More than before, contemporary Nigerian society has been beset with religious conflicts that have threatened to tear the fabric of the country’s unity. To a large extent, one can say that Nigeria of the past boasted of religious flexibility and tolerance for many years. However, recently, it seems to have been shelved as gruesome stories relating to religion rear their ugly heads frequently, causing loss of lives. One can say that a curious feature of today Nigerian society is religious intolerance, most especially in the Northern and the Middle Belt regions of the country.
Religious fanaticism in the Northern part of Nigeria has been hidebound and its spread is unbridled. Religious violence has been unleashed on many innocent citizens of this country, that one wonders if Nigeria is truly a secular country which gives room for religious freedom. There is palpable apprehension among the citizens due to the Boko Haram insurgencies in the different parts of the Northern region. For over seven years, cities like Maiduguri, Bauchi, Damaturu and Gombe have being bedevilled with fear due to the Boko Haram insurgencies. Religious intolerance prevails in the country and this is an abuse of human rights.
Religious intolerance usually originates from the perceived superiority of one religion over the others. In simple terms, religious intolerance or fanaticism is the inability of an adherent of a particular religion to acknowledge, accommodate and accept the right of others to live by another faith different from his own. Invariably, such attitude is connected to the conviction that one’s religion is the only divinely ordained path to spiritual enlightenment and immorality in heaven. Consequently, a religious fanatic believes strongly that his religion is unquestionably superior to other religions. It is good to point out that being zealous for one’s religion is commendable and is to be expected, but where such zeal is wrongly channelled, it becomes dangerous for the life of the community and it is an abuse of human rights. There is no disputing in the fact that the problem of religious violence casts a serious doubt to the stability order of the country. This is because without doubt, the country has recorded very bizarre experience in the domain of religious violence.
The high rate of killings due to religious intolerance in many parts of the country is worrisome. A great concern at this alarming phenomenon is informed by the recent slaughter of Rev Lawani Andimi which was attacked by Boko Haram at Michika in Adamawa state, though he was declared missing, later he appeared in a Video released by Boko Haram on 5th of January, in which he pleaded with authorities to secure his release. The terrorists had demanded a ransom of 2million Euros and were offered N50million, which they rejected before beheading the cleric. Indeed, the insurgents had the effrontery to call the wife of the slain Pastor that they will kill her husband on Saturday, but they delayed until Monday. The governments need to inhibit the superfluous of this religious intolerance and chauvinism among the people of this country. There is also another story of an evangelist, Mr Akinyemi Oladapo, a known soul winner in the Southwest who was brutally attacked for his role in converting many Muslims to Christianity. It was reported that luck ran out for Oladapo when he became the spiritual father for one Mr Mobolaji Akingbade, the son of a popular Islamic scholar. He ran away to Abeokuta where he was attacked by some unknown assailants reminding him that he has no hiding place in the country. Since then, he has never been seen again. What is so special in converting a Muslim to Christian, the Qur’an 2:256, it stated that “there is no compulsion in Religion. Why now killing ourselves in the name of religion and we need not to fight ourselves for the course of any religious.
We should not forget in jiffy too the extrajudicial murder of a 75-year-old woman, Mrs. Bridget Agbaheme, a Christian and trader at Kofar Wambai market, in Kano, who was beaten to death by irate youths after accusing her of blasphemy against Islam and also Mrs. Eunice Elisha of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Kubwa, Abuja, who was killed recently for preaching. Before Nigerians could comprehend the motive behind such barbarity, another Christian and carpenter at Kakuri area of Kaduna metropolis, Mr. Emmanuel Francis was mobbed and stabbed severally by some Muslim youths for failing to observe the Ramadan fast. Definitely, such primitive acts do not present Nigeria in positive light before the international community. Legal opinions have it that, while the above examples may be considered criminal acts, they are largely considered to have religious undertones. There is no denying the fact that many people now see the country as hostage to religious extremism.
