A letter to my Christian compatriots
Here, I am making this particular call on my Nigerian Christian compatriots. I want them to see the truth in the unity of Nigeria, unlike ever before. I make this call out of patriotism with a heart full of solemnity, hoping that my message will not be misconstrued. I will later write to Nigerian Muslim compatriots. When the Nigerian legend, Benedict E. Odiase, composed the national anthem asking the compatriots to arise and obey the national call to freedom, peace and unity, he did not target members of a divided nation on frivolous lineages. He meant Nigerian citizens of all cultures, religions and political attachments. These beautiful lines of words that were put to music by the Nigerian Police band under his directorship have remained a tune for the soul for those Nigerians whose patriotism for their motherland is sound and persistent.
I sometimes get inflated like the balloon when I am confronted with the myriad of problems naturally facing or surreptitiously created against Nigeria. I sometimes wonder if Nigerians are special species of mankind. Reflecting on life experiences in one of my poem collections titled: “Man in the Mirror”, where I admonished writers and readers, I postulated at the end that: “My verbiage, coinage as may be seen, flimsy and crass aren’t really intact; I am a man who displays to please, knowing full well I cannot please; Yet to exaggerate is out of pain, when to designate a spade a spade; draws no mind alert and my burning pain, dies and revives with more ceaseless raid.
I have tried and have continued to conduct research on the level of distrust which Nigerians habour in their blood especially on religious lines. Every individual Nigerian seems to be a threat to the other. In some communities, neighbours exchange the lion’s smile. The eyes that God has created for mankind to enjoy the sights of His beautiful creatures have ceased to behold the beauties in humanity. They have been dimmed and reduced to seeing humans as tools for division, rancour and iniquity in some of our communities. And the brains of many compatriots have been over-tortured by the evil. Sometimes, I wonder, out of frustration, if there are still good men and women in Nigeria. Definitely, there are many. There are still many Nigerians with good hearts full of compassion, love and humanity. But many of them are often overpowered by a few who are devil incarnate. They say a lot of good but do a lot of bad. They have abandoned the teachings of their Holy Scriptures in chase of the worldly. They have become the living devils.
I often tend to believe that religion is also a great problem in Nigeria. Christians complain of Muslims and vice versa. The only thing that has evaded religious milieu in Nigeria is the duo of corruption and mass looting. Even then, both are conspicuously considered in the award of inflated contracts and diversion of public funds. In undoing government, religions are regarded to a certain level by the perpetrators. Is it possible to adopt a single religion in Nigeria? Verily, it is not possible. No citizen should be compelled on religion basis, though each religion has its area of predominance. In Nigeria, Islam permeates the north. Christianity predominates the Southeast and South-South. Under both divide, there are the minorities that suffer. It is not supposed to be so under a just President. There has been impartiality in treating the minorities. A just President of Nigeria should take this into consideration. It is this inconsideration or inequality or denial that often arouses the spirit of disaffection amongst these segments of the citizenry.
Furthermore in the light of the above, there is no how a Nigeria leader will not belong to one of the three major religions in Nigeria: Islam, Christianity and traditional. Some may sincerely belong to one. But a lot pretend to belong to one. In short, many leaders and citizens combine two or the three. While it is unarguably established that the problem of Nigeria is leadership, the problem is compounded by religious inclinations of the leaders. Every President of Nigeria has been a Christian or Muslim, even by claim. The first President of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a Christian. Muslims dominated the leadership of the military juntas, though Gowon, a Christian had the longest military leadership. Christians are currently dominating the democratic governments. These facts, being unarguable, should infuse in the minds the mutual understanding between Muslims and Christians of Nigeria.
