As Christians in Nigeria continue to suffer violent attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists, they are also facing official opposition as the authorities enforce an Islamist agenda in a number of states.
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In Kano state, sharia law is being imposed on all citizens, including Christians. Islamic police are deploying 10,000 officers to ensure that rules regarding “indecent dress” and gender mixing are enforced.
They are particularly targeting rickshaw taxi drivers; these tend to be young men who wear shorts and sleeveless T-shirts, which are considered to breach the dress rules. Drivers who carry men and women together in their vehicles will also face arrest.
Nine of Nigeria’s 37 states have introduced sharia law since 2000, but they interpret it differently and impose it to various degrees of strictness. Three other states have introduced sharia only for Muslims who want to use it in matters of family law.
In Borno state, the authorities have announced a plan to demolish 25 churches and Christian schools, ostensibly to make room for new housing. But no development plans have been produced, and Christian leaders believe that this is actually another attempt to persecute the Christian minority.
The Rev. Musa Asake, General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said:
There are other places where the state government can develop. The areas earmarked for demolition are already developed with churches and schools. Christians have already suffered enough in Borno state.
He also questioned a strategy in Osun state in south-western Nigeria, where Christians are a majority and are not currently subjected to Islamist violence, to mix Muslim students with their Christian counterparts in missionary schools. Dr Asake said that this was part of a grand plan by the state governor to Islamise Osun and systematically silence Christians.
Christians in Northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt continue to suffer merciless violence at the hands of militant Islamist group Boko Haram and other Muslim extremists.
One of the worst-affected towns this year has been Kafanchan in Kaduna state. A senior church leader told Barnabas Aid that Kafanchan has “become a theatre of ethno-religious crisis… which has led to the untimely death of many innocent people and destruction of properties worth billions of naira (currency of Nigeria)”. He said that it had “been engineered and perpetrated by the Muslim community whose agenda is to dominate the area and rule the larger population of Christians”.
The violence broke out in March, prompting church leaders to issue a cry for help to the authorities. But they initially failed to provide protection, and attacks against Christians have continued almost unabated. Around 100 have been killed, over 500 homes destroyed and more than 10,000 people displaced.
The church leader described a number of recent incidents. A Christian man named Asa Zakka was brutally murdered in a machete attack on 16 September. Two Christians who were attacked with machetes three days earlier were badly injured but survived. On 24-25 September, the Christian residents of Tajak were forced to flee their homes as armed Fulani Muslim herdsmen laid siege to the village; a number of properties were burnt down (pictured).
The church leader said that the crisis came to a critical point last month and that the security forces worked hard to bring the situation under control by imposing a curfew on Kafanchan. He said that this had proven effective in preventing further planned violence, and he commended their efforts.