It was on the 20th January, 2020, that the so-called Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), an offshoot of the Boko Haram terrorists group, released a Video showing the execution of Ropvil Daciya Dalep, a 22-years-old Christian student from Plateau State, Nigeria, by minor. Rapvil Daciya was from Jing village in Pankshin Local Government Area of Plateau who was studying Biology at the University of Maiduguri. He was kidnapped on January 9 in Borno State along with other two students one of whom was a 20-years-old Zoology student from Plateau, Lilian Daniel Gyang, while they were returning to the University after the Christmas. The video shows Dalep calmly kneeling down while a masked child stands behind him wielding a pistol. Before shooting Ropvil, the under-aged child, obviously acting on instruction, chanted in Arabic, and then spoke in Hausa. Indeed, it was pathetic to have killed a person in such cruel manners by human being. What a life?
Nigeria, like many other countries, is a secular country going by her Constitution. A quick look at the 1999 Amended Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shows that in Section 38 (1) and also Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right, state that: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” Furthermore, Section 10 of the same Constitution states: “the Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State religion.” It therefore bears restating that the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and no one should be victimized for their beliefs. The multiple religions in the country give every citizen the right opportunity to choose which faith is convenient. Therefore, freedom of faith must be defended at all cost, even when those in authority are not convenient with it.
Religious intolerance poses a great threat to human rights. Human rights apply to all irrespective of colour, gender, sex, religion, health status, dress, socio-economic status, etc. This threat is not simply because of the specific acts of fundamentalist groups which may be recognized as concrete violations of human rights standards; the real threat comes from the political aims or the political project that is at the heart of fundamentalisms, which is essentially to transform the way identities are ascribed and negotiated. The human rights question is about us having rights as human beings. The fundamentalist claim is very different: it is about ascribing humanity on the basis of a certain religious claim which has to be legitimated by certain authorities, and which in turn lays down a whole set of other obligations and subject relationships with self and others to a certain kind of regime.
Right to religious freedom is based on the inherent dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27), even in the Qur’an 2:256, it stated that “there is no compulsion in Religion, recent report of forcing Leah Sharibu to Islam and marriage too, is Unislamic, barbaric and therefore stand condemned. In the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, it is explicitly affirmed that the recognition of the dignity and the rights of the human person is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace, and that disregard and contempt for them are acts of barbarousness that offend the conscience of humankind. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Dignitatis Humanae, the Declaration on Religious Liberty, teach that the right of the individual and of communities to social and civil freedom in religious matters carries with it the right “to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”
The acts of insecurity in the country was brought about the concept of (Amotekun) in the South-Western region of the country, so as to complement the mainstream security agencies in the country, though, it was not a duplication or replacement for the Nigerian Police but it will give our people confidence that they are being looked after by those they elected into office. The insecurity of lives and property in recent times was the main reason behind the formation of the security outfits; we should remember that it was in the context of the unfortunate development that South westerners lost the daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti, the leader of Afenifere. That was why the governors in the South-West Zone flagged-off the operations of the Western Nigeria Security Network (Amotekun), to strengthen and complement the mainstream security agencies in the country without any hidden agenda, contrary to some unscrupulous speculations by ethnics group. This launching of this Amotekun will reduce or abate the killing of innocent people whether for rituals, religious intolerance or political reasons in the South-Western part of the country.
And conflict is a great predicament in any human society, and most times, it is predictable. In fact, history indicates that conflict is an on-going process in human relations and may occur within and among groups and communities. In the case of Nigeria, the frequency of religious conflicts in the northern part till date has left adverse effects on the socio-economic polity of the people. In the course of these conflicts, Christians have at a certain time, taken up weapons to counter the attack from the Muslims, claiming to do so in self-defence. We really need advocacy for ethical principles such as the common solidarity of humanity by origin, forgiveness and tolerance that could engender cordiality and understanding rather than sustained hostility and suspicion in Christian-Muslim relation in Nigeria.
Today, most of the world’s major conflicts are as a result of religious intolerance that has been left to fester into uncontrollable spiral of violence. We must restate that religious belief is fundamental to many human identities. It is part of the ways in which human beings experience the world around them. Hence all have the right to enjoy freedom to choose which religion that one is convenient with.
Orunbon, a journalist and public affairs analyst, can be reached via: [email protected]