Endangered Religion

The upsurge in attacks on Christians by Muslims and anti-Christian policies has fuelled apprehension of plans by powerful individuals to Islamise Nigeria

By Emmanuel Uffot

Although religion is considered a secular and sensitive issue as far as the Nigerian constitution is concerned, over the years up till  the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, the major gulf between Northern and Southern Nigeria has been religion. Even as muslim clerics and notable adherents of the faith from the North of the country have always mouthed the point that Islam is a religion of peace, but the relationship between Muslims and Christians in matters bothering on religion has left many wondering whether Islam is really a religion of peace as often times Christians in the North and churches have been the target of attacks by irate muslim youths for any slight provocation and disagreement on issues relating to Islam or Prophet Muhammed.

Already, there are increasing cases of a slight disagreement between Christians and muslims sparking bloody riots that has left hundreds of Christians dead and churches razed

The case of Gideon Akaluka who was beheaded in Kano years ago after he was accused of using a sheet of the Quran to clean up after defecating is still fresh in the memory of many Nigerians who still remember that ugly incident with nostalgia. Contrary to the claims by Muslim faithfuls that he did that to spite Islam, investigation later showed that the deceased used the sheet of paper not knowing that it was a sheet of the Quran.

Another striking case was that of a Guardian Newspaper journalist, Isioma Daniel who had to flee Nigeria to seek asylum in the United States of America for fear of her life after a Fatwa (Death sentence) was declared on her for writing on the Miss World contest that was to be hosted in one of the Northern states. Daniel had written against those opposing the hosting of the beauty pageant. She had said that Algeria, an Islamic country was one of the countries that were to participate in the beauty contest’. The piece from the journalist which some Muslims considered blasphemous against Prophet Muhammed, triggered three days religious riot that left more than 220 people mostly Christians dead in the North.

Between 2010 and 2012, there were several cases of attacks on Churches in states that have become a haven for the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram.

For instance, on December 24, 2010, bombs exploded around Jos  as groups of Boko Haram fighters attacked two churches in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state.

On July 10, 2011, a bomb exploded at All Christian Church in Suleija (Niger state).

On December 25, 2011, bombs exploded at four churches respectively at Madalla (Niger state), Jos (Plateau state), Damaturu (Yobe state), and Gadaka (Yobe state).

Similarly on February 26, 2012, Boko Haram carried out a suicide car bombing at the Church of Christ in Jos.

Again on March 11 2012, a bomb struck St. Finbar’s Catholic Church in Jos.

On April 8 which was an Easter day, a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb near the All Nations Christian Assembly Church and the ECWA Good News Church in Kaduna.

On April 29. 2012, three bombs exploded at the old campus church of Bayero University Kano, while gunmen shot at worshipers fleeing the building.

On June 4, 2012, a suicide car bombing occurred at Living Faith Church in Bauchi, capital of Bauchi state.

Other notable attacks on churches by the Boko Haram sect and those fighting hard to wipe out Christianity were the June 10, 2012,  car bomb at Christ Chosen Church of God in Jos, June 17, 2012 suicide bombers attacked ECWA Goodnews Church and Christ the King Catholic Church in Zaria and Kaduna, on September 23, 2012, a suicide bomber attacked St. John’s Church in Bauchi.

Reverend Gideon Obasogie,  Director of Catholic Social Communication of Maiduguri Diocese in Borno state, had once put the number of churches destroyed by Boko Haram following its capture of towns and villages in Borno and Adamawa states between 2011 and 2014 at 185.

Even when the election of former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 sparked pockets of violent riots in some parts of the North, the churches and shops of Igbos especially were the targets.

Although Fulani herdsmen have always plied their nomadic cattle grazing in the south without any incident in time past, but the story is now different  as stories of herdsmen attacking communities in the south has been a source of friction especially in the past one year of the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Initially, it was Benue and Plateau states that felt the brunt of the menace of the prowling herdsmen who now parade with AK-47 assault guns as against the former posture of going about with sticks, but now the herdsmen have taken their unwholesome activities of killing and maiming down south to Enugu, Oyo, Ondo, Abia, Delta among others

Gwiyi Solomon, a commentator on National issues is among several Nigerians who are disturbed by the activities of the herdsmen in recent times. For him, the rampaging herdsmen that are referred to as a semi-nomadic pastoral ethnic group existing in several West African Nations are nonetheless, a terror group. Equally disturbing to Solomon like other Nigerians is the way the Buhari government is handling the issue which the affected communities find disgusting. “How can a herdsman choose to destroy a farmer and his investment all in a bid to ensure the life of his livestock, while the government looks with no workable solution yet”.

