Ethno-religious liberty under attack in Nigeria

October 8th, 2013

Ethno-religious liberty under attack in Nigeria

Nigeria is a Country where over 800 ethnic groups coexist. However, with the imposition of Sharia, a divide is being created along ethnic and religious grounds. Nigeria’s Constitution prohibits adoption of a State Religion in order to prevent such a division, but in 1999 twelve States out of thirty-six adopted Sharia law, a detailed system of religious Islamic laws which cover all aspects of life. The existence of two parallel sets of laws in these states often provides grounds to disregard constitutional provisions and authorities. Furthermore, the application of Sharia Law in a multi-religious and a multi-ethnic society, infringes on the rights of Non-Muslims. Some Northern Nigerian Muslims are striving to impose Sharia supremacy in the region and it has become increasingly impossible to establish and maintain social relationships across the region.

It is taken for granted that Nigeria, as a democratic State, grants to all its citizens certain rights such as right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom from discrimination and the like. These are clearly provided for in the Nation’s Constitution, which entitles every citizen to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including freedom to change such. Students are protected from receiving religious instructions outside their religion which is not approved by their parents or guardians. Religious communities or denominations are also granted freedom to provide religious instructions for their pupils in any place of education, maintained wholly by that community or religion.

However, in most Muslim states, local authorities have often neglected the policing of these provisions and Muslims from the twelve Sharia States have taken advantage of this to marginalise non-Muslims. An Islamist Ideology has been promoted which not only discourages integration with Non-Muslims but actively encourages Jihad.

A culture of discrimination on grounds of religion, belief and non-belief has become widespread in Northern Nigeria,  visible in the ongoing violence in many parts of northern Nigeria.  In addition to the violence, there have been of incidences of political exclusion and economical marginalization of minority communities, including unequal access to government incentives and the denial of access to social rights and justice. The indigenous Muslims also fall victims to the fundamentalists, who do not consider them true Muslims because of their ethnic loyalties.

A radical group called Boko Haram, advocating strict Islamic rule in Nigeria, emerged from the North Eastern States in 2009. Boko Haram, which means ‘Western education is sin’, employs the terror of suicide bombing and gang guerrilla siege for its campaign. They target schools, churches, police stations, government buildings and public places. Their aim is to eliminate any presence of Non-Muslims in Northern Nigeria and evolve political leaders who would in turn help to expand Sharia over the country.

On 14th of May, 2013 the country’s President declared an emergency rule in over three north eastern states in order to tackle the persistent activities of Boko Haram in the region.  However the Joint Task Force military effort has not eradicated the killings, many people have been displaced, and those still in Nigeria continue to plead for support from the government.

About 431 major instances of attacks on Christians in North and Central Nigeria were recorded from February 28th, 2010 to June 29th, 2013. These attacks were responsible for the deaths of 1074 Christians and other non-Muslims, with the highest concentration in Plateau State. This is a predominately Christian area, indicating the attackers’ prejudices against Christians and ethnic minority people in the region.

attackYakubu Dauda, who survived a Boko Haram attack narrated his ordeal. According to Yakubu, the Islamists found him sleeping in his house near Potiskum in Yobe State; they demanded money and took all of his valuables. Yakubu thought that would be all but then they told him that they were Boko Haram members and that they had come to kill him. “They tied my hands at my back and lay me, face down, on my bed and began mutilating my body with a knife.” said Yakubu.  Yakubu’s attackers thought he was dead and abandoned him in his pool of blood but miraculously, he survived. Yakubu narrated how he was abandoned by the Muslim medical workers when he managed to get himself to the hospital. He finally attracted the sympathy of a female nurse who helped him.

The situation in Northern Nigeria has been persistently misrepresented. Some have chosen to present the violence as having economic motives and this has continued to mask Islamist action. Unless the world becomes aware of what is happening, liberty will continue to be weakened until we reach the point of no return.


Mark Lipdo

By Mark Lipdo

Mark works for the Stefanos Foundation, a Christian, indigenous Nigerian initiative working to intervene in the situation in Nigeria. As a Human Rights Advocacy, Relief, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Organisation, Stefanos is dedicated to making the voice of the persecuted Christians heard as well as giving practical care and support in their most desperate situation. You can learn more at www.stefanosfoundation.org

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