The past history of Nigeria was, however, encouraging. But since the return to democracy, Nigeria has been stage-managed with a mixture of uncertainty and religious proclivity. Democracy, a good system however, has not been managed properly by Nigerian leaders. The Islamization or Christianization propensities are mere political hallucinations. Let us look at the present. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) accuses President Muhammdu Buhari of every action he takes. It is becoming unclear to conscious patriots the difference between CAN and a political party especially the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While it is good to engage government with constructive criticism, CAN blames Buhari for lopsided appointment, for killings especially in the name of religion and tribe. Festus Keyamo SAN asserts the federal cabinet with 18 Christians and 18 Muslims, with the head of service and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) being Christians, above the ministers. Accordingly, he observes, there are more Christians sitting every week at the Federal Executive Council than Muslims. “Have you heard them (Muslims) shout?” he queried Christian patriots, adding that: “All of these stories about marginalization, all of these stories about clannishness are only existing in the air. The facts on ground do not support the allegations”.
From the other angle, CAN is seeking freedom of convicts, Alex Amos, Alheri Phanuel, Holy Boniface, Jerry Gideon and Jari Sabagi who were sentenced to death for culpable homicide. Boko Haram members who are Muslims have been sentenced to death. Police Force Public Relations Officer (FPRO), ACP Jimoh Moshood, released names suspects involved terrorism in Benue, Taraba and other contiguous states. A former governor of Benue state, a Christian, was recently arrested in connection to the massacre in the state. Many Christians were arrested in connection to the murder of two catholic priests in Benue. The Plateau state branch of CAN has described the recent killings in the state as political. Of recent, communal and inter-state wars are claiming lives and properties of the citizens especially in the Southeast and South-South. They are assuredly Christians. Does it portray any sign of hypocrisy as CAN and the media have always remained silent? Even Arabic Language, an international medium of communication that is used also in Israel is a matter of concern in Nigeria to CAN. Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi states were reported to have sought US$750mioon from an Islamic bank. But anything that has any link to Islam is viewed with austerity by CAN. As at 2016, according to wikipedia.com, the percentages of religions in Israel stood as Judaism 74.7%, Islam 17.7%, Christianity 2.0%, Druzism 1.6% and other unknown religions 4.1%.
The founder and general superintendent of Deeper Life Bible Church, Pastor William Folorunso Kumuyi, speaking on the situation in Nigeria proves that “dogs of war have been commissioned” to kill for political reasons to resurrect religious war. He described all killings of human beings as bad and reprehensible which should not be schemed into an ethno-religious propaganda tool for mischievous political ends. According to him, there are certain persons or groups who would rather have Nigeria go up in flames that to have the country focusing on how much they stole and ruined the country. “When commissioned dogs of war attack your community dressed in a particular form to mislead you, such that they even go into a church building to knock off a certain number of people, what do you do? Do not fall for their antics?” He recalled the invasion of Ozubulu community, when Mosques were bombed almost every Friday in Kano and Boko Haram suicide mission that targeted Mosques in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
Oluwole Adesina, on the Jos killings ascribed stupidity to some Nigerian lower class citizens. He described perpetrators and narrators of the evil acts, including in Benue as “come of their shell”, while some have issued false statements on behalf of Myetti Allah to prove their point. He queried why only people in the South of Nigeria carry negative news whenever any skirmishes happened in the north. “Some, who have never stepped on the River Niger Bridge even write with authority as if they witnessed the fight”. Mfom Offiong in his article: “The Church and Hate Preaching”, appealed to Christian brethren to stop sending inciting false and fake messages through WhatsApp and to be conscious of Rwanda and the fate of Christianity there after the 1994 genocide. “Rwanda is a Christian country. 800,000 people, 95% of Christians were massacred in 100 days. So, we should not assume that because we are Christians, that we can keep sowing hate and not reap its fruit”, he warned.
Professor Pius Adesanmi was more insightful in his description of the situation in Nigeria today. He regretted that the bloodshed in Nigeria is masking other relatively connected issues. He fumed over AMCON’s debt portfolio which revealed that 350 Nigerians owe 80% of the debt, 100 BVNs control 60% of bank lending in Nigeria; all of the facts being without reference to PDP, APC, Hausa, Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw, Christian or Muslim. He urged citizens to close ranks at the bottom and stop fighting and tearing themselves on the account of these people whose slogan is found in Bob Marley’s Real Situation song: “Total destruction…is the only solution.” The don proffered that a new Nigeria must grow out of the ashes of the ugly, unjust and malevolent contraption owned by 500 people.
