After an open-air evangelistic event in the African nation of Nigeria was halted, running for only two of the five scheduled dates, tensions have risen in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. According to Nigeria-based This Day news, the government moved against the religious event in “an apparent balancing act to forestall a security breach.” The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has accused it of prejudice.
German evangelist, Reinnhard Bonnke arrived in Ilorin last Tuesdday for the evangelistic event, which began the following day. It was his first outing in the state after 14 years, and his coming was heralded with a protest last weekend by some Muslim youths who wanted him kept out of the state.
Inside sources said it was in the government's effort to strike a compromise that it allowed Bonnke's crusade to go ahead. It however relocated the program from Kwara Stadium in Ilorin, where it was originally scheduled to hold, to Budo-Efo, Ganmo on the outskirts of the capital city.
In addition, the government limited the event to two days, namely Wednesday and Thursday, as against five days the organizers originally scheduled it to hold. This was against the backdrop of threats of sectarian violence slated for the aftermath of Jumaat services by the Muslims yesterday, Friday.
The Muslim youths had reportedly taken their campaign to shut Bonnke out of the state to the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari, who allegedly admonished them on the need for religious tolerance. However, when the State Security Council met, it resolved to ask that the open-air crusade be stopped after two days to forestall possible breakdown of law and order should the Muslim youths hit the streets in anti-Bonnke crusade after yesterday's Jumaat services.
Following the order stopping the crusade yesterday, Kwara State secretary of CAN, Olusola Ajolore, accused the government of pandering to the whims of Muslim youths. In a spontaneous reaction, CAN described the crusade cancellation as ill-motivated and preconceived.
Addressing a press conference in Ilorin, Ajilore said: "It is amazing that the Kwara State Government has by its conduct in cutting short the crusade days shown that it is incapable of holding the group (of Muslim youths) in check by keeping them out of mischief and crisis, thus provoking the situation".
In a statement titled "Muslim Youths Now Call the Shots in Kwara State," the Christians remarked: "We see this as an absolutely dangerous precedent".
They added: "We believe that the whole development was a conspiracy by the Muslim group to put the Christian community out of activity and make them the underdog in the state. This is our state, and we will not continue to tolerate any breach in the exercise of our freedom of association, in worshiping in places of our choice and our own properties".
But the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Salman Adelodun Ibrahim, dismissed the outcry by CAN, accusing the body of being economical with the truth.
He said: "The state government views with utmost seriousness the blackmail employed by the CAN leadership to portray government as unfriendly and discriminatory after it failed to abide by the decision of the Security Council".
The state government reminded the CAN leadership of an alleged agreement that "the crusade must terminate by Thursday night.” They said that Bonnke and his team will neither hold procession inside the city nor hold any meeting outside the advertised crusade ground at Budo-Efo.