Religious Conflicts: Religious intolerance is not new in Nigeria. It existed during the period of colonization but in mild form, until about the past three decades when the religious fundamentalists got out of control.
The first violent Religious Conflicts was by a Cameroonian, operating in Nigeria called Muhammadu Marwa, alias Maitasine, which occurred in December 1980 at kano. The fanatical riot of the Muslems claimed about 4,177 lives, many wounded and property worth billions of Naira destroyed. In 1981, it was another bomb shell at Bulum-kutu-Maiduguri. This second Religious Conflicts took about 400 lives and property worth millions of Naira destroyed. In the same year, there was a riot by the Kano Muslim students, which claimed two (2) lives.
The third and fourth Religious Conflicts occurred in 1982 and 1984 when about 2,113 and 400 lives were lost respectively. The Maitatsine Mayhem in Kano seemed to has been forgotten when another similar violent bigotry occurred in 1984 claiming about 700 lives. An April 1985, a group of Muslims in Lagos numbering about 600 were in organized movement against their targets when they were dispersed by the 9th Mechanized Brigade at Ikeja.
On May 3 1986, some Muslim students went on rampage at the University of sokoto and destroyed property worth millions of Naira leaving many Christian students wounded. On May 5 of the same year, some fanatical Muslim students attempted to burn down the sculpture of the “Risen Christ” in the Chapel of Resurrection of the Unviersity of Ibadan. In 1986, the then Federal Military Government of Nigeria, headed by General Ibrahim Badamosi Baangida registered Nigeria as a member of Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).
IBB was quite aware that Nigeria is a multi Religious Conflicts state, yet he went ahead and registered Nigeria in OIC with impunity. This singular action of the Military religious fundamentalist, spur much reaction from Christians in the country but was diplomatically handled by the Christian leaders. That same year in the month of March, the Muslim fanatics attacked Christians who were on a Palm Sunday procession in Ilorin, which many Christians were wounded and many churches burnt.
In March 1987, another religious conflict occurred in Kafanchan. Just like harmattan fir it spread to Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Zaria and Funtua. Casualties were in thousands and properties destroyed were checked in billions of Naira. The uprising was so intense that the then Military president of the country General Babangida was startled and called it “the civilian equivalent of an attempted coup d’ etat organized against the Federal Government and the Nigerian people. The riot forced many southerners residing in the North home.
Peace prevailed in the country for some years and the people thought that the Religious Conflicts fundamentalists, who use violence to achieve their selfish desires have repented. Unexpectedly, another heart breaking Religious Conflicts occurred in katsina and gradually diffused to Bauchi.
In katsina, Malam Yakubu Yahaya and his followers held people in hostage under the guise of religion. It was in Bauchi that the worst happened, where over 30 churches, several shops and hotels were set ablaze and many of the southerners in the North back to their homes. The fragile unity of the country remained in a serious threat.
In October 1991, the Izala Muslim sect in kano, mobilized themselves against the planned crusade to be held by a German-born Pentecostal Evangelist, Rev. Reinhard Bonnke. As usual, the protesters poured venom on the lives and property of the Christians and non-indigenes and much tears shaded for great lost. Another Religious Conflicts bloody clash in 1995 occurred in Kano where one Gideon Akaluka was beheaded for using a tore Koran page to pack excreta. This left behind a chilling tale of woes.
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Peace reigned for few years and Nigerians were on steadfast prayers for its continuity until the year 2000 when some political class desperadoes woke the sleeping dog. On Monday 21st February 2000, Kaduna went into flame following the proposed adoption of Sharia Law in the state. Foe three days there was anarchy in Kaduna leaving in its trail wanton destruction of lives and property. Reports had it that about 3000 persons were butchered, churches, mosques, public and private buildings, vehicles and stores worth billions of naira were burnt (Chukwuemezie 2003).
When many trailers loads of dead bodies (many were headless and pregnant women had their wombs ripped open) from Kaduna arrived daily at various states of the East, the youths in Onisha (Anambra) and Aba (Abia) whom their relations were victims, angrily embarked on repreasal attack on Northerners residing in those places, killing many of them, mosques and their properties destroyed.
In 2004, there was the Religious Conflicts disruption by the Muslim fanatics in Ilorin of Reinhard Bonnke’s revival. The alleged cartoon of Prophet Mohammadu brought about riots in various states of the North such as Maiduguri, Bauchi, Sokoto, Kantoagora, Gombe, Katsina.
The riots started on February 18, 2006, claiming many lives of their main targets- Christians. Property, churches and businesses, belonging to Igbos were destroyed (Icheku 2006).
The Religious Conflicts/ religious intolerance take different dimensions in the Northern states. For example, in Zamfara State, an Anglican clergy complained his inability to get land and erect a church. Similar treatment is given to Christians in other core Muslim States such as Sokoto, Borno, Kebbi, Katsina, Kano, and Gombe.
Even Christian religion is not taught in public schools just as State Radio Houses refuse on instruction to air Christian programmes (Otti 2006). In similar fanaticism, Nwaizu (2002 p. 11) in Ezeme (2007 p. 311) observed that in Sokoto State, many Christian children of Hausa origin were refused education in government schools.
The pertinent questions to ask are- Are we still one Nigeria? Is freedom of religion no more one of our fundamental human rights? Have we gotten two constitutions in Nigeria?
If we have only one constitution in our country, what then is Sharia Legal system all about? Why should the Christians living in Muslim states be continuously molested just because they are not Muslims?
On October 27 1999, the former governor of Zamfara State Alhaji Ahmed, Sani Yerima ordered the members of the State House of Assembly to consider the introduction of Sharia Legal system in the state (where both Muslims and Christians live).
This is the man who took “Oath of Allegiance” to the constitution of the country and “Oath of office” .. On January 27, 2000, the Sharia law was signed into force in Zamfara State. Note that when one commits offence, he would be tried and prosecuted according to the Sharia. Law. No more the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Some stipulations of Sharia law include:
- The worship of any other god outside Allah is apostasy;
- Males and females are forbidden from mixing up in public places (buses, school, etc)
- The sale and drinking of alcohol are forbidden.
- While are these conditions worrisome? The law is applicable to every person
in the state whether Muslim or not. Then where lies the fundamental human right of the citizen?
- Right to freedom of religion and worship;
- Right to freedom of association;
- Right to liberty and private life.
The Christians in the state are forced to obey the law, otherwise be amputated,
publicly flogged, or stoned to death as the case may be, -Sharia Law!
We should remember that it was such attempt to introduce the law in Kaduna State, that brought about riot which claimed thousands of lives and property worth millions of Naira destroyed.
Truly we are enjoying our democracy but I know that it has not liberated us from obeying the constitution of the country or adopt any other law in legal cases. Why then is this Sharia Law? And the then Federal Government of Nigeria did not file a suit in the law court against such blatant violation of the constitution. All these are forms of religious intolerance.