Urgent Need to Protect Muslims in South-Eastern and South-Southern Nigeria
Urgent Need to Protect Muslims in South-Eastern and South-Southern Nigeria
In 2017, Nigerian activists, youth and celebrities across the nation took to the streets in a peaceful protest to spread awareness against the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a notorious unit of the Nigerian Police with a long record of abuses. The protesters demanded an end to SARS brutality and extortions as well as its disbanding. The protests also moved to social media using the hashtag and slogan #EndSARS.
Earlier in October, 2020, the #EndSARS protests erupted again when footage emerged of officers pulling two men out of a hotel in Lagos into the street and shooting one of them. The protests were observed across the nation and remained peaceful until the 9th day when it turned violent, giving hoodlums and miscreants opportunities to cause serious havoc to the society.
On the 21st of October, 2020 reports reached the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) that a mosque and a branch office of Jaiz Bank (an Islamic (Non-Interest) Bank) were attacked in Jos, Plateau State and Abuja during violent protests in the areas.
It became apparent that the protests were fastly mutating, and that some mischievous people were exploiting the volatile climate of protests and public anger against police brutality to target and attack Muslims and symbols associated with Islam in acts that may be linked to Islamophobia.
The issue came to a head when, in the middle of the violent attacks on public and individual targets around the country, Muslim targets in major areas of the South-East and South-South parts of the country were singled out and viciously attacked in apparent hate crimes. There were gory accounts of merciless killings of Muslims (not fewer than 10 in Port Harcourt, Rivers State alone) by hate groups and individuals who went in search of anyone with a Muslim appearance, including defenceless worshippers in mosques. In this particular case, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a proscribed terror group, was fingered by the State Government, and a ransom of N50 million was placed on one of their leaders in Rivers State, specifically in relation to these attacks.
There was also an attack on Oyigbo area of Rivers State where Muslims, particularly the Hausas in the area, were attacked by agitators. Similar attacks spread into Enugu, Abia, Anambra and Ebonyi States of the South-Eastern and South-Southern regions of Nigeria.
Following the same pattern, there were reports of similar carnage in Imo State where a mosque in Orlu was burnt down on Wednesday, October 21st, 2020, and the worshippers attacked. One Muslim worshipper was reported murdered in cold blood in this particular incident, while others were seriously injured. In the same town, a Hausa owned truck laden with consumables was reportedly attacked and the driver lynched to death. On the 31st of October, 2020, a few days after Bishop Reverend Father Godfrey Igwebuike Onah (Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, Nigeria) gave a rousing, Islamophobic and divisive speech to his congregants in Nsukka, two mosques were burned down in Nsukka and many Muslim worshippers were injured after frenzied attacks orchestrated by those who are motivated by hate against Islam and the Muslim community.
Although the trigger of the attack on the mosques in Nsukka and the Muslims there was a brawl between an Ibo tricycle rider and his Hausa female passenger over transport fare, the actual motivation for the scale of terror unleashed on the Muslim community there cannot be divorced from the hate-filled speech delivered by Bishop Reverend Father Godfrey Igwebuike Onah only a few days earlier. These dastardly acts, each one of them, showed clearly that the intent to terrorise the Muslim community, and the speed and scale of the attacks are also indicative that they were premeditated. The unabated rhetoric of hate, backed by hate theology, and the impunity of the perpetrators, are progressively mainstreaming the extremists and creating tolerance for Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims in these regions.
In the midst of these crimes, MPAC calls out the dangers of extremism and issues a clear call for action to the state Governors and law enforcement agencies. There is a danger that the attacks will continue or spread unless urgent actions are taken to subdue the perpetrators and bring them to book. Additionally, a lot more needs to be done to get the authorities in the affected states to work harder to allow freedom of religion, to clamp down on hate speech, Islamophobia and hateful rhetoric that can translate into violent crimes like those perpetrated against the Muslim communities in these areas.
It is now crucial to advocate for the creation of laws to criminalize hate crimes/hateful rhetoric and specifically, to work closer with the Muslim community who live as minority groups in the affected areas to better understand their fears, their concerns and their needs.
It is expected that the Governors in the affected states will look inwards and work closely through the interfaith platforms in their states to reach out to the Muslim communities in a bid to ensure Muslim inclusion through their policies and programmes. Sadly, most Muslims in the affected states have suffered long years of exclusion, neglect and institutionalized discrimination, which have contributed to an environment conducive for hostility and intolerance, making the ground fertile for hate crimes based on anti-Muslim sentiments.
A sad aspect of the tragic events is the near total media blackout on the plight of the Muslims living as minority groups in South-Eastern and South-Southern Nigeria. The sad reality of media indifference and criminal silence, coupled with the refusal of these incidents to attract the attention of those in the human rights community leave every conscientious person no choice than to conclude that there is a stealth agenda by these two sectors to establish and promote a single narrative, where, in Nigeria, the Muslims are depicted as the aggressors and promote the myth that Islam is bent on violently driving other Nigerians away. This warped narrative and selective reporting of violent crimes must be totally rejected by everyone who believes in our unity, cherishes our diversity and values human lives equally; who also believe in equal rights and justice for all. It is therefore imperative for the Nigerian media to highlight the horrible crimes perpetrated against those Muslim victims in Rivers State and Imo State in the same way that crimes committed in the name of Islam are disproportionately reported and publicized.
Islam teaches that every life is sacred and it is crucial at this time that the same message is heard loud and clear in all mosques, all churches, from government officials, human rights defenders, and amongst community and youth leaders. We rely on the support and solidarity of all who believe in our common destiny to prove to the hate cultists and their theologians that light will prevail against darkness. Extremist groups that target people for their faith or ethnicity, and are bent on robbing innocent people of their lives will be mercilessly denounced and their hate messages rejected.
With the number of innocent lives already taken by those hate cultists on a senseless murder spree, it is clear that more needs to be done to protect Muslim Nigerians who live in the South-Eastern and South-Southern parts of Nigeria as minority groups. The collective will to rid our society of merciless killers who hide under the garb of religion or ethnicity will show that we place no price tags on human lives, and that our unity will not be broken by those who have adopted a violent way of life. The marauding killers who are targeting people on the basis of religion and ethnicity are a threat to our common humanity.
We therefore urge you to use your platform to highlight the plights of the Muslims in the South-Eastern and South-Southern parts of Nigeria and add your powerful voice to condemn hate crimes and attack on their personal and religious rights. We count on your support to amplify their voice and restore their hope for justice. We also urge that you consider conducting an independent enquiry into these acts of criminality and attacks on Muslim communities in these regions.
Founded in 2001, the Muslim Public Affairs Centre is a leading public service and leadership development organisation that operates on the core Islamic values of justice, mercy, human dignity, freedom, equality for all and sanctity of human life. MPAC is a project-based and volunteer-driven organisation, covering Policy and Advocacy, Media & Strategic Communication and Interfaith Engagement, with the mission to serve humanity and work for an inclusive society.
As a public service agency working for the rights of all Muslims, for the integration of Islam into Nigerian pluralism, MPAC actively works for a positive relationship between Nigerian Muslims and other elements in the society. Thus establishing the Nigerian Muslim identity as a positive and constructive element of Nigerian pluralism.