In another development, the National Inter-Faith and Religious Organizations for Peace (NIFROP) through its national leader, Bishop Chanami, who addressed the media recently, warned the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) championed by Rtd Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma and Solomon Asemota (SAN) to stop beating war drum with the claim that Christians in Nigeria may cease to exist in the next 25 years. “There is none of the testaments in God’s name that promotes the kind of wicked lie contained in the misleading claim”, he noted, demanding that NCEF should review whatever scriptures they are reading as Christians before their attempt to destroy Nigeria.
Reports have revealed the kindness displayed by Fulanis and Muslims in Plateau state towards their Birom compatriots from Barkin Ladi during the recent crisis in the state. A Muslim cleric, Imam Muhammad, amongst them was said to have saved the lives of about 262 Christians from being killed by the acclaimed “herdsmen” when they invaded the Plateau village. The Imam was said to have hidden them in the Mosque. This is the same spirit that was exhibited when Christians guarded Muslims during prayer times in crisis ridden areas in the north. This spirit is laudable and should be preached in worship places. Worship places should not be used to incite followers against other compatriots of different religions.
However, I read with tears the paper by NCEF on the imperative of Christian participation in governance presented at RCCG mega political conference on June 15, 2018 in Lagos. NCEF, with its motto “Watch and pray that we may be one…”, made me weep throughout the day as I regained some level of trust in the collective efforts of religious leaders to bridge the falling ethics of understanding, tolerance and conviviality amongst Nigerians. I could not believe the less that Nigeria’s chain of crisis and distresses range from corruption to insecurity, unemployment of gigantic proportions, collapsed social infrastructure and dysfunctional institutions, kidnapping, drugs, armed robbery, ritual killings, human trafficking, unimaginable poverty, bastardized democratic institutions, conflicting Constitution, and other unbelievable social ills. Nothing more can be the bare truth.
Yes, there has been intense and continuous debate on the cause of the distresses. Some observers hold corruption or militocracy – the interference of military in politics and governance - responsible. A lot of observers believe it is simply rooted in bad governance and are very sure that if the right people are in charge of government, the nation would grow. This group placed very high premium on the emergence of a new political class dominated by youthful intellectuals. NCEF sees that the problem of Nigeria as neither regional, nor social statuses nor even political differences. They find the problem in the opposition between Islam and Christianity. “This has always been the problem and until it is resolved, Nigeria is not going anywhere.” I plead to reflect little on the paper.
NCEF wants Christians to amongst others: have one common agenda for 2019 elections and subsequent years, agree on Christian political leadership to provide direction and harmonize all the various Christian resources into one formidable asset for Christianity, coordinate screening of political parties as well as Christian political candidates, promote the doctrines of truth, righteousness and repentance in all Christian assemblies, demand for a new constitution for Nigeria, discard Shariah compliant finance and banking Acts including Islamic Banking and Sukuk, demand the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, establish a Law Review Commission to isolate Shariah, support CAN Trust Fund to mobilize critical funding to make Christianity in Nigeria financially independent.
The group followed it up with another conference on the causes and solutions to conflicts in Nigeria held at the National Christian Centre, Abuja, on June 22, 2018. Here, they criticized the 2018 National Honours tilted towards Muslims and the selective prosecution of accused looters of national and state treasuries. They thanked the Church and Christian leaders for their restraint and influence over Christians which has prevented a religious war between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. The NCEF reduced Nigeria’s problem to the denomination of Democracy versus Shariah, hoping to work with other Nigerians to improve Nigeria’s political leadership through democracy. They insisted on dialogue, not violence. But it must be a dialogue conducted only in “truth and reconciliation, without bitterness” so that with God’s grace, Nigeria may become one indivisible and united nation under God. Let all the qualified Christian compatriots get their permanent voters cards and vote with their conscience in 2019. And I declare Nigeria will remain one, with the special grace of God Almighty. Ameen.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]