Persecution Forces Nigerians Christians to Flee to Cameroon

Friday, March 2, 2001

by Obed Minchakpu

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Compass) -- Dozens of Nigerian Christian families have fled to Nigeria's neighbor, Cameroon, because of mounting pressure resulting from the implementation of the Islamic legal system, or "sharia," by the Borno state government.

The Christians are from the Wuka ethnic group, who are largely found in the villages of Wula, Warabe, Dure, Kughum, and Wala, in the Gwoza area of Borno state. In Dure village alone, more than three dozen Christian families are said to have fled to the northern part of Cameroon.

"Our leaders have gone to Cameroon and obtained permission for us to settle in their villages, to enable us to escape persecution that we are facing from the Muslims here," Mallam Jahode Kura, a Christian community leader in the area, told Compass.

He added, "Already 40 Christian families left the village today to start work on the huts we shall build to accommodate us. We want to live where we can be free as long as we are law abiding people."

Borno state adopted the Islamic legal system in August 2000. When signing the sharia bill into law, State Governor Alhaji Mala Kachalla said that the application of sharia would be exclusively directed to Muslims.

But the migration of Nigerians in the Gwoza area of the state is a clear indication of the impact of sharia on Christians in northern Nigeria.

"Considering the fact that democracy is a government of the people, for the people and by the people, the occasion is, therefore, the government's response to the yearnings of the majority of our people who harbor legitimate aspiration to live a life of compliance with the sharia within the Federal Republic of Nigeria," Governor Kachalla, a Muslim, said last August.

However, Christian leaders said sharia is unacceptable to the state's Christians. They have demanded that all areas where Christians live should be declared "sharia free zones."

The Rev. Filibus Gwama, Borno state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, believes the adoption of sharia is a strategy to checkmate Christianity in Nigeria.

Anglican Bishop Emmanuel Kana Mani of Maiduguri said, "There is no compulsion in religion and that is why it is wrong for some people to try to force others to see things from their own religious perspective. If God wants all of us to be Muslims, no mortal can be otherwise, and if He wants us to be Christians, it will have come to pass. I see it therefore as a fallacy to say one will legislate righteousness. It is a thing of the divine."

Chairman of the Baptist Conference, the Rev. Stephen Ayankeye, said in spite of the government's repeated assurances that sharia is only for the Muslims, Christians in the state have been negatively affected.

"It is said that sharia is for Muslims only, but we have received reports of pulling down of churches and molestation of Christians across the state. It means that the claim that sharia will not affect Christians is not true. It has started affecting us. There is a feeling of lacking of belonging among Christians in the state," Rev. Ayankeye said.

Copyright © 2001 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.