Islamization, Christanization et al of Nigeria
I have been very reluctant to write on this topic because it is a very sensitive matter and one of the things, if not the greatest, which divides Nigerians. Religion has become a ready tool which politicians as well as religious leaders - the bigots amongst them - use to drive home personal interests without minding the consequences it bears on the common citizens. I had maintained my strong ground not to write on it until the recent utterances from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jama’atu Nasiril-Islam (JNI), supposedly the two apex organizations for Christians and Muslims respectively in Nigeria. These two bodies have been on each other’s neck over socio-religious and political happenings in Nigeria.
Islamization, Christanization, militarization, militia-zation, balkanization, Biafra-zation, Boko-Haram-zation, Fulani-zation, including kidnap-zation in Nigeria and all sorts of superfluous coinages have become of Nigeria today. But none of these have really overwhelmed the Nigerians peoples nor the nation’s leaderships whose focus, however misunderstood, has been to keep the country united amidst diversity in both safety and economic policy approaches. Long life, a united and progressive Nigeria!
Nigerians are truly divided when religion is discussed. But unfortunately, the two religions used to cause the disaffection amongst Nigerians by Nigerians are the imported ones: Christianity and Islam. No doubt, both are not the original religions of Nigerians. They have accepted both, though in disproportionate numbers, with the hope of salvation but because like the common language that Nigerians nay Africans “too sabi”, they claim to know the religions more than the people from whom they both originated. Nigerians kill or are used to kill in the name of these two religions. And without the slightest fear of the holy books of these religions – the Bible and the Qur’an, some politicians swear by them and do exactly contrary to the dictates of the books. They take them for granted because the God of the books is patient. But the same politicians, to ensure loyalty and faithfulness, administer secret oaths with the devil that is fast and impatient.
The quarrel over these two religions by Nigerians grows steadily to an overbearing point. The Christians of Nigeria accuse every Muslim leadership of attempts to Islamize the country. The Muslims accuse the Christian leadership of overdue interference and the use of the media to propagate Christianization of Nigeria under disguise. In between, other forms of claims and counterclaims, all for political pursuits, are built. But it cannot be for any genuine cause that fellow Nigerians should be killed in the name of religious-political exuberance.
Everything that happens in Nigeria can easily be pictured from a religious angle. And this has made the leaderships of the religions look at themselves with suspicion, though claims remain that they meet to discuss peaceful coexistence. The question is: how sincere are these leaders who claim to be preaching peace but in actuality are only interested in government funding for meetings. What has been the effect of the national interfaith dialogue body?
Once upon a time, one of Nigeria’s illustrious retired army generals, Lieutenant General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, alongside the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) made up of General Joshua Dogonyaro, Elder Moses Ihonde, Elder Shyngle Wigwe, Elder Solomon Asemota, Dr. Chukwuemeka Azeife and others stirred the political scene of the nation when they alleged that a Jihad has been launched against Christians in an attempt to Islamize Nigeria. The Christian elders proclaimed that, “the NCEF is alarmed at the audacity and impunity of Islamists in Nigeria to attempt to forcibly transform Nigeria from a democratic nation into an Islamic theocratic state”. They said that the brazen attempt at Islamizing Nigeria has extended to the introduction of religion and national values subject which denigrates Christianity and promotes Islam. The Igbo have also consistently complained of same Islamization plot.
Once upon another time, a summit was organized by the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) in Kaduna where the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, expressed worry that people who were supposed to be elder statesmen could make such provocative comments, questioning how a country like Nigeria can be Islamized with a presumed 50:50 percent population for Muslims and Christians of Nigeria. One of such meetings was attended by the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of JNI and NSCIA, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the Emir of Gwandu, Alhaji (Dr.) Muhammadu Ilyasu Bashar; the Emir of Kano, Mal. Muhammadu Sanusi II; the Emir of Bauchi, Alhaji Dr. Rilwanu Suleiman Adamu; the Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris; the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar and the Emir of Fika, Alhaji Muhammad Abali Ibn Muhammad Idrissa, amongst others.
Following suit, a socio-cultural and political organization in the Middlebelt under the auspices of Middle Belt People’s Progressive Congress (MBPPC) frowned at the National Christian Elders Forum over its claim of Jihad being launched in Nigeria. MBPPC spokesman, Solomon Asemota said such utterances were deliberate attempts to spark conflagration and ethno-religious crisis in Nigeria. Besides, the President General of the MBPPC, Amos Yunusa, described the NCEF as a body overly over populated by some persons with questionable characters. He accused their elites of exploiting the innocence and vulnerability of Nigerians, as NCEF postures, to create confusion and ignite ethno-religious wars.
