‘Drugs, not religion, is Nigeria’s problem’
Professor Ishaq Oloyede is the Coordinator and Executive Secretary of Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC). In this interview with Kazeem Ibrhaym, the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin insists that Nigeria’s problem is not Christianity or Islam. For him, what is necessary for the adherent of the religions is to tolerate each other and fight drug addiction, violence, bombings and killings.
What is NIREC set up to achieve?
The Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NREC) is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) established by the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) with the support of the federal government. We have as co-chairmen the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar and the President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
The meeting of the Council from 1999 when it was established up to 2004 were normally held in Abuja. However, in the last three years, the present leadership took the decision of moving the meeting from one geopolitical zone to the other to impact positively on the adherents of our two principal religions and to further sustain religious understanding, peaceful co-existence and promotion of ethical values and good governance. Meetings have been held in Enugu in February 2008, Maiduguri (May 2008), Kano (November 2008). The first and second quarters were hosted by Plateau State (May 2009), the third one was hosted Rivers State (August 2009) while the last quarter was hosted by the FCT (December 2009). We have also been to Bauchi, Sokoto, Oyo and last year in Kwara State.
The meeting is aimed at addressing among other things the security situation in the country. But I must also let you know that NIREC has as its objectives to honestly and sincerely create fellowship between Moslems and Christians, create a sustainable channel of communication and interaction across religious lines, to promote moral, ethical and social values of our respective religious traditions, provide a forum for mutual cooperation and promotion of the welfare of citizens, to serve as an avenue for articulating cordial relationship among the various religious groups and between the religious communities and the political leadership.
Why Christians, Moslems must tolerate one another
We have found ourselves in the same boat; even if you don’t like the other religion what can you do? You start to fight that you don’t want that religion, either Islam or Christianity; then you become the poorer.
This is exactly what some people are doing that we say is not good., So if you find yourself in the house, the least you can do; if one is responsible and sensible is to tolerate each other. Tolerance is not good but it is better than intolerance. I believe none of you is tolerating money because you like money and when a person says I am tolerating my spouse that marriage is at the verge of collapse. I think what we want is not even tolerance which is the least, it is understanding, you understand why this is this and therefore, you can say I am a Moslem. You should know why I am a Moslem. You are a Christian, I should know why you are a Christian; and when you take an action, I will know that because my friend is a Christian, he must go to church on Sunday. Oh my friend, who is a Christian must pay one tenth of his salary to his church and therefore I don’t need to ask him to account for one hundred percent of his salary. So for a Moslem he must account for 99 percent of his money. You know in Islam, adherents pay 1/40 of net income as Zakat. So understanding requires we know Christians pay 10 percent as tithe while Moslems pay 1/40 as Zakat. We must realise that 90 percent of us are what we are because of the training and where we are born. If you are from Akwa Ibom and you go there to deliver a baby and one woman from Jigawa also goes there to put to bed and the nurse makes a mistake to swap the babies; what would happen? The Jigawa woman will go home with an Akwa Ibom child while the Akwa Ibom woman would go home with the Jigawa child, then as the children grow up they will be thinking they are from where they are told they come from. So, the Akwa Ibom child taken to Jigawa will become a Moslem and the Jigawa child in Akwa Ibom will become a Christian. And when people here begin to fight Hausa, he will be also say we don’t want Hausa; not knowing Hausa blood flows in him. So, the point we are making is that some of these things we now capitalise on are mere accidents and you can become anything by anything .
If just a nurse makes the mistakes, then you from Akwa Ibom becomes an Alhaji, when you could have become a Bishop. You become a Hausa when you could have become an Igbo or Akwa Ibom person. But we lay undue emphasis on things that are primordial. Now if this country is in trouble today, the pastor and the imam will meet at a point that they will be sitting together, not only in the same house but in the same room.
In any case, if God had wanted all of us to be Christians we would have been. If He had wanted all of to be Moslems, we would have been.
On how NIREC has nipped many crises in the bud
Somebody asked whether NIREC has any value at all with the spate of insecurity in the country, but I think the question we should ask ourselves is if there had been no NIREC, where would we have been? There are so many crises that NIREC has solved that you do not know about. It is the few crises you know about that you believe are too many and that is why you are asking what NIREC is doing. It is like asking us what the security agencies are doing; what are the courts doing when there are still crimes. When people are still committing crime should we abrogate the police, courts judiciary and the prisons service? But if you abrogate those departments, it is then you will know that they have been providing us with succour. I believe it is a challenge to NIREC to do more.
