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Human Rights in Nigeria
Flag of Nigeria Nigeria
Population: 137,253,133 (July 2004 est.)
Capital: Abuja
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Nigeria Human Rights Report
» intro | 1a | 1b | 1c | 1d | 1e | 1f | 2a | 2b | 2c | 2d | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b | 6c | 6d | 6e | 6f

Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion and while the Federal Government generally respected religious freedom, there were some instances in which limits were placed on religious activity to address security and public safety concerns. Some state governments restricted these rights in practice in certain respects.

The Constitution prohibits state and local governments from adopting an official religion; however, some Christians alleged that Islam had been adopted as the de facto state religion of several northern states that have reintroduced criminal law aspects of Shari'a and continued to use state resources to fund the construction of mosques, the teaching of Kadis (Muslim judges), and pilgrimages to Mecca (Hajj). However, government funds also were used by some states to pay for Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem. In general, states with a Christian or Muslim majority favored the majority faith. Both the federal and state governments were involved in religious matters, including the regulation of mandatory religious instruction in public schools, subsidized construction of churches and mosques, state-sponsored participation in the Hajj, and pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Muslims in some predominately Christian states complained about religious discrimination. Approximately half of the population is Muslim, approximately 40 percent Christian, and roughly 10 percent practiced traditional indigenous religions or no religion. The Constitution provides that states may elect to use Islamic (Shari'a) customary law and courts, and some states interpreted this language as granting them the right to expand the jurisdiction of their existing Shari'a courts to include criminal matters (see Section 1.e.). By year's end, 12 northern states had adopted variations of Shari'a-based criminal law--Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Yobe, Bauchi, Borno, and Gombe. Adherence to Shari'a provisions was compulsory for Muslims in some states and optional in others and enforcement varied by locale. Adherence to Shari'a provisions was not compulsory for Christians in any of the 12 states.

Christian and Islamic groups planning to build new churches or mosques are required to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). The CAC did not deny registration to any religious group during the year; however, some religious groups experienced delays in obtaining permission from local zoning boards to build houses of worship. Many nascent churches and Islamic congregations ignored the registration requirement, and a small number had their places of worship shut down because of enforcement of zoning laws. Some persons claimed that enforcement of these laws was selective. Christians in the predominantly Muslim northern states continued to allege that local government officials used zoning regulations to stop or slow the establishment of new churches. Officials responded that many of these new churches were being formed in residential neighborhoods not zoned for religious purposes. State officials said the certification boards were dealing with a large backlog of cases for all persons, regardless of religious faith. Muslims continued to complain that they were denied permission to build mosques in predominantly Christian southern states. The Government does not prohibit or discourage conversion from or to a particular religion, and unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that persons were arrested for conversion. There was no further action in the 2002 case of two men brought to trial in Zamfara State for converting from Islam to Christianity by year's end. The law prohibits religious discrimination; however, reports were common that state and local government officials discriminated against persons practicing a religion different from their own, notably in hiring or awarding contracts, and private businesses frequently were guilty of informal religious and ethnic discrimination in their hiring practices and purchasing patterns. As religious differences often correspond with ethnic differences, discrimination at the local level is often a mixture of religious and ethnic biases. There was no update in the 2002 case of 21 nurses fired for not wearing "Shari'a compliant dresses" in Bauchi State.

On February 19, members of a Muslim youth organization disrupted three secondary schools in Ibadan, protesting that girls were not wearing appropriate head coverings; several persons were injured. A similar invasion occurred the following week, and 51 persons were arrested and 39 arraigned on charges of public disturbance. All were released on bail, and no trial date had been set by year's end.

Several northern state governments continued to ban public proselytizing during the year to avoid ethno-religious violence, although it is permitted by the Constitution. The Katsina and Plateau State governments maintained a ban on public proselytizing for security reasons during the year; however, some groups were allowed to carry out activities despite these formal bans, which generally were enforced on a case-by-case basis. Both Christian and Muslim organizations alleged that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department restricted the entry into the country of certain religious practitioners, particularly persons suspected of intending to proselytize. According to the Constitution, students were not required to receive instruction relating to a religion other than their own; however, public school students in many parts of the country were subjected to mandatory Islamic or Christian religious instruction. State authorities claimed that students were permitted to decline to attend these classes or to request a teacher of their own religion to provide alternative instruction. However, there were no teachers of "Christian Religious Knowledge" in many northern schools, and there were reports that in Enugu and Edo States Muslim students could not access "Islamic Religious Knowledge" in the public schools. Although distribution of religious publications generally remained unrestricted, the Government periodically continued to enforce a ban on published religious advertisements. There were reports by Christians in Zamfara State that the state government restricted the distribution of Christian religious literature. Although expanded Shari'a laws technically do not apply to non-Muslims, some non-Muslims, especially in Zamfara State, have been affected by certain social provisions of the laws, such as the separation of the sexes on public transportation. There also were reports that girls in government schools in Kano State were forced to wear the hijab.

A number of states sanctioned private vigilante Shari'a enforcement groups known as Hisbah. Zamfara State vested the local vigilante group with full powers of arrest and prosecution because the state believed police were not enforcing the Shari'a laws. Jigawa State also mobilized a statewide Shari'a enforcement committee to arrest, detain, and prosecute Muslim offenders. Informal Shari'a enforcement groups may have been used for some law enforcement functions in other northern states as well. There were no further developments in the investigations into the violence in Kaduna regarding the Miss World Pageant in 2002.

Religious differences often corresponded to regional and ethnic differences. For example, the northern region was predominately Muslim. Many southern ethnic groups were predominantly Christian, although the Yoruba were approximately 50 percent Muslim. Both Muslims and Christians were found in large numbers in the Middle Belt. In many areas of the Middle Belt, Muslim Fulani tended to be herders, while the Muslim Hausa and most Christian ethnic groups tended more toward farming or urban living. It often was difficult to distinguish religious discrimination and tension from ethnic, regional, economic, and land use competition. Often religious tensions underscored what were predominantly ethnic and economic confrontations during the year (see Section 5). The Middle Belt experienced recurring ethno-religious violence during the year but overall violence decreased markedly from 2001 levels.

Ethno-religious conflict continued in many parts of Plateau during the year. Repeated outbreaks of violence caused dozens of deaths and resulted in the destruction of places of worship, shops, and homes. Existing tensions between Christians and Muslims caused minor incidents, such as a traffic accident, to escalate into communal violence. For example, on June 9, in Numan, Adamawa State, a non-local Muslim water hawker stabbed and killed a Christian woman in a disagreement over the price of water. The woman had refused to pay and the seller stabbed her in view of her family. The woman's family retaliated and over the next 2 days, eight persons were killed, one mosque and four churches were burned, numerous houses were destroyed, and hundreds of persons fled the town.

In September, at Ahmadu Bello University in Kaduna State, a female Christian student was accused of blasphemy, which led to non-lethal clashes between Muslim and Christian students.

There were no developments in the 2002 or 2001 incidents of interreligious violence.

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