Indeed, the perception of several Christians according to findings by the magazine is that the numerous attacks of Boko Haram on Churches and Christians and the onslaught of Fulani herdsmen on Christian populated areas in recent times has become an unwritten script by  powerful forces in the and North to Islamise Nigeria. The trio of Dr Samuel Uche, Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria, Ayo Fayose, Governor of Ekiti state and the fiery lone voice in the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP and Ekiti State governor and Fani Kayode a PDP chieftain and former Aviation minister thinks so. Fayose “They have started again, I want to reveal one secret here, they have started subtle moves to make Nigeria an Islamic nation. But God will not allow, this was done in 1984 but it failed, Nigeria is a free nation and this nation will not be taken for Islamic. “Fani Kayode could not agree less “There are covert moves by some extremists that are in the corridors of power to quietly and secretly Islam our country and they are doing so with contempt and impunity”. The Prelate of the Methodist Church of Nigeria in the wake of the spate of attacks on Christians and churches and the killings by the herdsmen had also raised alarm of the intent of the perpetrators to Islamise Nigeria and warned that Christians will not fold their hands and watch the senseless killings of the people.

It could be recalled that the immediate former President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Ayo Oritsejafo was always sounding alarm over the same issue of attacks on Christians across the country and was always threatening that Christians will no more fold their hands and watch these mindless attacks by Muslims for any slight misunderstanding.

Instructively, the  violent activities of the Fulani herdsmen which was unknown of in the past and the wanton killings of Christians in the North for a minor disagreement has escalated under President Buhari’s government making some Nigerians to think that the foot soldiers in these heinous acts have the subtle support from those in the corridors of power.

For instance, last month, many Nigerians were confronted with the bad news of the gruesome murder and beheading of Bridget Agbahwe, a trader at Wambai market, Kano. The deceased, an Igbo was attacked and hacked down over a mere disagreement with some customers at the market over issues bothering on religion which her assailants termed blasphemed the Prophet Mohammed. The victim, a trader in domestic wares at the market was said to be in company of her husband when she was killed by the angry mob that attacked her with machetes.

Last week, Eunice Olawale, a Deaconess and wife of the Pastor of  a parish of Redeemed Christian Church of God in Kubwa, Abuja was waylaid and killed by irate muslim youths while doing her early morning preaching at the vicinity of a mosque. An Islamic cleric is said to have ordered some young men at the mosque to chase the woman away from the front of the mosque while preaching but they instead allegedly beat and stoned the woman to dead. Although the Imam who ordered the youths to chase the woman has been reportedly arrested, the thinking among many Christians who are calling for the prosecution of the culprits is that no meaningful action will be taken against them just like the Buhari government has been turning blind eye and deaf ear to atrocities perpetuated by Fulani herdsmen on many communities in Jos, Benue and the South.

Similarly, a group of Muslims attacked worshippers in a Catholic Church in Niger State for holding a church programme penultimate Friday which they considered their holy day.

Over the years, there have been several reported cases of molestation of Christians by Muslims while on procession on the road or preaching which is a common phenomenon in the South but which is frowned at in muslim dominated areas in the North.

Concerned Nigerians see the latest incidents of violent attack on Christians which has become a recurring decimal in the North as a manifestation of the intolerance of some Muslims to other religion as a clear violation of Section 38 (1) of the Nigerian 1999 constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that provide a legal basis of secularism of religion and worship in Nigeria. Under the section “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom (either alone or in communion with others and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.

What the constitution explicitly defined is that Nigeria as a nation has no state or official religion, that the governance of the Nigerian state affairs and the religious practices are 100 per cent from one another. What the provision means is that the Nigerian government at all levels has no right to use state resources or tax payers’ money to support any religion, it means that all Nigerians have the constitutional right to practice any religion of their choice and that any Nigerian has the constitutional right to live anywhere to practice his or her choice of religion without any fear of intimidation.

If the uninformed Islamic clerics who preach hatred and heresy and the illiterate Moslem youths could be excused for not  tolerating others with diverse religion as enshrined in the constitution, the same could not be said of Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state. The diminutive governor who courted loads of controversies while serving as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja with his spate of demolition of structures stirred the hornets’ nest recently when he passed a law regulating religious worship in the state. Under the new law which many see as targeting Christians and implementing a hidden agenda of Islamisation of Kaduna and Nigeria, one cannot operate as a pastor without obtaining a license which would require the Cleric appearing before a screening committee. The law also states that the license which has one year lifespan is to be renewed yearly and violators face two years prison term or a fine of N200, 000. Under the law, if you invite any external preacher such a person must be licensed for the duration of his or her stay and the body issuing the license has the right to reject any external preacher they feel is not qualified to preach in Kaduna state. The law also bans procession of worshippers and use or hawking of CDs, Flash Drive and other communication gadgets outside accepts within the religious building or in your house. Another sore aspect of the law which is still generating outrage in Kaduna is that ban on using microphone in place of worship after 8pm. It also restricts preaching to the church or mosque which Christians say will hinder evangelism.

