There were no credible reports of abuses of religious freedom by the federal government. There were, however, reports of abuses of religious freedom by certain state governments and local political actors who stoked communal and sectarian violence with impunity. Moreover, the government did not act swiftly or effectively to quell communal violence nor to investigate and prosecute those responsible for such violence. Federal, state, and local authorities have not effectively addressed underlying political, ethnic, and religious grievances that lead to violence. The Plateau State and federal governments have established numerous panels and submitted a series of reports intended to investigate and resolve the ethno-religious disputes in the state since 2008. Recommendations included establishment of truth and reconciliation committees, redistricting of Jos, community sensitization, and ending the indigene-settler dichotomy. However, the state and federal government have yet to implement recommendations.
An air of impunity exists, as authorities rarely prosecute and punish those responsible for violent attacks. For example, in August indigenous Christian youths from local communities in Jos attempted to prevent a Muslim sect, the Izala, considered settlers, from using prayer grounds during the Muslim holiday of Eid-El-Fitr. The resulting violent confrontation led to the death of between 40 and 100 Christians and Muslims, and the destruction of property in Jos. Authorities did not convict any perpetrators by year’s end.
Although the constitution provides for separation of church and state, many Christians alleged that widespread use of Sharia courts amounted to the adoption of Islam as a state religion. In addition, the Civil Liberties Organization, a prominent nongovernmental organization, contended that Zamfara State promoted Islam as a state religion through its establishment of a Commission for Religious Affairs. This Commission, while technically secular, tended to favor Muslims. For example, the Commission made recommendations for the state government to fund the construction of mosques but did not recommend the use of state funds for the construction of churches.
In contrast to previous years, there were reports of perpetrators of violence arraigned by the legal system. On July 19, a federal high court in Abuja arraigned five police officers for the extra-judicial murder of Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf. The court granted bail to four of the officers, while one remained in custody. The case remained ongoing at year’s end, with resumption scheduled for February 13, 2012.
In October, the Katsina State legislature passed a law that many opponents believed inhibited the freedom of Muslim imams to preach openly against the government. The government’s stance was that the law more rigidly defined Islamic education, preaching, knowledge, and research and development. At the end of the year, government officials had not arrested anyone for breaking this law.
In February, Niger State authorities reportedly dislodged a small Islamic group called Islahuddeen, which had allegedly spoken out against the state government, from the Mashegu, Mariga, and Kontagora Local Government Areas. Armed police allegedly bulldozed the group’s central mosque and other buildings and took members into custody for an indeterminate amount of time. No further information was available at the end of the year.
In some northern states, authorities reportedly denied building permits for construction of Christian churches and for expansion and renovation of existing ones. Churches occasionally applied for residential permits as an alternative. Officials closed or demolished churches and mosques that ignored registration requirements or violated other zoning laws. In Gusau, Zamfara State, multiple observers commented that the state government denied issuing such permits to rebuild churches previously demolished or burned down.
Christians in the predominantly Muslim northern states continued to allege that local government officials used zoning regulations to stop or slow the establishment of new churches and, in some cases, demolished churches that had existed for as long as a decade. Muslims in the predominantly Christian southern part of Kaduna State alleged that local government officials prevented the construction of mosques and Islamic schools. Officials denied discrimination, attributing application denials to zoning regulations in residential neighborhoods and a large backlog of applications.
Although the jurisdiction of Sharia technically does not apply to non-Muslims in civil and criminal proceedings, certain social mores inspired by Sharia, such as the separation of the sexes in public schools, health care, voting, and transportation services, affected non-Muslim minorities in the north. Many non-Muslims perceived that they lived under the rule of a Muslim government and often feared reprisals for their religious affiliation.
Civil society groups alleged that some “Qadis” (Sharia court judges) applied harsher penalties in adultery and fornication cases against women than against men and required stronger evidence to convict men than to convict women.
The Hisbah--Sharia enforcement groups funded by state governments in Bauchi, Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna, and Kano--enforced some Sharia statutes. In Kano, Hisbah leaders cited enforcing prohibitions on alcohol and prostitution as the groups’ primary focus; however, they continued to serve primarily as traffic wardens and marketplace regulators. There were several reports that Hisbah groups smashed beer bottles in restaurants offering alcoholic beverages to their clientele and violently attacked women choosing to ride on motorcycle taxis, which the Hisbah board did not allow.
Kano State maintained steep fines and prison sentences for the public consumption and distribution of alcohol, in compliance with Sharia statutes. Some non-indigene and non-Muslim Kano State residents accused the Hisbah of injuring travelers passing through the state over alcohol use and impounding alcoholic beverages transported on federal roads through Kano.