In another swipe, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) wondered who was afraid of retired Christian military generals. MURIC President, Professor Ishaq Akintola, condemned such allegations. He described the warnings against Islamization of Nigeria as an old song that no longer attracts interest, noting that the CAN and its attack megaphones like NCEF are “adept at subterfuge”. He argued that the false alarms from the Christian groups usually come after they might have committed an evil act. “It is diversionary tactics”, he noted.
Akintola queried the assemblage of Christian war veterans in the form of army generals and the need for the emphasis on the military elements in the group. “Why do Christian leaders always mobilize their army generals?” This attitude, according to him, is suggestive of subtle intimidation and coercion. “Is there any connection between this surreptitious union and the South African money-for-arms scandal which involved an aircraft belonging to Ayo Oritsejafor, former CAN president? Also, can any sane mind rationalize the involvement of Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife in this group? How does he fit in for crying out loud? So how Northern is the Northern Christian Elders Forum?” he sought explanations.
This was happening when the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Onaiyekan, called on Christians to rise up and Christianize Nigeria instead of complaining that Muslims wanted to Islamize the nation. In his homily at a Mass to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Abuja, he declared: “So, let nobody deceive you, I don’t think there is anybody who has plan to Islamize Nigeria, but even if they do, they have every right to do so provided they also know that I have the right to Christianize the whole of Nigeria.”
Also, the Bishop of Uyo Catholic Diocese, Most Reverend (Dr.) Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, stated that Muslims have a right to Islamize Nigeria because Christians had had the opportunity to ‘Christianize’ Nigeria but failed to do so. He said Christians in high offices only know how to engage in bickering and fight for positions, leaving out policies that would favour them.
It was reported that in November, 2017, Christian elders and leaders in Nigeria gathered at the Shepherdhill Baptist Church, Obanikoro, Lagos to deliberate on the challenges facing the Church in Nigeria. Among the attendees at the meeting called by the CAN President, Rev. Dr. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle were the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, the Presiding Bishop, Living Faith Church Worldwide, Bishop David Oyedepo, the General Overseer, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), Archbishop Mike Okonkwo, former CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, CAN Vice President, Elder Prof. Joseph Otubu, CAN General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Musa Asake, CAN Treasurer, Bishop Anthony Anyiador, Legal Adviser, Barr. Samuel Kwamku, Youth Leader, Dan Kazir and others. All the denominational leaders, CAN block leaders and other Church leaders in the country of about one thousand (1000) were all in attendance. The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was represented by the Villa Chaplin, Pastor Seyi Malomo.
CAN had invited all Christian leaders to the meeting with a prosaic theme “Our collective destiny as Nigerian Christians is at stake - Urgent matters that affect Nigerian Christians would be discussed. Invite others and try to be there”. After the gathering, the Church leaders resolved among other things, according to Bishop Prof. Funmi Adesanya-Davies who signed the statement for Nigerian Supreme Council for Ecclesiastical Affairs (NSCEA): that CAN should call on the National Assembly to compile the list of all organizations Nigeria belongs to and all the treaties signed with a view to dropping all the religious ones; that CAN calls on the National Assembly to prevail on the States in the North of the country, and try to henceforth be issuing Certificate of Occupancy to the churches there to build their houses of worship; CAN condemns in strong terms the failure of the security agencies to stop the murderous Fulani herdsmen from their criminal activities; refusal of the present administration to fund meetings of the Nigerian Inter-religious Council; condemnation of the government's decision to lead Nigeria into being member of Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism through executive fiat, Nigeria's participation in the International Islamic Sports Federation, Nigeria's membership of International Islamic Financial Institution of which the present Governor of the Central Bank is the chairman.
The CAN president claimed that almost all the steps being taken to Islamize Nigeria have been completed through the subtle actions of Nigeria’s rulers who were and are Muslims. He accused those in government Christians and Muslims alike of ignorance of the truth or mischievousness at discussion of Islamization plan. At a press conference in Abuja, the General Secretary of CAN, Rev. Dr. Musa Asake claimed that the Islamists of northern Nigerian have “legalized jihad” in Nigeria. He alleged the collusion of the security units with the Islamists militia operating under such names as Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, unknown gunmen, and group of vandals to kill Christians, accusing some principal agencies to be responsible for the current distress in the nation.
