Persecution Memo Sent to Nigeria's Reform Conference

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Christian leaders express concern about Islamic institutions.

by Obed Minchakpu

ABUJA, Nigeria, June 14 (Compass) -- Christian leaders in northern Nigeria submitted a memorandum to the nation’s National Political Reform Conference on Thursday, June 9, cataloguing cases of persecution and discrimination against Christians.

The National Political Reform Conference is expected to draft a revised constitution which will then be presented to Nigeria’s president, Olusegun Obasanjo. The conference, which began on February 21 and goes until June 21, gathered 400 delegates from across the country to Abuja, the country’s federal capital city.

Archbishop Peter Jatau and Elder Saidu Dogo, chairman and secretary respectively of the northern Nigeria chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), expressed concern in the memorandum that while the Nigerian constitution professes a secular status for the nation, state governments in northern Nigeria are Islamic institutions whose main task is to promote and propagate Islam using public funds.

Twelve northern Nigerian states are presently implementing the Islamic legal system (sharia). Since the introduction of sharia in the past five years, tens of thousands of lives are reported to have been lost in religious conflicts in northern Nigeria alone.

Jatau and Dogo say in the memorandum that discriminatory religious policies have led to the denial of land for the building of churches, denial of media coverage for Christian propagation and activities, and denial of Christian religious instruction in schools.

A copy of the memorandum given to Compass by Dogo says, “CAN is sad to say that most states in the North have denied Christians land to build places of worship. In some of these states [including Kano state], land has not been given or allocated to our members to build churches in the past 35 years. The denial of such land to build places of worship is a way of causing religious disharmony in the country and most especially in the northern states.

“Christians in the north have not been given equal opportunity in the state-owned, national media organizations to propagate or evangelize our faith. Even sponsored Christian programs are denied coverage in both state and national electronic media in states like Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, and Katsina, among others,” the Christian leaders added.

“As important as moral instruction is, CAN has observed that Christian students in most northern states are being denied teachers of Christian Religious Knowledge [in comparison to] the massive employment of Islamic teachers. This discrepancy is heightening tension in this part of the country,” the memorandum stated.

The Christian leaders added, “Our mission schools have been taken over by the government without compensation. We demand that states which took over these schools should return them.”

In their memorandum to the country’s national Political Reform Conference, the northern Christian leaders are demanding that all provisions for religious laws in the Nigerian constitution be removed, that persecution of Christians in the country be stopped, and that all Nigerians be given equal opportunity in the country.

President Olusegun Obasanjo stated in a nationwide radio and television broadcast on February 14 that he believes the Political Reform Conference provides, “… one major chance that we all have to be part of history, to put all our cards on the table, to discuss as one family, engage in exchange of ideas, vigorous debate and innovative involvement in shaping the future of our nation.”

The reform conference has seven major issues on its agenda for discussion. These include the constitution, political parties, elections, judiciary, civil society, structure of government, and consensus building.