On Friday, August 20, a religious clash between Christian and Muslim youths was averted on the streets of the Nigerian city of Ilorin by the combined efforts of the police and State Security Services. Local sources say the authorities were able to keep the disagreement over the abrupt termination of a five-day evangelistic event from becoming a clash that could have led to loss of lives and property.
A crowd of disgruntled Christian youth marched to the Government House in protest of the decision made by the state government to limit Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke’s five-day evangelistic crusade to two days, namely Wednesday and Thursday, after receiving threats of sectarian violence from irate Muslim youths.
Authorities stopped the crowd as they made their way past the residence of the governor’s father, and were later prevailed upon by elders of the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN).
The incident was similar to last week’s incident when members of the Kwara Muslim Youth (KMY) were stopped by authorities from staging a procession at the Government House Saturday, August 14. According to Compass Direct, protesters took to the streets of the city of Ilorin, located in the central state of Kwara, vowing to prevent the crusade that was set to be held at Budo-Efo.
Riot police reportedly fired tear gas canisters to disperse a crowd of Muslim demonstrators opposed to the campaign. Their complaint, as presented later by KMY Chairman Muhammed Olakade, was alleged preparation by CAN to take the evangelistic crusade to the heart of Ilorin Emirate, considered as a predominant Muslim Community.
Following the complaints and threats, the State Security Council met and 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 crusades.
To this decision, Kwara State secretary of CAN, Olusola Ajolore, accused the government of pandering to the whims of Muslim youths. CAN described the crusade cancellation as ill-motivated and preconceived.
"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,” said members of CAN. “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.”
CAN believes that the security report which led to the stoppage of the crusade was aimed at intimidating the government.
Ethno-religious disputes are not something unfamiliar to the West African nation, which is strongly divided between Christian and Islam.
In 2002, when the Miss World pageant was scheduled to be held in Nigeria, Islamic groups protested what they considered the immorality of the contest; something Christians did not necessarily disagree with. Nevertheless, as reported by the Voice of the Martyrs, riots ensued in Kaduna resulting in two hundred deaths, the burning of over one hundred churches, and the death of at least two pastors, as Muslim rioters attacked anyone suspected of being a Christian. At the time, church leaders were warning that some Christians, particularly young men, were becoming tired of "turning the other cheek," a viewpoint that can still be seen in Nigeria today.