Muslim police forces allegedly threatened to kill him for converting to Christianity, at a time of concern over religious violence throughout the country.
Sardauna Anaruwa Sashi from the Nigerian town of Paiko was an "unwavering Muslim" most of his life, but became a ‘born-again’ Christian earlier this year after becoming curious about the sounds of celebration at a Baptist wedding service, Christian news agency Compass Direct reported.
After news spread of his decision to abandon Islam, he was eventually arrested September 21 by local police forces who detained and "severely tortured" him for four days, the news agency said. He is among a growing number of Christians suffering in Nigerian states such as Niger where Islamic law, known as ‘Sharia’, has been introduced, human rights watchers have suggested.
Police apparently arrested him after spotting Sashi in Paiko, where he had gone to grind some maize for his family’s food for that day. "On that day, a police patrol team parked beside me and ordered me into their vehicle," Sashi was quoted as saying. "They took me to their station and asked to know whether I was a Muslim. I told them I was once a Muslim but was now a Christian."
The officers allegedly asked him to recite the Shadah, the Islamic creed, and to demonstrate how Muslims pray and worship Allah. After Sashi complied, the asked him why he had converted from Islam to Christianity, said Compass Direct, which investigates persecution of Christians.
"Before I could respond to their question, they started beating me," Sashi reportedly said. "I was beaten with police batons and clubbed to the point of death." Bludgeoned into a stupor, Sashi was allegedly clamped into a police cell for four days. Compass Direct said that the "timely intervention" of a Christian lawyer and the pastor of the town’s First Baptist Church, saved Sashi from being killed in the police cell.
However "Sashi’s life and that of his family is [still] in danger," said Rev. Matthew Oladokun, the pastor of the town’s First Baptist Church, in an interview. Besides threats on his life, Sashi has faced loss of income as his employment caring for cattle belonging to Paiko Muslims came to an end when they told him they could no longer retain his services, as he was now an "infidel," Compass Direct reported.
"Even though I have had to face difficulties almost on a daily basis, I will never renounce my Christian faith, even if it means I have to die," Sashi told Compass Direct. "I also pray that my relatives who have also converted will not be intimidated into going back to Islam."
Religious attacks increased in Nigeria since 1999 in especially several northern and central states as they began to introduce the ‘Shariah’ Penal Code.
Some church sources say the death toll since 1999 could be as high as 10,000 while the Committee of Rehabilitation and Reconciliation of Internally Displaced People reportedly has said that over 50,000 people died in religious violence.
Nigeria’s president Olusegun Obasanjo, known as a ‘born again’ Christian, has been under pressure to intervene by changing the constitution to increase the rights of Christians, who comprise roughly 40 percent of Nigeria’s nearly 130-million strong population.
The calls for more religious tolerance, come as the president already has a full plate of personal tragedies, news reports said. On Friday, October 28, Nigeria buried the body of President Olusegun Obasanjo’s wife with the grieving leader asking compatriots "to unite in their sorrow behind a program of development and progress" for Africa’s most populous nation.
Stella Obasanjo, 59, died Sunday after undergoing surgery in Spain, only hours after a Bellview Airlines Boeing 737-200 crashed in Nigeria, killing all 117 people on board. Standing near her grave in his hometown of Abeokuta, Obasanjo reportedly asked the 130 million people of his fractious nation to unite for the betterment of their country.
"Let us utilize this period of adversity and the unity of sorrow, let it translate to unity of purpose, unity of determination for the development, the growth, the progress of our country," said Obasanjo in a nationally televised address. "May Stella’s gentle soul rest in peace," he reportedly said. (With BosNewsLife Research, Stefan J. Bos and reports from Nigeria).