by Obed Minchakpu
LAGOS, Nigeria (Compass) -- The head of the Nigerian Bible Society recently released the casualty figures of Christians killed and churches destroyed during the February and May religious clashes between Muslims and Christians in Kaduna, the capital city of northern Nigeria's Kaduna state.
Rev. Dr. Fred Odutola, secretary-general of the Nigeria Bible Society, reported that about 875 Christians were killed in Kaduna alone during the religious conflicts. In addition, he said 800 churches were burned or demolished.
Odutola also told journalists in Lagos on October 5 that the government of Nigeria must address the issue of "sharia" (Islamic law), since it is detrimental to the peaceful co-existence of the different religions in the country.
He said the Bible Society of Nigeria could not keep silent when Christians are being persecuted and church buildings destroyed. Odutola believes the implementation of sharia in some northern states is aimed at the gradual Islamization of the whole country. He called on the government of Nigeria to find a lasting solution to the issue, so as not to allow a repeat of the Kaduna crisis.
"Christians are not ready to relegate any group. Similarly, we will not in the name of sharia become second-class citizens in Nigeria," he said.
In spite of the high casualty figures, the Kaduna state government still plans to fully implement the Islamic legal system.
Governor Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi has sent a bill for the introduction and implementation of sharia to the state legislature. In a statewide radio and television broadcast on October 11, the governor said the bill will "provide for the constitution of sharia courts and make further provisions for the administration of justice in Kaduna State."
However, in hopes of avoiding further conflicts, Makarfi said that a separate court system, called customary courts, would also be established so that non-Muslims can make use of them for adjudication.
"Sharia and customary courts would be put in place across the state on the basis of need to handle matters on the basis of faith, norms, customs and traditions of our people," he said. Makarfi stressed that such a modification (establishing customary courts) is aimed at accommodating divergent religious and socio-cultural practices of various communities in the state.
But other Muslims, particularly the Islamic leadership in the state, are not happy with the decision to allow other law courts to exist side by side with the sharia courts.
Muslim groups under the umbrella of the Muslim Ummah (Council) have been meeting and making plans to oppose the government's decision and they insist that sharia alone becomes the state's legal system.
Regardless, Mr. Barnabas Bala, a Christian and chairman of Kaura Local Government Council of Kaduna State, told Compass that Christian leaders in the state have met and have resolved not to accept the implementation of sharia.
"The resolution ... was that we (Christians) of Kaduna state are totally resisting the introduction of sharia as being proposed by the State House of Assembly. We totally resist it because we deliberated upon it and concluded that it was immoral, unconstitutional, and undemocratic," Bala said.
The Kaura Council chairman said the opposition of Christians to sharia is anchored on the fact that they would be marginalized and their religious liberty infringed upon.
2000 Copyright Compass News Direct, Used with Permission.