Nigeria’s Muslim Leaders Petition Security to Interrogate Catholic Bishop over Sermon

Muslim leaders in Nigeria have petitioned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and other security heads in country to interrogate the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese over alleged “hateful sermon” that they say led to attacks on Muslims in some parts of the West African nation.

In a Wednesday, November 4 statement seen by ACI Africa, the leadership of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) indicates that the petition is contained in November 1 letters to the IGP and the Director of the State Security Service (SSS).

The Muslim leaders petitioned the security heads to interrogate Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah for “the recent incessant arson and pogrom against Muslims in the South-East and South-South and a trigger hateful sermon,” NSCIA officials indicate in the November 4 statement.

In the letters signed by NSCIA Deputy Secretary General, Prof. Salisu Shehu, the officials also called for the protection of lives and property of Muslims in the regions as “bonafide citizens of Nigeria who should live peacefully in any part of the country.”

On October 31, "some Christian bigots unleashed violent and virulent attack on Muslims in Nsukka and burnt their Mosques as a result of a hateful and inciting sermon, full of lies and fallacies, delivered by one Bishop Godfrey Igwebuike Onah," NSCIA officials say, citing the November 1 petition against the 64-year-old Nigerian Bishop.

In his October 18 homily that was based on the #EndSARS protests, Bishop Onah made a comparison of the treatment given to Muslims and Christians practicing their respective faiths in the various regions of the country.

“We hear the Muslim call to prayer from our windows in our bedrooms at 4.00 a.m. and a Christian in Abuja (who) takes her Bible to call people to accept Jesus Christ is murdered by Islamist fundamentalists and nothing happens,” the Bishop bemoaned in his homily published on his YouTube Channel.

Making reference to the perceived discrimination, Bishop Onah added, “It cannot continue and these are the things we have to say NO to. It is not just about the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). It's about injustice, it's about violence.”

“It is not possible that Muslims in this country can acquire land and build Mosques anywhere. Many mosques are rising in Nsukka now and Christians can no longer obtain land to build churches in the so-called Christian-dominated states let alone the northern state,” the Nigerian Prelate continued in the homily that has been widely shared.

The Muslim leaders claim that from Bishop Onah’s homily, “it was clear that (he) instigated the worshippers against Mosques and Muslims” and that “It would therefore require any disagreement, no matter how minute, to execute the premeditated havoc wreaked on the Muslims in the two zones.”

They recall that they had in their November 1 petition revisited an October letter to the security heads urging them to “specially protect the lives, property and places of worship of Muslims living in the South-East and South-South.”

“In the said letter, we informed you about the violent assaults being unleashed on the Muslims in some parts of the zones. Some were killed and their property worth billions of Naira were looted, vandalized or set on fire,” NSCIA officials state, recalling the contents of the letter to the IGP and Director of SSS.

In the one-page statement, the Muslim leaders lament that despite the call for improved security, “rather than abating, the persecution and violence against Muslims in the said two zones have persisted with greater intensity.”

The violence also included the burning of Mosques including “very ancient ones” built by indigenous Igbo Muslims, they add.

If left unchecked, the recurrence of these kinds of “incessant arson and massacre of Muslims” in the South-East and South-South “could surely ignite reprisals in other parts of the country, especially in the North,” the Muslim leaders caution.

“It has therefore become imperatively urgent to proactively bring an end to this criminality,” they say in the November 4 statement.

The West African nation has been experiencing violence amid nationwide #EndSARS protests against the country’s controversial Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that was since disbanded.

Reports indicate that protesters set on fire the Central Mosque of Orlu in Imo State, South East of the country under the guise of EndSARS protests, leading to destruction of property, loss of a life and injuries to four Muslims. 

NSCIA leadership condemned the attack in an October 23 statement noting that Nigeria has enough political and economic problems to grapple with, already thus “adding any religious dimension to those problems may spell doom for this giant of Africa.”

“Judging by many inciting utterances coming out of some houses of worship, in the name of sermon, in certain parts of the country, before the outbreak of the ongoing protests, the NSCIA had suspected that a hidden agenda was being built, in certain quarters, to engender a dubious insurrection that could serve as a precursor for a religious war in the land,” the Muslim leaders added in the October 23 statement,

In the most recent attacks, two mosques and a primary school were reportedly destroyed by some rioters in Enugu State, South East of the country on October 31 over some disagreement between a Muslim woman and a taxi driver over fare.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
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