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Nigeria: Christian senator’s murder leaves big plans unfinished

Senator Gyang Dantong, a member of the National Assembly, was killed while attending a funeral of more than 100 Christians killed just the day before, reports Open Doors News Service

Senator Gyang Dantong, a member of the National Assembly, was killed while attending a funeral.

He was among a handful of elected members of the Nigerian government attempting to bury the more than 100 Christians killed just the day before, when Muslim gunmen had rampaged through several villages in Nigeria’s central Plateau state.

The sheer scale of the violence on 7 July convulsed a country where attacks upon Christians are commonplace. Then the attackers returned the next day, killing scores more, including Datong, 53, and another elected government official, who had gathered to bury their dead.

The two days of brutality have pushed Nigeria beyond shock into a debate about whether it can even survive as a nation.

The death of Senator Gyang Dantong reverberates through Nigeria’s struggle to hold itself together.

“Senator Dantong was the bridge between religions, cultures and tribes,” said Senate Majority Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba at a valedictory session of the National Assembly on 18 July.  “Let his death not be in vain. Leaders of all inter-religions and cultures owe it to themselves and Senator Dantong to terminate this culture of hate and promote reconciliation and peace that Plateau was known for.”

Yet the void created by Datong’s death may be felt most directly on a more personal scale, certainly by his wife, Hanatu, and three children, but also by the surviving members of his church and hospital, both of which he helped to build.

Gyang Dalyop Dantong was born in February 1959, in the village of Bachit, about 50 kilometres south of Jos, the capital of Plateau State, in central Nigeria. The son of a pastor, he studied medicine at the University of Jos, and at the University of Legon, in Ghana.

He worked for several years at the Vom Christian Hospital before being elected into Nigeria’s National Assembly. He served four years in the House of Representatives, and then was elected to the Senate, where he had served for the past five years.

The church of Dantong’s youth, a Church of Christ in Nigeria congregation in Bachit, had about 550 members at the time of the July attacks.

Dantong may have been among the few villagers to leave farming behind to take up a profession, but he remained active in the church’s local affairs. He provided the funding for a church building in the village of Gashish which was later burned by Muslim attackers.

When the Bachit church – a simple rectangular structure – needed renovation, Dantong again offered his help.

His murder, and the wider violence that forced many Christians to flee from their homes in and around Bachit, has not only left a church building unfinished. It also has cut the congregation down to 40 elderly members.

Dantong was a fixture at Vom Christian Hospital where he worked as the hospital’s medical superintendent. His election to the National Assembly took him away to the capital, Abuja. “His love for this hospital was so great that he returned from the National Assembly to assist in surgeries on a weekly basis,” said the hospital’s chief matron, Sarah Elijah Kpadu.

Dantong was also building a 12-room private ward, as a donation to this hospital, before he died.

That project, as with the Bachit church and so many other bridges Gyang Dantong had begun to build, is now left to the survivors to complete.


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