Christians in Nigeria are suffering decapitation and mutilation under Islamic law, even though it is only meant to apply to Moslems. This is the view of Bishop Anthony Ekezia Ilonu, of the Catholic diocese of Okigwe in the south-east of Nigeria. Speaking at a meeting attended by Aid to the Church in Need, last week, Bishop Anthony said: "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." Bishop Anthony told the meeting that Catholic bishops had spoken with Moslem religious leaders. But, he said, they denied all responsibility for the introduction of Sharia into nine states of northern Nigeria. He said they had told him the introduction of Sharia had only been demanded by Islamic fundamentalists, and politicians were exploiting it in order to blackmail the federal state into giving aid. In order to help the Catholics in the North, dioceses in the predominantly Christian South have now begun partnership schemes with the northern dioceses. Each southern diocese helps another in the north, financially and in personnel, the bishop said. Most Nigerians want a "sovereignty conference" that would transform Nigeria into a "confederation". However, he said, 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 Anthony, "but they do want autonomy in the individual federal states." The people of Nigeria are equally divided between the Christian and Moslem faiths, with about six to 10 per cent belonging to animist religions. One quarter of the Christians in Nigeria are Catholic, while the remainder belong to one of several hundred different Protestant communities. The 1999 Constitution prohibits the establishment of a state religion. Although the president, Olusegun Obasanjo, is Christian, Islam enjoys a privileged status in Nigeria, Aid to the Church in Need reports. Since the introduction of the Sharia into some northern states, many Christians have been moving into the south of Nigeria. Sharia demands among other things a strict segregation of the sexes in public transport, hotels and restaurants, that public contracts be awarded exclusively to Moslems and that banking businesses should be run according to Islamic principles.
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