Some members of Livingstone Explorer International Initiative, a non-profit organisation, were arrested and detained by the police on Saturday while on medical outreach in the Dange Shuni Local Government Area of Sokoto State.
The team, which had earlier sought and received approval to bring in medical supplies for residents of the area, distributed free drugs for malaria, typhoid, skin rash and other ailments as part of their end-of-the-year activities.
However, midway into their medical outreach in the local government area, members of the team in company with some National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members were accused of having ulterior motives by handing out medicines to residents without the knowledge and approval of the state’s health ministry.
Some leaders of the community went on to accuse the medical team of trying to convert their people to Christians by distributing audio bibles to them.
After calls were made to the Commissioner for Health in the state and other officials, four members of the medical team were arrested and detained by policemen from the Dange Shuni Divisional headquarters.
They were accused among others of violating the religious code of the region by distributing bibles to Muslim residents.
Corps members in the team were released to go after identifying themselves with their NYSC cards.
Narrating the ordeal of members of the team in the Sokoto community, Bwaseh Gankwe, one of the coordinators of Livingstone Explorer International Initiative, disclosed that they were held by the police from Saturday afternoon until about 9:00 pm on Sunday before being released following the intervention of the Christian Association of Nigeria chairman in the state.
He disclosed that they were harassed and humiliated purely for being a Christian group and not because of the free drugs they distributed to the people in the Sokoto community.
He said, “It is the first time in all the medical outreach that we have conducted that we were treated like this.
“We have had the same programme in Yobe, Taraba and other states in the North without any issues; we don’t understand why the situation was different in Sokoto.
“Some of the community leaders after speaking with the Commissioner for Health in the state ordered the police to arrest and detain our members for more than a day simply because audio bibles were distributed to some of the residents with smartphones.
“Despite informing the community head about four times of our outreach and even getting approval to come, some of the leaders still accused us of having ulterior motives.
“But we later came to know that they were angry with us for giving their people bibles. One of the policemen gave us this information. They were angry that we wanted to convert their people to Christians but this was never our plan.
“If not for the intervention of the CAN chairman in Sokoto, our people could have spent Sunday in the police cell as well for committing no offence.”
Spokesperson for the police in Sokoto State, Sanusi Abubukar, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, expressed strong doubts over the incident, stating that policemen in the state could not do such a thing.
He said, “I doubt if policemen will do such. We have freedom of religion in Nigeria, so I doubt if such can happen. I will investigate but I am not sure it can happen here in Sokoto.”
Sokoto, located in Nigeria’s North-West region, is a predominantly Muslim society and home to Sultan Sa'adu Abubakar, the spiritual leader of all Muslims in the country.