By Worthy News Africa Service
ABUJA, NIGERIA (Worthy News) -- Christian leaders in northern Nigeria fear a fresh crackdown on evangelical activities after local authorities announced plans to control “religious preachers” as Islamic violence left at least a dozen Christians dead and destroyed some 20 churches.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which represents churches, criticized governors of 19 northern states for setting up a committee to regulate the activities of “religious preachers” in the mainly-Muslim region, saying it could lead to more tensions and bloodshed.
"This forum has resolved to constitute a preaching board that will screen and approve competent Muslim and Christian clergy for evangelical activities," Niger state leader Babanginda Aliyu explained after a governors' meeting in the northern city of Kaduna last week.
The decision followed five days of rioting in northern Nigeria by followers of a hard-line Islamic group which wants to impose ‘Sharia’, or strict Muslim, law and opposes Western education.
Members of Boko Haram, described by authorities and Christians as “a sect”, attacked government buildings, police stations, schools and churches in a series of rampages at the end of July, killing hundreds. In the Hausa language spoken in Nigeria's north, Boko Haram means, "Western education is sinful".
Boko Haram followers also burned 20 churches before police captured and killed its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, Christians and investigators said.
Police said Yusuf was killed in a gunfight “while trying to escape,” but Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has ordered an inquiry into the circumstances of the leader’s death amid army allegations he may have been killed while in captivity.
At least 12 Christians, including three pastors, were among over 800 residents killed in the July clashes, CAN and other sources said. CAN official Saidu Dogo said Boko Haram militants “went about wielding dangerous weapons and abducting Christians to the enclave of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf in the name of implementing Sharia in Nigeria.”
He added that captured Christians “were forcefully converted to Islam after they were tortured."
Three pastors and eight other Christians “who resisted the forceful conversion were beheaded on the order of the leader of the Islamic sect, while 20 churches were burnt by the fundamentalists,” he told media. The violence started July 26, when Boko Haram members attacked a police station in Bauchi state that set off a firestorm of violence spreading to Borno, Kano and Yobe states.
The national secretary of CAN, Samuel Salifu, accused the governor of Nigeria's Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, covered up the death of Yusuf and that of alleged group supporter, Alhaji Buji Fai, a former state commissioner for religious affairs who he said could have given crucial information about the bloodshed .
"CAN is of the opinion that Yusuf and Fai should not have been silenced in a hurry," said Salifu in published rem arks, suggesting that Governor Sheriff had links with the two men, and that they had been killed before they could divulge information about their supporters.
A spokesman of the Borno State government, Usman Ciroma, dismissed the CAN allegations as baseless. "It is quite unfortunate that such a highly-respected organization could make flippant accusations like that. How would it serve our interest to kill our people?" Ciroma told Nigerian media.
Nigeria's population of about 140 million people is divided between Christians in the south, and Muslims mainly in the north, where 12 of the 36 states adopted Sharia law in 2000, according to estimates.