Mysterious cross of Nasarawa: How Assakio, theatre of communal war became site of religious tourism

IT all started like a rumour when news emerged from Assakio, one of the communities in Lafia Local Government Area of Nasarawa State, that a cross appeared on the ground. The cross, it was said, was even very close to a mosque in the village.

Many people, including this reporter, at first doubted the claim as one of the sensational tales people bear to draw unwholesome attention. But different stories kept coming from the village, which is about an hour drive from Lafia, capital of Nasarawa State.

However, on Saturday, Octobers 22, Sunday Tribune visited Assakio to get a firsthand information on the mysterious ‘cross’ that people kept talking about. It took about an hour to arrive at Assakio. This was because  the federal road passing through the village, which links Nasarawa and Plateau states, has become a death trap. The road is heavily decorated with potholes, thus making a rather short journey both arduous and hazardous. According to reports, many commuters, especially farmers who inhabit the area, have lost their lives on the road as a result of its terrible condition.

Assakio was indeed a hive of activities. The once deserted community was busy. No one would believe that this village was once engulfed in an ethnic crisis between the Alago and the Eggon tribes which led to loss of lives and properties. It was an experience that shook the entire state and indeed Nigeria as the death toll from the crisis increased by the day.

But it was a totally different Assakio that Sunday Tribune saw that fateful Saturday. Right beside a mosque and close to the house of the village’s traditional leader is the site that has generated so much attention. Christian faithful from far and near could be seen milling around the cross etched on the ground.  Some worshippers knelt in supplication before the cross heartily sending their requests. Some of the stories that have been told since the cross’s mysterious appearance are those of miracle healings and wonders.

The cross, apart from bringing attention to Assakio, also brought other benefits too.  The sleepy village was a big business haven when Sunday Tribune visited. The villagers had set up different businesses around the site of “wonders,” selling an assortment of goods to the visitors.

Ishaya Yakusamu, a brother to Hajara Hussani,  the Muslim girl who discovered the cross, recounted to Sunday Tribune how the story of the cross began. According to him,  “ it all started when little Hajara Hussani was coming out of her house a fortnight ago and saw rays of light coming out from the ground. She took a closer look and saw a cross emerge.

“She immediately ran to call our mother to come and see what she saw. But when they came they could not ascertain what they were seeing until people gathered and told them it was a cross,” Yakusamu narrated.

But the story did not end there, according to Yakusamu, attempts were made to cover the site, thinking it was nothing.  “The people tried covering the site with sand, but the more they covered it, the more it became clearer. It then became clear that the cross was not ordinary,” he said.

Yakusamu explained that Assakio instantly became a tourists’ spot the moment the information got out as miracle-seeking people started pouring in to the village.

“Some white men even came to investigate if the cross was real and they also had a chat with the girl. But the truth is that our parents have taken her out of the village to Bauchi, because people were beginning to call Hajara Mary, mother of Jesus, and you know she is a Muslim,” he said.

One of the visitors, who gave his name as Frank, a resident of Abuja, said he came with his family on pilgrimage to the wonder cross.

“I heard about it and decided to come. From what we heard, we learnt that there was a crisis in this land before and a lot of people died. So, people are now saying that the cross is a sign of peace and reconciliation”.

On his experience at the cross site, Frank said: “All the rumours we  have been hearing about the cross is true. I specifically came here to  pray for my  healing and for Nigeria, for things to return to normal.”

Sunday Tribune also visited the tradition ruler of the village, the Ossakio of Assakio, His Royal Highness Osuola Inarigu, who confirmed the emergence of the cross and confessed praying before it.

“ I was in the hospital when I got the news that a cross appeared in my land. When I was discharged, I visited the scene and saw the cross there. I knelt down to pray before it.

“Although, nobody knows the exact meaning of the cross but I have urged my people to continue to pray so that God can reveal its real essence to us,” he enthused.

However, efforts to get the Catholic Priest of St. Francis Catholic Church in Assakio to comment on the issue proved abortive. He said he could not comment as the issue is still under critical investigation.