Christian Lecturer in Nigeria Disappears After Death Threat

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Muslim dress code stirs unrest in Kaduna and Kano states.

by Obed Minchakpu

ZARIA, Nigeria, June 8 (Compass) -- Andrew Akume, a Christian lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria city, Kaduna state, northern Nigeria, has disappeared since the issuance of a death sentence against him. A militant Muslim group at ABU passed the sentence on him claiming he blasphemed Mohammed, the prophet of Islam.

The death sentence for Akume, the university’s dean of the faculty of law, is contained in two fatwas (Islamic decrees) issued in the months of May and June by the “Concerned Muslims Movement” of ABU. In a circular entitled “Fatwa: The Resolutions,” distributed on the university campus, Akume was accused of “assault on Muslim sisters and blasphemy against Allah and Islam.” Akume asked a Muslim female student not to wear the hijab (head-to-toe covering) because it hid the identity of the student from lecturers and students. According to Akume, the student disregarded the Council for Legal Education’s dress code for law students by wearing the Islamic dress.

The second fatwa issued said, “Our earlier fatwa holds, and it is a time bomb which will explode in a few days’ time.” The circular, which contained no dates or names, accused Akume of blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed and of making the faculty of law at the university a “hell for Muslims.”

Shortly before his disappearance, Akume submitted a petition to the authorities of ABU denying the accusations made against him by the militant Muslim group. According to the Christian lecturer, he harbors no ill-feelings against Muslim students and he never assaulted any of them.

“I was only trying to live up to my responsibility as the dean of the faculty of law by enforcing the dress code for law students prescribed by the Council of Legal Education in Nigeria and approved by Nigerian universities’ law faculties. The dress code instructed that only approved dresses be used by law students. Veils and religious dresses were not approved for these students,” Akume stated in his petition.

The Rev. Eugene Ogu, chairman of the Pentecostal arm of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Rivers state, Nigeria, told Compass today that the death sentence is capable of aggravating the already tense religious atmosphere in Nigeria.

“A situation whereby government and security agencies turn blind eyes and ears to the persecution of Christians in northern Nigeria is not acceptable to the Christian leadership in this country,” Ogu told Compass.

Christians Forced to Wear Islamic Dress

Meanwhile in Kano state, Christians are being held to Islamic law in the way they dress. On May 16 at a Muslim forum in the city of Kano, Governor Malam Ibrahim Shekarau ordered that all Christians in the state must dress in accordance with Islamic tenets. The order was sent to Christian churches and institutions in the state.

Shekarau said, “All Christians in Kano are henceforth prohibited from dressing the way they like. Their dressing must reflect the culture and religion of Islam.”

According to the governor, the implementation of the dress code will start in schools across the state immediately then be extended to everyone. Such dresses approved for women by the government, he said, include head coverings and long flowing robes that cover from head to toe. Some of the schools have already enforced the Islamic dress code.

The Rt. Rev. Zakka Nyam, the Anglican Bishop of Kano, has accused the state government of persecuting Christians. In an interview with Compass in Kano city on June 3, Nyam said Christians in the state have been denied land to build churches, made to imbibe Islamic culture, and at various times have been killed and their churches destroyed.

“Let me cite an example of the kind of problems we have faced here in Kano. We have been forced by the government not to build our church at Fagge, 23 years after its foundation was laid. The government of Kano state has said it would not permit the building of the church,” Nyam said.

“Religious discrimination still takes prominence here in Kano. We are being persecuted and deprived of places of worship in Kano state, despite the fact that we, Christians, have been living in peace with the Muslims,” Nyam explained.