By Dr. Aliyu Tilde
The latest revelation by the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Oritsejefor, calls for instant comment even as the country braces up for a shutdown by its labour unions tomorrow. I am afraid that this voice will be drowned in the sea of the ongoing protests on fuel subsidy removal. It is unfortunate that the nation has to face the two weighty issues simultaneously due to the incompetence of its leadership. The situation doesn’t allow us to sacrifice one for the sake of the other.
The CAN President addressed a press conference saying that Christians are “taking their fate in our hands”, that “we have decided to work out means to defend ourselves against these senseless killings.” This came in the aftermath of the killings of Christians in Gombe, Mubi and Yola during the past four days. Some, like Aljazeera, have already interpreted the statement as signaling an impending civil war in Nigeria.
It is difficult for anyone not to sympathize with the challenging position that religious leaders find themselves in Nigeria today. On the one hand, Christian leaders cannot be expected to keep mute while their followers are slaughtered. CAN leadership since Arch-Bishop Okogie has never hesitated to call for war at the slightest provocation. We heard it during the OIC, Sharia and Islamic Banking debates. These were mere policy issues. When the issue is that of attacking churches and killing Christians, one can expect another declaration of war from a leadership with such pedigree. Apparently, the government is lagging many kilometers behind Boko Haram. Who would justifiably expect Oritsejefor to keep quiet? He must say something.
On the other hand are Nigerian Muslims who are helpless in the situation are often accused by their Christians brothers of not doing much to stop the attacks by Boko Haram. They wonder what mere condemnation would do in the face of bullets and bombs. In fact, most Muslims whom I discussed the issue with hold the belief, like many of their leaders, that Boko Haram is a conspiracy against Islam and the Muslim North. As evidence, they do not hesitate to point accusing fingers at northern Christians known to have links with Boko Haram and the instances in which Christians were caught attempting to bomb churches.
Another source of dilemma for Muslims is that these killings are happening unabated when the top echelon of the country’s security apparatus is dominated by Christians: The President and Commander-in-Chief or the Armed Forces, Goodluck Jonathan, is a Christian, just as are his Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Army Staff, National Security Adviser and Director of State Security Services; only the Inspector General of Police and the Chiefs of Air and Naval Staff are Muslim, the last two having no direct relevance to the issue of Boko Haram.
Muslims reason that if these people, on whose shoulders rests the entire security of the country, fail to discharge their constitutional responsibilities for reasons best known to them, how can the Sultan – the ceremonial leader of Muslims in Nigeria, for example, stop Boko Haram killings when he does not command a single soldier or superintend the security his ward? The Sultan and other Muslims can condemn Boko Haram saying that their actions are illegal, un-Islamic, etc., as they have done, but that has not and will not change anything. What will check Boko Haram is intelligence, weapons, police and security personnel and the will to deploy them.
Muslims will also not forget to cite the roles played by Muslim ex-Presidents and Heads of State in suppressing Muslim insurgency. President Shehu Shagari and Maj. General Muhammadu Buhari did not waste time in brutally dealing with Maitatsine in the early 1980s. Both Buhari and President Babangida arrested and jailed Ibrahim El-Zakzaky for preaching anti-government doctrines. In 2009 when Boko Haram made its first public outing in retaliation to the extrajudicial killings of their members by the police, President Yar’adua brutally repressed them. In both Bauchi and Maiduguri, they were massacred and their bases leveled instantly by bulldozers, acts that courted worldwide condemnation by human right groups.
However, the performance of Christian Presidents is a direct contradiction of the Muslim regarding religious insurgency and criminal activities. Boko Haram first surfaced as “Nigerian Taliban” during the era of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a self-confessed born-again Christian. He did practically nothing to stop them, so much so that the then Director of SSS, Mr. Gadzama, was baffled at how the administration was adamant in checking a group that was becoming increasingly armed. Instead, it is commonly known that the leader of Boko Haram, Muhammad Yusuf, was twice bailed by Professor Jerry Gana, an elder in CAN and a Minister under Obasanjo. To my knowledge, Gana has not denied the story.
Also, the person widely known to have links with the group during its formative stage, former Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, was a lackey of Obasanjo. Just few minutes after he met the Boko Haram leader in police cell in 2009 where he spoke to him in his native Kanuri, the former was executed in cold blood by the police. That was just after another top Boko Haram member, Modu’s Commissioner for Religious Affairs was also gunned down by the police on the street to the loud ovation of the public.
After President Yar’adua, Jonathan continued with Obasanjo’s deficit of interest to check Boko Haram. It is unbelievable to see how a government in a digital age would fail to apprehend a few thousand insurgents and their leaders who are using GSM freely to coordinate their activities and communicate with local and international press; how it will fail to prosecute arrested members of the group; how it will refuse to apprehend its known sponsors and associates; etc. It must be noted that so far, of all the thousands arrested, only one person has been prosecuted. He was quickly given a laughable jail term of three years only. This kind of evidence goes a long way to prove that there is a deliberate attempt on the part government to sustain the crisis.
