THE observance today worldwide of the International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief holds special significance for Nigeria where sectarian extremism is flourishing and spilling rivers of blood. The United Nations designated August 22 each year to draw global attention to religion-fuelled violence, the plight of its victims and how to stop the scourge. Nigerians need to work especially hard and sincerely to stop violent religious bigots.
The UN and activists use the day to advocate against all forms of intolerance and discrimination while promoting the need for inter-religious, inter-faith, and inter-cultural dialogue to fight religious hatred and violence.
The UN noted that more than a quarter of the world has experienced increased hostilities motivated by religious hostility since 2018, including mob violence, terrorism, and harassment of women.
Nigeria has become one of the worst scenes of religious intolerance expressed in violence and cruel acts of persecution and discrimination. For instance, a United States State Department survey ranks Nigeria as one of the countries where Christians face persecution in certain parts of the country.
Religious persecution is perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. In Ilorin, Kwara State, amid threats of violence by Islamic groups, the state and federal authorities in concert with non-state actors, have mobilised all the state apparatus to deny traditional religion adherents their fundamental right to celebrate a rite.
Since 2000, sectarian riots have led to the death of over 2,000 persons say rights groups. Over 200 persons were killed in Kano in 2001 when Muslim fanatics, egged on by clerics, accused a journalist of publishing a blasphemous story ahead of the Ms World contest scheduled for the city, placed a fatwa on her and rampaged through several northern cities.
In 2007, a teacher, Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, was lynched by her own students and religious fanatics in Gombe on the unproven allegation that she desecrated the Koran.
Boko Haram terrorists attacked a girls’ secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, and kidnapped 276 girls, most of them Christians, whom they later forcibly converted and married. Another terror group, ISWAP, replicated this in Dapchi, Yobe State, where they kidnapped 110 girls, whom they later released for a ransom except Leah Sharibu, who refused to renounce her Christian faith.
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In May 2022, a 200-level Christian student at a college of education in Sokoto State, Deborah Yakubu, was lynched by a Muslim mob after accusing her of blasphemy.
In 12 northern states where in defiance of the 1999 Constitution, criminal aspects of Sharia law have been adopted, the Hisbah religious police destroy alcoholic beverages, constrain individual rights, and destroy businesses premises on faith grounds.
Over the years, the religious intolerance and the politicisation of religion have pushed Nigeria firmly into the vortex of international Islamic terrorism. Boko Haram, ISWAP, Ansaru and other spin-offs have helped rank Nigeria as the world’s third most terrorised country. Together, they have killed over 100,000 persons since 2009 and displaced over 1.2 million others, wrecked entire communities, and denied over 500,000 children of schooling.
With impunity, state and non-state actors are forcefully and violently challenging Nigeria’s status as secular state. Today is therefore another clarion call on lovers of freedom and democracy to renew and scale up their push-back against religious bigots and their violent iterations to all legal means.
The constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantee freedom of religion or belief, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association, which are all interrelated and mutually reinforcing.
The Federal Government has a duty to enforce these rights, and defend citizens when they come under attack, either by state or non-state actors. There must be even-handedness in all official dealings. The states which continue to weaponise religion and run Hisbah are violating the supreme law and the rights of others.
Together, religious extremists, cynical politicians and terrorists are pushing Nigeria towards implosion and state failure; they should apply the brakes today and work for harmonious coexistence among Nigeria’s diverse ethnic nationalities and faiths. ,
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