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Nigerian Christians suffering under Muslim Sharia

A Catholic bishop has claimed that Christians in the north of Nigeria are being subjected to the strictures of the Sharia becoming victims of the Sharia, even though this Islamic law should apply to Muslims only.

Bishop Anthony Ekezia Ilonu of the south-eastern Nigerian diocese of Okigwe told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need of the abuses during a recent visit to Munich.

"Many Christians are arrested, and before they can say that they are Christians, they have already lost a hand or an ear or an eye", said Bishop Ilonu.

Bishop Ilonu said the bishops had spoken with Muslim religious leaders in the country's north, who had blamed fundamentalists for the introduction of the Sharia into nine northern states.

The Sharia demands a strict segregation of the sexes in public transport, hotels and restaurants, that public contracts should be awarded exclusively to Muslims and that banking businesses should be run according to Islamic principles.

In order to help the Catholics in the North, dioceses in the predominantly Christian South have now begun partnership schemes with the northern dioceses. The southern dioceses are providing financial aid and personnel to the those in the north.

Each diocese was helping another in the North, financially and in personnel, the bishop said. Most Nigerians wanted a "sovereignty conference" that would transform Nigeria into a "confederation". However, the government was prepared only to grant a "national conference" that would have no power to change the constitution. "People do not want Nigeria to fall apart", said Bishop Ilonu, "but they do want autonomy in the individual federal states."

About half the population of Nigeria are Christians, with most of the remainder Muslim. The constitution of 1999 prohibits the establishment of a state religion, but Islam enjoys a privileged status in the country.