On a Sunday morning, precisely 31st July, 2022, seven Christians were killed in an attack suspected to be carried out by Islamic militants in Plateau state. The gunmen fired sporadic shots while invading a Jos South Local Government Area Community, Danda Chugwi, in the dead of the night.
By the time the deadly sound of gunshots subsided and the fortunate ones still alive summoned courage to come out of their closets, seven persons were found dead. The seven dead were from two families according to an official of the Berom Youth Molders Association.
“The two persons who sustained gunshot injuries have been taken to the Vom Christian Hospital for immediate attention,” said Rwang Tengwong, the National Publicity Secretary of the association.
Few weeks before this attack, armed men had attacked La’ake, a predominantly Christian village in the North-Central state, displaced over 1,000 people and burnt down their houses and churches. According to eye witnesses, the attack started around 1:00am and it lasted over two hours without any intervention from law enforcement agents.
In a report on 15th May, 2022, the International Christian Concern described Nigeria as the world’s scariest country to be a Christian. The report stated, “Christian communities in the Middle Belt of Nigeria have effectively suffered a twenty-year long genocide.”
While Christians in the country allege persecution by Muslims, the same is also alleged by the Muslims against the Christians in Nigeria.
In August, militia suspected to be Christians attacked a convoy of Muslims traveling through Plateau State. The Muslims who numbered about 90 were attacked and according to the police, not less than 22 were killed while 14 were injured. The Muslims who were returning from Bauchi State in the Northeast of the country, were attacked along Rukuba Road on the outskirts of Jos, the Plateau state capital.
Less than two weeks after the attack, an Islamic cleric in the state, Alkali Abubakar Salihu Zaria, threatened to kill Christians if Muslims were attacked in the state again. Zaria who issued the threat while delivering a sermon said the lives of many Christians would be sacrificed in northern states of the country if his fellow worshipers are killed again.
Zaria said, “Here is my message to the infidels in Plateau and to Christian Association of Nigeria, Plateau and CAN Nigeria in general. I am the one speaking, I am Alkali Abubakar Salihu Zaria. I swear to God almighty, if such ever occur again, there are Christians in Kaduna state, there are Christians in Zamfara state, there are Christians in Sokoto state, there are Christians in Katsina, Kebbi. There are Christians in Gombe, Damaturu, Yobe and there are major roads. We will also block the roads, waylay Christian commuters.
“We are not fools and we are not afraid of anyone. If nothing is done, we will take the law into our own hands because no life is superior to others and I swear, compensation must be paid for the lives of the people lost,” he said.
The Plateau state is not the only state in Nigeria that witnesses religious clashes, especially between Christians and Muslims. In fact, the whole northern Nigeria is a hotbed of religious crisis.
The Muslim Right Concern (MURIC) alleged that Muslims in the southwest of Nigeria that is predominantly Yoruba are persecuted. The group said Muslims in that part of the country are denied their civil and religious rights. The group in a statement signed by its Director, Ishaq Akintola, said, “Sequel to the hijab brouhaha which broke out recently in the State of Osun and whose dust is yet to settle, the Lagos Headquarters of the MURIC has been inundated with complaints from concerned Muslims in Yorubaland.
“It is becoming clear that the areas of misunderstanding go beyond the issue of use of hijab by students in public schools. Though the central theme is still hijab, it has extended to persecution, stigmatization, deprivation and prevention of adult women in hijab from performing their civic responsibilities and enjoying social services and amenities provided for all citizens by the government,” Akintola claimed.
The relationship between Christians and Muslims in the country is rather soft and always at the edge of eruption. Extremists on both sides take advantage of insubstantial disagreement to foment violence. In May 2022, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education, Sokoto, Deborah Samuel, was accused of blasphemy and killed by a mob who were mainly her co-students on the school campus.
The late student was accused of making a social media post that blasphemed the Holy Prophet Muhammad. According to reports, she was forcefully removed by the angry mob from the security room where she was hidden by the school authorities, then stoned and killed.
Not only that this fragile relationship exists amongst adherents of the two religious bodies, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) on various occasions had pushed themselves to the tip of disharmony. In 2018, the CAN in a statement condemned what it termed the silence of the Sultan of Sokoto on the murderous activities of herdsmen, who are suspected to be of Fulani extraction. But in reaction, the NSCIA accused CAN of heating up the polity.
In 2012, a joint delegation of the World Council of Churches and the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought reported on the inter-religious tension in Nigeria. The group in its report said that the primary causes of the tension and conflict in Nigeria are not inherently based on religion but rather, “rooted in a complex matrix of political, social, ethnic, economic, and legal problems, among which the issue of justice or the lack of it looms large as a common factor.”
In spite of their occasional divided views on religious interests, the leadership of the two religions engage in inter-religious dialogue. The Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) was created due to the incessant ethno-religious crisis which punctuates the socio-political landscape of Nigeria. It provides religious and traditional leaders with a forum to promote interactions and understanding among the faithful of the two religions as well as lay foundations for peace and harmony in the country.
NIREC brings together the leadership of the two groups to engender peaceful coexistence and advance development of the country. In the face of all the challenges facing the country from the religious cleavages, there are those who believe that NIREC may have lost its voice and value.
There is the need for the council to work hard in ensuring that peace and harmony reign in the country; this responsibility in spite being that of the executive, however, the workability lies in the hands of the religious leaders. Continuous dialogue that procreates fruitful results should be encouraged in order to ensure strong harmony and coexistence between the faithful of the two religions.