What is NIREC doing to curb insecurity in the country?
I think because you have not taken pains to look at the other side; to say if there had been no NIREC, if Christians are left on their own in this country, Moslems are left on their own and there is no way of their coming together to discuss, even if to disagree, then things would have been worse than it is. In any case, when you talk of insecurity, Boko Haram and all other crises you have related to religion as destructive as they are; even without them we still have insecurity. Insecurity is a global issue and it rears its head under any excuse. It might be religion; it might be economic. To me, if you ask me, we are only treating the symptom. We are not treating the real issue. I believe the real problem with us in this country, whatever might have been the reason, is drugs. Most of our youths across the country are acting under the influence of drugs and it is a problem we have to face but we are shying away from calling a spade a spade. When somebody is addicted to drug, that is when he can become an armed robber, or any evil doer. When you see armed robbers being arrested, and you ask them how much were you given, they say N20,000 or N30,000. They talk about money that will make you ask why should somebody decide to kill himself in the process of carrying out such dastardly act. More often than not, he or she is not in his right sense and this is the product of drug.
In some southern American countries, you know what’s happening; how drug cartels have formed themselves and they are waging war against their society. I believe NDLEA/NAFDAC and other agencies would have a lot to do to solve this issue. My own position is that we must find our youth doing drugs and try to re-orientate and rehabilitate them. Today if you tell somebody you are going to a particular part of this country, they would say you would be kidnapped or armed robbers will attack you; while in another part they will say some religious fanatics can attack you. We are just having different shades of a problem and unfortunately for us, rather than collectively facing the problem we are pursuing shadows, and that is why we now say this one is from this zone, this one is from that zone, and politicians bring this up. As far as insecurity is concerned, NIREC is doing what is can and will continue to do more.
On the polio crisis in the North
It is very sad that people who are engaged in rescuing our future, like those nurses were killed in Kano. It is very unfortunate but if you ask us what we are doing on polio, I will tell you that NIREC members are on the National Committee Against Polio. The Emir of Bama in Borno State and one other person are on the committee. And last month they held a meeting in Abuja where they decided on the next phase; just as the governors were meeting to do this. We are doing our best but we are not Ministry of Health; so we are just an NGO. But for your information, before you start asking questions on what NIREC should do that is has not done, NIREC is not a government agency, NIREC is an NGO. We do not control the police, to say go and arrest Mr. ‘A’ or leave Mr. ‘B’. We are just like an NGO making our contributions to peaceful co-existence. So it is unfortunate that what happened in Kano happened but anybody who knows the history of polio vaccination in the North would know that it is a struggle that has been on. A lot of information is going out, re-orientation is taking place. It is, in fact, getting better but it is not good enough and that is why we are having this unfortunate incidents.
On alleged denial of Certificate of Occupancies to Churches in the North
We have heard of such cases and we have intervened. Unfortunately, for us in Nigeria, we have this persecution syndrome. If you take a Yoruba man to tell the history of Nigeria, he will just start the story from when Awolowo was imprisoned, that Hausa and some people connived together and Awolowo was jailed. If you asked a Hausa to tell you the problem of Nigeria, he will start with the assassination of Tafawa Balewa and Co. He will say that one day they just woke up to discover the Igbo eliminated them.
If you ask an Igbo man to tell you the story, he is going to tell you about the killing of Aguiyi Ironsi and how they wanted to send the Igbo away from the North. Everybody picks what is suitable for him to anchor on; not giving the whole picture. He just gives what is convenient for him.
I do not know of any major town in the North where you do not have up to 500 churches. I do not know of any town in the North where you can travel for one kilometre before you get to a church. It is unfortunate that in Nigeria we emphasise only the negative. For everyone man in the North that is denied C of O there will be 50 that have been granted. It is not good to deny but what we are saying is that it is not as if you cannot build churches in the North or you cannot build mosque in the South. Please when there are cases of aberration, let’s treat them as aberrations and collectively fight them.
We have more than 250 ethnic groups in this country and they have been fighting one another before Islam and Christianity came and they are still fighting, but religion has reduced it to two or three. It is human to have differences and when you have differences you solve them.