Many Nigerians who are disturbed with the development argue that El-Rufai is only writing the script of President Buhari who is allegedly sympathetic to Islam.

Also worrisome is the fact that many states in the north have adopted the Sharia judicial system which they subject Christians to in Sharia court against the provision of the Sharia code which only covers those of muslim faith.

The national grazing bill which has already scaled first and second reading both in the Senate and House of Representatives, is seen by Christians who formed the major opposition as one of the conquering strategies vigorously being pursued by Muslims to entrench  domination of the South in particular and Christians in general. Law makers from the South-East and South-South who formed the arrow head of those opposing the bill are looking at the ethno-religious implications and the antecedents of  herdsmen whom they fear giving them such a place in the communities will amount to giving them the knife and the yam and the passport to usurp their farmlands and visit mayhem on the communities..

The bill known as ‘A Bill for An Act for the Establishment of the National Grazing Reserve (Establishment And Development) Commission for The Preservation And Control of National Grazing Reserves and Stock Routes’ which was sponsored by Senator Zainab Kure of Niger State seeks among other things, the acquisition of lands anywhere in the country for the grazing of cattle by herdsmen.

“The Bill proposes to establish a National Grazing Reserve Commission (NGRC) for the country. The NGRC will be charged with the responsibility of using funds received from the Federal Government to acquire farmlands from Nigerians in all the 36 states of the country, develop same at government expense through the provision of bore holes, water reservoirs for the exclusive use of nomadic cattle rearers.”

Clement Udegbe, a lawyer who is also against the law says the idea of the bill is to take farming land belonging to communities, all over the country, make it Federal land permanently and hold it for any class of persons it may fancy or please, and in this case it is for the economic, social and religious benefit of the cattle-rearers who are majorly Fulani Herdsmen. Udegbe said even though the proponents of the bill see it as answer to resolving the communal clash between the Fulani Herdsmen and rural farming communities across the country he stressed that the grazing bill is laden with potentially explosive provisions.

Antagonists of the bill have questioned the preferential treatment for the Fulani cattle rearers. They wonder why the Federal Government would be  creating land for them whereas such gesture is not extended to cocoa and kolanut farmers from the South in Sokoto or Katsina, or creating farm lands for Agatu yam farmers in Enugu or Maiduguri, or creating special areas for fish farming in Zungeru.

Infact, the thinking among many communities that are feeling the heat of the herdsmen attacks is that allocating such farmlands for them will be tantamount to giving them the yam and knife and the passport to usurp it from them. Gani Adams, one of the founders of Oodua People’s Congress, OPC is also against the bill based on the antecedents of reported cases of  herdsmen killing and maiming members of the community where they graze their cattle.

The establishment of Jaiz Islamic Bank in 2012 is seen by some Christians as another product of the several measures the Islamic promoters are adopting to spread their tentacles across Nigeria and eventually wipe out christianity. Inspite of the initial protest from many Christians and clerics like Archbishop Olubunmi Okogie (rtd), the Sharia- complaint bank which has the support of muslim elites began operation in Abuja with a branch and has already spread into Kano and Kaduna and Lagos is expected to spread into other states across the country in the coming years according to its Chairman Alhaji Umaru Muttalab. Currently Jaiz Bank is the only full-fledged non-interest Islamic bank in Nigeria.

The magazine was informed in the core Northern states where female pupils wear hijab to schools that are not even Islamic schools, that incidentally, the wearing of Hijab by female students has been brought down South to Osun State courtesy of a ruling by an Osun High court that female Muslim students  have a right to wear hijab to any school. Even as controversy is still raging on the development, Barrister Victor Ukutt, a Lagos based lawyer say those promoting the Islamisation of Nigeria are just using the hijab issue in Osun to test the waters before making it a national policy. He said given the antecedents of the current leadership, he would not doubt the possibility that soon wearing of hijab is allowed in all public schools in Nigeria.

Ukutt equally blame Christians for the problem they are now facing in the hands of Muslims. According to him, the Christians are not united like the Muslims. He said  Christians are so denomination conscious which has caused the big gulf among them which the Muslims have capitalised on. Beyond that, the legal practitioner said the doctrinal virtue of the Christian believe of leaving everything to God even in clear cases of attack has been noted as a weakness by Christians which Muslims are capitalising on. Hesuggested that it is high time Christians take the bull by the horn to defend their faith or the religion risk being extinct if current development under the current administration is anything to go by.

For Nenyi Kocha, a former banker, Nigeria was now ripe for restructuring, which he believe will bring all these conflict between the North and South on one hand and Christians and Muslims on the other hand to a close. He said it was imperative for President Buhari to take a look at the report of the 2014 National confab.

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