(Compass) – The outbreak of religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria over the adoption of sharia (Islamic legal system) in some states has spread to the nation’s military ranks. Killings of Christian soldiers and non-military personnel have been reported in Lagos and Kaduna.
On April 30, a Muslim soldier, Private Aliyu Umar Suleiman, shot to death two Christian soldiers. The shooting incident was reportedly triggered by an argument over the propriety of the introduction of sharia.
Umar is being held in protective custody at the Lagos Garrison Command, Lagos, where a board of inquiry has been instituted to investigate the circumstances that led to the killing of the two Christian soldiers.
This is the third time this year that Muslim soldiers at the Lagos Garrison Command have attacked Christian soldiers.
Colonel Felix Chukwuma, the Nigerian army director of Army Public Relations, confirmed in a telephone interview from Lagos that a fanatical Muslim soldier killed the two Christian soldiers. He said the Army would not tolerate undue fanaticism and that they are prepared to deal with any fanatic who is found within the Nigerian army.
In Kaduna, some Muslim military officers were reported to have attacked Christians during the February 21-24 and May 22 religious crises in the city where hundreds died. Some of these Muslim military officers have been arrested and investigations are proceeding, according to Nigeria’s defense headquarters.
Among the officers alleged to have been involved in the killings of Christians in Kaduna are Captain Idris Abdullahi of the Lagos Garrison Command, Colonel Sale of the 1st Mechanized Division, Kaduna, and Wing Commander Gambo Kurfi, an air force officer with the Nigerian Defense Academy in Kaduna.
Captain Abdullahi allegedly led Muslim soldiers to attack Christians, resulting in the deaths of 90 Christians. He is also said to have supplied arms, ammunition and uniforms to Muslim extremists, who attacked and killed Christians in Nassarawa, a suburb of Kaduna city, on May 22-23.
Kaduna State Police Commissioner Alhaji Mohammed Shehu expressed concern over the involvement of military officers in the conflicts and disclosed to journalists that police uncovered the use of sophisticated military weapons during the crises of February and May.
However, the assistant director of Army Public Relations, Lt. Colonel Mohammed Danjuma Yusuf, told Compass in Kaduna that only Captain Abdullahi has been arrested.
“The captain was arrested in Nassarawa because some people claimed that he was taking sides, ordering soldiers to maim people or to destroy other people or so. He was arrested to come and testify,” Yusuf said.
Worried about the spread of religious fundamentalism within the Nigerian army, Chief of Army Staff Major-General Victor Malu warned soldiers to either rise above religious biases or be prepared to face the consequences of doing so.
“The primary role of the army was to defend the nation and all soldiers should be seen to abide by the constitutional provisions rather than engage in ethnic and religious biases,” Malu told military officers at the Command and Staff College in Jaji in early July.
Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.