So if anybody is looking for where to place his blame, he should deposit it on the doorstep of the President. I have heard Serah Jibril, David Mark and CAN leadership accusing northern leaders of not being forthcoming in condemning Boko Haram, though they are equally silent on the war crimes committed by Christian militia in central Nigeria. Muslims complain that the Sallah massacre of Muslims at a prayer ground at the end of last Ramadan where their bodies were roasted and eaten by Christians before the very eyes of security agents did not attract any condemnation from Christian leaders, the Nigerian President, or the foreign leaders and press.
If the Christian leadership would be dispassionate, I think they should redirect their criticism at the President, instead of taking the simple path of blaming a helpless section of the Nigerian population. If he is incompetent, let them tell the world, as they would hastily do were he a Muslim President. They must hold him responsible for their insecurity.
Blaming Jonathan, however, is the last thing that CAN would do. Since he became President, he has come to rely on it for support in both politics and administration. It supported his candidature almost 100%. How would it in one breath celebrate his victory and in the next advocate his incompetence? CAN is also quick to come to his rescue on any national issue, no matter unpopular it may be. Some weeks ago, its chairman tried to rope in the Christian community into accepting the unpopular decision of removing fuel subsidy, saying that CAN was supportive of the move. It took a threat from the northern wing of the organization before he withdrew the statement, claiming that he was misquoted.
Jonathan on his part has expressed his gratitude in many ways. He has used the congregation of his church in Abuja to announce important policy statements of his administration and avail Nigerians of his mindset. Today, he made this startling revelation at the interdenominational church service to mark Armed Forces Remembrance day in Abuja:
“Some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies. Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house.”
Mhmm. Jonathan, the hostage of the invincible and omnipresent Boko Haram, is courting sympathy.
In fact, it was in the aftermath of its meeting with the President after the Christmas bombing at Suleja that CAN leadership threatened to retaliate, before it downgraded the posture to self-defence later.
Let us now examine the implication of CAN’s resort to self-defense. On the surface it loo unavoidable,but cut it deep, it is untenable.
Practically, it will require a massive militia and weapons to stem a credible defense against attack on its members. The problem is that we are talking of defending at least 65 million people. How would CAN go about this? How many hundreds of thousands of militia would it require? How many AK47s would it need?
I live in a predominantly Muslim village with only about 5% Christians. Their population has been dwindling since the beginning of the Jos crisis. Yet there are at least five churches. Each church would require at least 5 rifles to defend it against attack from gunmen, Boko Haram or otherwise. That means 25 rifles would be needed to be manned by a greater number of people. In addition, how would CAN protect them against bombs, for example? By acquiring bombs too?
Now, I guess that as the most religious country in the world, there could be about a million churches in Nigeria, some holding congregations of thousands of people at a time. How many rifles would be required nationwide to defend those churches: Five, ten, twenty million? How many youths will CAN need to defend them? In whose custody will the weapons be? From where will they get the money to purchase them? Will Jonathan provide it from the 2011 security vote that is about a trillion naira? Who will give them the permission to acquire the weapons in the first place? Again, the President?
And what happens on the other side of the divide? Would Muslims sit back and watch every church armed with weapons and militant youths without asking for the same concession to pile up arms against a possible attack by Christians? More than 90% of those killed by Boko Haram are Muslims. Would the President also allow Muslims to take up arms in self-defence?
It is here I see the call for self-defense by CAN as infeasible in any civilized society. Nigeria is not the only country where criminal gangs or religious extremists operate violence. But citizens hardly resort to self-help under circumstances like this. They will depend on government to provide such security. Taking the law into one’s hand by arming members of one’s group will logically lead to civil war in any society. That is how Aljazeerah reached its conclusion that Nigeria is heading towards a civil war. CAN, to the delight of many enemies of one Nigeria, will be starting a fire that it will not be able to quench. And if the intention of Boko Haram or whoever is bombing churches in Nigeria, having failed to get Muslims to support or join it, is to ignite a religious war in the country, then CAN would have easily aiding and abetting that objective.
So unless that is what the whole idea behind Boko Haram is intended, CAN leadership should put Jonathan on the hot seat and hold him responsible for our insecurity. It owes the nation that responsibility since it is closer to the President than anyone. Instead of blaming Nigerian Muslims, it should press Jonathan to show resolve similar to that of the Muslim presidents we mentioned earlier. I have no doubt that the Nigerian Muslim community will support him overwhelmingly. I hereby ledge my support in advance.
Why is this happening to Nigeria? Perhaps an answer could be found in Part II of this series where we will survey the six or so hypotheses behind what is termed Boko Haram today. Until then, please join the labour to protest against the removal of fuel subsidy that will start tomorrow. And when you pray, please pray for a peaceful coexistence among the different peoples of Nigeria. Pray also for the President such that he wakes up from his slumber and lead us out of this mess, for the price of failure could be costly. We do not need a badluck. A good one is better.
Abuja 8 January 2012
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