Asake called for a rise against the Islamists, who manipulate the religion of Islam for political and cultural domination. “There is difference between Islam and Islamism. While Islam is a religion, Islamism is not a religion but a political ideology”, he noted, adding that while the government has taken the battle to Boko Haram terrorists, the Indigenous People of Biafra, the Badoo boys, the Niger Delta Avengers and other groups, the government has not shown any serious willingness to checkmate the Fulani Herdsmen. To restore peace in the country, CAN demanded proscription of Myetti Allah organization, overhauling of the national Security Council with membership equally shared between Christians and Muslims and replacement of the Inspector General of Police.
In a rejoinder to this, the JNI accused CAN of dragging the name of religion in the mud for clandestine motives. JNI Secretary-General, Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, described CAN’s allegations as mendacious, provocative and seditious to the state. Aliyu claimed that the herdsmen debacle was a coinage mischievously invented by CAN and its errand boys among media practitioners to stereotype an ethnic group so as to achieve a pre-planned agenda. He recalled Boko Haram tales of Christians dressing in Muslims’ garb to bomb churches and the foiled bombing of the Radio House in Abuja, after which the then Minister of Information and Marylyn Ogar, then SSS Spokesperson, changed the storyline.
He alleged that some Christian leaders' promote hate speeches, such as ‘If you see a fulani man kill him’ by Pastor Suleman and ‘crush them, kill them’ by Pastor Oyedepo as well as Bishop Kukah's hate speech against Muslims in Nigeria. He wondered why Asake refused to include brutal killings of hundreds of people and the destruction of properties in Zamfara, Katsina, Birnin Gwari, Mambila, Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, as well as the cannibalization of Muslims in Plateau and such other places. According to Aliyu, although CAN since the era of Ayo Oritsejafor had a glaring pathological hatred for Muslims and Islam in Nigeria, the matter was gathering more momentum because the present CAN leadership is an offshoot of Oritsejafor whose aircraft was found in South Africa purportedly for arms deals and nothing has been heard of it.
He warned CAN and other Christian leaders not to take the patience of Nigerian Muslims for foolishness, as their hate speeches are becoming provocative and outlandish, noting that the Muslims know that the ‘Nigeria is secular’ sloganeering was mere mendacity amidst government’s policies being more tilted towards Christianity and Christians signs and practices. For peace to reign, JNI urged government to probe the Numan massacre, the Mubi suicide attack, the June 2017 Mambilla massacre, the Benue rampaging militia kingpins such as Ghana and Tashaku and CAN’s hate speeches.
The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) also took a swipe on the CAN. Deputy Secretary-General of NSCIA, Professor Salisu Shehu, in astatementtitled: “CAN’s penchant for mischief and hate” described as campaign of calumny, intolerance and political brigandage the statement by Secretary-General of CAN, Reverend Musa Asake. Shehu said that the new strategy by CAN is to cry wolf where there is none, make a storm in a teacup and shout of marginalization and Islamization, even though they are the ones still in charge, in order to totally emasculate Muslims in their own country.
He claimed that Nigeria has been Christianized since the British bombardment of Lagos in 1851 from when Western education has been systematically institutionalized. “Both education and the media are used to nurture an unfair and unjust system against Muslims” noting that the symbol of National Hospital and the Ambulance is the cross, while both Saturdays and Sundays are made work-free to satisfy the sects of Christianity. According to him, Muslims are being slaughtered in Southern communities with impunity. “It is only Christians that are being denied places of religious worship, being marginalized and “Islamized” in Nigeria - sheer deceit!” “While the request of NSCIA for a meeting with the President is yet to be honoured, that of CAN was expressly granted, yet CAN complains.”
He recalled the lopsidedness of former President Jonathan’s constituted membership of his political conference, where Muslims were only one-third and the seven ministers from the Southwest who were all Christians. He called on the Federal Government to commence immediate process of conducting a religious census of not only the leadership but also the staff membership of all ministries, departments and agencies with a view to confirming or refuting the allegation of CAN leaders when they visited the President.
CAN’s allegations were refuted by the presidency. Spokesperson to the president, Garba Shehu, described CAN’s allegations as unfortunate for lack of any valid cases of constitutional violations by Mr. President. Shehu said Buhari’s government poses no threat to the country’s democracy and constitution, though the visit to the President by the Conference of Bishops in Nigeria on February 8, 2018 took another dimension.
This nagging allegation over tagging Nigeria a one-religion state has to be resolved. The federal government should cause JNI and CAN to sit together and come up with a blueprint to end this misgiving. On its party, the executive and legislative arms of the government should ensure the protection of the constitution in balancing all appointment matters considering the ethno-religious composition of Nigeria.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]