correct to a certain degree.

Yes, there was a demolition authorized by the Rivers State government, but this demolition order wasn't issued because a mosque was about to spring up from the site. What was demolished was not a completed property as Sidiq has also corroborated above.

 Governor Nyesom Wike denies demolishing a mosque in Rivers (SaharaReporters)
Governor Nyesom Wike denies demolishing a mosque in Rivers (SaharaReporters)

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.

What has happened here is that a disputed piece of land has once again brought all contending parties together and in the news.

Best to allow a court of competent jurisdiction to resolve this saga. Stoking religious tensions over this won't help anyone.

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