LAGOS - Anger is building on in Nigeria's largest city of Lagos over the demolition of six mosques as part of efforts to uproot the militant Boko Haram group, a move denounced by Muslims as affront on their faith.
"Even in the North where the sect is wreaking havoc, the governors are not demolishing churches," Salman Ibn Semiu, a 25-year-old Muslim in Lagos, told OnIslam.net.
"By signing an executive order banning all religious activities around Alausa, I think the governor went overboard and his action opens an ugly chapter in our history."
Authorities have demolished six mosques around the Alausa seat of power in Lagos.
The local government said the demolitions were prompted by reports about planned attacks in the state.
Hakeem Kosoko, an aide to Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola Fashola on Religion, told OnIslam.net that the demolitions followed security reports about possible attacks around Lagos.
He, however, denied that Muslims were being targeted for discrimination and humiliation.
But the government argument was rejected by Muslim leaders, who describe the demolition as "affront" on their faith and their community.
"The demolition of the mosques in the name of Boko Haram threat by the Lagos State Government is tantamount to saying and admitting that the sect is part and parcel of the Muslim Community and waging the war in the name of Islam even after all concrete and incontrovertible evidences have shown that non-Muslims are members of the group wrecking havoc in the country," the Conference of Islamic Organizations (CIO), an amalgam of Muslim groups across Lagos, said in a communiquÃ© issued after an emergency meeting last week.
"The issue of state security which informed the demolition among other measures taken by the government is a serious one just as the issue of religion.
"Consequently, it was considered that the State Governor did not exhaust all opportunities and means of engaging in consultation with leaders of thoughts, particularly the Muslim Community in the State before carrying out the demolition of the mosques," the communiquÃ© said.
"Therefore, the action was viewed as a serious affront and an utter lack of respect for the leadership of the various Islamic organizations and the entire Muslim Community in Lagos State."
Professor Ishaq Akintola, who chairs the popular Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), said the demolitions have deepened the suspicion that certain elements in the Nigerian governments "are hell-bent on creating an atmosphere of tension and distrust which ultimately can lead to breakdown of law and order.
"But the fact that Muslims are reacting this way shows that these fifth columnists have failed in their mission."
He said the government acted in bad faith and failed to "explore all the necessary options of consultations".
"My fear is that this action could be counterproductive. But we urge for calm among our brothers and sisters as we address this aggression."
The CIO has sent a delegation of respected scholars, including its coordinator Imam Abdullahi Shuaib and convener Dr. Abdurrahman Ahmad, to seek compensations for the demolitions.
The conference called on "Governor Fashola, SAN, to within the life span of his administration rebuild at least a befitting Mosque within the Secretariat to assuage the feelings of the Muslim Community that the Lagos State Government is not at war with Islam and the peace loving Muslim Community in Lagos State.
"The State Government, Ministry of Culture and Home Affairs and its agencies should accord CIO due recognition as progressive partner in the administration of the State and constantly consult it on matters affecting Islam and Muslims in Lagos State."
The conference also restated support for government efforts to combat terror and extremism in the country, but warned against continued victimization of Muslims.
"The continued victimization of Muslim ladies in schools and work-places for wearing hijab, harassing/or preventing Muslim students from observing their religious practice without infringing upon the rights of non-Muslims should be stopped forthwith.
"The wanton discrimination against Muslims in government, schools and workplaces has reached its height and can no longer be accepted. Enough is enough.
The continuous labeling of any militant group including the Boko Harm in the Northern part of the country as militant Islamic sect' or jihadist by the media or any group whatsoever is sacrilegious and unacceptable. Therefore, this should stop henceforth."
Kosoko, the governor's aide, confirmed to OnIslam.net that the government has received the CIO communiquÃ© and would act on its recommendations to "forestall breakdown of law and order and to assure our Muslim brothers and sisters that the government is in no way targeting Muslims for harassment."
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.