German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who died Saturday, had held crusades in the cities of Kaduna and Ilorin in October 1991, in which at the end of every night programme, there were thousands of crutches and turbans left on the floor of the open grounds for the crusades. Thousands were converted to embrace Jesus Christ and abandon Islam.
At the invitation of the Christian Association of Nigeria, and the Kano State branch of Reinhard Bonnke Ministry, a crusade was planned to be staged in Kano on 14 October.
Radio and Television advertisements disseminated the coming crusade, under the theme:Kano for Jesus. Some of the posters carried the message: “Jesus for all by the year 2000”.
Kano, one of the notable centres of Islam in Nigeria, along with Sokoto and Maiduguri, felt Bonnke was crossing the red line, trying to convert the muslim residents into Christianity, like he did in Kaduna and Ilorin. The evangelism, in their views, was dangerous to Islam.
Efforts were made to ensure that Bonnke did not use the Kano Race Course which had been earlier scheduled for the crusade.
The Muslims mounted pressure on the government to cancel the permit. Government did. But the Christians were undaunted as they changed the venue to the compound of St. Thomas/St. Louis School in Sabon Gari.
The only alternative left to the Muslims was to physically prevent the crusade from holding. Bonnke’s arrival on 13 October spurred them into spontaneous violence, which continued till 14 October 1991. The muslim rioters wanted Bonnke stopped from evangelising for Christ, at all costs.
According to various reports at the time, as many as 500 people died.Some accounts said over 2,000 people died. Many houses and vehicles were burned during the rampage.
The rioters, who placed Sabongari under siege, even wanted to attack Bonnke himself where he was holed. But he was reportedly protected by an emergency army of Christians, who built a wall around him.
The government imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and banned all religious gatherings to restore calm to the city.
Former President Ibrahim Babangida, who was out of the country rushed back home, as some reports indicated that hundreds of people had died.
A researcher of the riot wrote that it was difficult to arrive at the exact casualty figure, because many murdered Christians were dumped in wells, with many Christians attacked in Sabon Gari, Rimi Kebe and Tundun Murtala.
Isaac Olawale Albert, who researched the violence wrote:
The Kano religious riot of October 1991 was one of the moves made by Muslims to check the fast spread of Christianity in northern Nigeria. The problem was catalyzed by an attempt by the Christians under the umbrella of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Kano State branch and the Reinhard Bonnke Ministry from Germany to organize an evangelistic crusade around the theme, Kano for Jesus.
CAN in Kano gave the Reinhard Bonnke crusade wide publicity, much more than for previous events and several thousands of posters were pasted around Kano city. Some of the posters carried the message ‘Jesus for all by the year 2000’ and The Christian Crusade’. The word ‘crusade’ was not interpreted by the Muslims as the Christians meant it to be understood. To the Muslims the word meant religious warfare against the Islamic religion. The messages on these different posters were written not only in English but also in Hausa and Ajami (i.e., Hausa language written in Arabic letters), to ensure that the local Kanawa could read it. One side of some of the posters carried the photograph of a group of people (formerly blind) and on the other side of the poster were the bundles of sticks left behind by them after they had received their sight. This was an open invitation to the many handicapped in Kano to come forward for healing during the Reinhard Bonnke crusade. This annoyed the Kanawa, who are predominantly Muslim. They resolved to ensure that the Christian crusade did not hold.
For a start, efforts were made to ensure that the Christians did not use the Kano Race Course which had been earlier scheduled for the crusade. The Muslims mounted pressure on the government to cancel the permit given to the Christians to use the place. Then the Christians changed the venue to the compound of St. Thomas/St. Louis School in Sabon Gari. The only alternative left to the Muslims was to physically prevent the crusade from holding. This they started on 13 October 1991 as soon as Evangelist Bonnke arrived in Kano. The Christians resident in Sabon Gari, Rimi Kebe and Tundun Murtala were attacked by the Muslims. The Christians (especially those in the Sabon Gari), unlike their practice in the past, launched counter-attacks killing as many of their aggressors as they could see. At the end of the crisis, over 500 people were recorded dead on both sides and much property destroyed.
Many southern Nigerian immigrants in Kano fled the city after the religious riot, while those that remained resolved to be more aggressive in any future encounters with the Muslims, in defence of their investments in Kano.