INSECURITY: This govt is confused - CAN chief
Since 2009, there have been bloodletting in the North on the grounds of Islamizing the country by Jama-'a Ahl al-sunnah li-da'wa wa al-jiha-d, also known as Boko Haram. In this interview, the Bishop, Diocese of Kubwa, Anglican Communion, and National Treasurer of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, the Right Reverend Duke Akamisoko, speaks on the national insecurity created by the activities of the group and other pertinent issues that need to be addressed if Nigeria is to move forward. Excerpts:
Recently, there was the allegation that Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, was too close to government and, therefore, it was being run as a government entity?
Close to government? No! I am the National Treasurer of CAN, government doesn't pay me. I don't receive salary from it; I don't know what is too close. If there is anything, at every particular time, we have criticized this government on various policies and programmes; so, I think it's erroneous to say we are part of government.
What is your take on the call to impose tax on religious bodies?
Tax for what? Do we have the money? We don't have much money that they will tax us on. What we do is we give more back to the society than what we receive. Even the national cake, the oil money that is going to government presently, we have not seen them use it judiciously. So, tax on what basis? On what grounds? I think that statement is not right. There is no need to think of taxing the Church in Nigeria.
What about the call to license preaching to curb insecurity?
In any organized society, things are regulated, and I can tell you, go outside this country, where will you see people open churches any how? You can't do like that in UK, not in Singapore. The authorities will ask you, what is your background? What is your training? You can't just get up and say you are a medical doctor, and you want to open a hospital, the body will ask you, are you a doctor? The hospital you want to open, they find out what are the basic things.
Now in US or UK, for example, there are various procedures. The government will tell you the laid down rules. If you don't have the requirements, you can't open a church. You have not been to any training theologically, you can't just wake up and open a church, and start shouting halleluiah. It is not the issue of licensing; it is the issue of being regulated, nobody should just wake up and say he is a preacher.
In northern Nigeria, it was properly regulated during the colonial rule. If you had Almajiri School, they will ask what you are teaching there. What is the content of your curriculum? And that is the problem we are having today with the Almajiri. People just gather some youths, you don't know what they are teaching them; they teach these people all manner of things; they come out and become violent. They can kill; the school where they were being taught, nobody wants to find out what type of man is teaching them, and anybody can teach anything.
The issue is that any society that things are not regulated, that society will not move forward. Even in your home, there must be some rules governing every aspect of life; there is no aspect of life that should be left; even the church, on the street, everywhere; what kind of teaching is going on there?; the person preaching, what is the background? What is the qualification? A graduate of economics says he is a preacher; no conditions, no basic tenet for it.
So, sincerely speaking, the way religious organizations are run in this country is faulty. And if we continue like this, we will not get the desired result. There must be checks and balances. So, we have to check ourselves, and it is not the responsibility of CAN; CAN is not government, there is a department of government in most organized societies that regulates religion.
In UK or US, religious organizations are known as non-profit organizations and what happens is checked. If you say, for example, that you own a church and you have 500,000 Naira, that money you must show evidence of how you use it; you are not using it for yourself; government believes you are using it for the benefit of the community. You will send your expenditure profile, how much is coming in, how you use it, they will see where you use it and people will monitor what you use 500,000 Naira for. But in Nigeria, the money they make in churches, they use it for personal things. And the most painful part of it is that our leaders always go there and know these things.
The agitation for Northern Minorities Commission, are you in support?
It is just that we have a collapsed system, and when you have a collapsed system, you have all kinds of agitations, all kinds of expressions, because the system has collapsed. The Northern Minorities Commission or anything of such is nothing that can solve our problems. What will solve our problems is a government that is accountable to the people and the resources are used for the generality of our people. I think that the desire for commissions comes because people feel they are neglected.
Go to the Niger Delta Ministry, despite the fact that money is being pumped there, you will not see the impact of that ministry. So, creating ministry upon ministry, we will just be moving round and round and no problem would be solved.
In America of about 300 million people, how many ministries do they have? They have 14 ministries, 300million people, double our own, and they have 52 states; they don't have a minister per state. But in this country, we have one minister per state, and there is another one, they say the six geo-political zones, you have one minister each. So it is not the creation of all these ministries that will solve the problems.
Taking cognizance of the removal of Christian Religion from school curriculum in some parts of the country, can we say we have religious freedom in Nigeria?
We have cried over and over about it that Christians in the North are not enjoying the freedom they should enjoy. It is true that for quite a long time, Christian Knowledge is not taught in primary and secondary schools in most northern states, and government is aware of this; they can't claim to be ignorant. The issue of freedom to worship is just there in our constitution, but in practical terms, especially in the North, it is not there; to get land for churches is difficult in many places in the North.
To get a land for church, you have to disguise that you are not a church. If you want to build it, you are monitored, you are asked not to build, you are asked not to do this or do that; that doesn't happen in the country that wants to allow freedom of worship. Sincerely speaking, in the far North, there are lots of hindrances against the church and the governors know that Christians are suffering in silence.
On the issue of security, what is your view on the amnesty committee set up by government?
I think government finds it difficult to find solution to the problem of insecurity in the country, and, possibly, it doesn't know what to do. And when you have a problem and you don't know how to solve it, you do trial and error. The world today is a global village, and we know how all these problems are solved in other parts of the world. There is nowhere in the world you have terrorism and you solve it by amnesty; not in America, not in Britain, not in Pakistan, not in Iraq, not in Indonesia, not in Malaysia, and we have records; go to the internet, you will see these things, how they are dealt with.
When people rise against the government, rise against the people, to kill and destroy, the government takes a stand against the assailants; you don't go about begging them; there is nowhere in the world where terrorism is solved by amnesty. I have not read it anywhere and Nigeria cannot be an exception. For example, after the 9/11 attacks in the US, when Osama Bin Laden and his al Qeada struck, the Americans did not wait for them, they went to their domain. America mobilised all the resources, went after him in Afghanistan; they did not grant amnesty.
*Interview conducted before last week's emergency rule declaration in three states.