On how drug encourages crime
Government knows who the Boko Haram people are; they can’t tell us that they don’t know them. They are in their custody; they should make them available to us to interact with them. We want to interact with them so that we can make sense out of their nonsense. So I want to say that as terrible as the Boko Haram episode is, I don’t see it as the major issue. I see the major issue that we are not attacking as drugs. What leads somebody to Boko Haram or kidnapping is drugs.
Some people say poverty is the problem, yes, that may be part of the problems but I think the issue is madness induced by drugs. Majority of our youth across the country are now involved in drugs. Let me give you an example, in the North where you say they are Almajiri, go and see the amount of cough syrup that are being sold in the North, they are being used as drugs. The truth is that we are in for a serious problem of drugs. Our people are getting addicted by the day, some unconsciously. Go to the North, the people you claim are poor, you see them going to get excreta of certain reptiles in the house wrap it and use as drugs. They use gum, rubber from vulcaniser as drug. They are very cheap to get.
Rather than facing those problems, we are now facing the externalities of the problem by saying it is Boko Haram, kidnapping and so on. Go and interview those people and you will find that they are not themselves, they are acting under certain influences and certainly that influence is drugs.
Terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon, people look for any reason to terrorise. If here those who are attacking us across religions are using platform of Islam to say Boko Haram, Moslems have told you clearly that they are not Moslems. Islam does not teach or send anybody to go and kill. We also have cases of people using the name of Christianity to do what is unchristian. So I think we must collectively fight those who are bastardising the names of our religions.
Major success of NIREC
I must tell you that since 1999 till date, NIREC has been a major success of providing a platform for communication at the highest level of these religious bodies.
If any problem is linked to religion today, the Sultan will not start looking for the CAN’s president number to call him. They interact almost on a daily basis. We are meeting here now and part of what we are going to discuss is how to rescue the two religions from the problem of the secularists who are daily attacking religion as if religion is the problem. It is when religion survives that there will be Christianity and Islam. But today what we are having is that people think religion is the problem. And that is why when 419 people were buying aircrafts and jets there was no problem but immediately religious people started buying jets, they started attacking and saying even they are buying jets, as if they are born to suffer. So the point we are making is that religious people as religious people have problem internally and externally but NIREC has provided a platform for us and we have been using that platform effectively. There are a few cases which we were unable to manage properly, then you see the effect, you now say what is NIREC doing. If you know what we settle at the level of NIREC you will be amazed.
At ABU Zaria, in the last two years there has been the conflict on providing land for a church. They said a new land was given at Kongo but the Christian community wanted another one and Moslems said no, it is close to the mosque. We have been on it and we are trying to settle and when we settle that and it does not become a national problem you won’t know. But if it goes out of hand it is that one you will know. Please know that there are so many problems we are solving. One of our success stories is unity, you may not know; because you think we are disunited.
How NIREC is fighting corruption
You asked why we are talking only to poor people to stop corruption and wondered why we are not talking to rich people. The truth is that we talk to the big people as we talk to the so-called ordinary citizens. The truth of the matter is that NIREC, almost every year makes position paper available to the big people. Recently one of the co-chairmen said we have told the president what to do about X or Y. We keep on talking and we continue to talk. Just as most of the parents talk to their children, yet some of them go astray, we continue to talk, preach and appeal to them but their non-compliance is not a proof of our inactivity.
The challenge of NIREC
I think the greatest challenge we face is how to bring down prejudice. People have fixed positions. Many people believe that in some parts of this country you are not safe because they slaughter human beings and eat them. It is something that has been passed from one generation to the other. Some people say that some groups in this country are homosexuals. Some people believe so many funny things. The primacy of the individual is what is important. Until you live with the person, don’t make up your mind against the person. My own take is that Lagos created some of these prejudices we carry along because it is in Lagos you have all kinds of people. They are just beer parlour jokes that people have now developed into monsters and unless we work very hard, we will continue to have the problem. But let me say here that whether you are a Christian or Moslem and if there is a fine girl you are running after, you won’t ask her religion. When you go to Corporate Affairs Commission and you want to register your business, go and see that Alhaji and Bishops co-own companies at that time they don’t care whether you are a Christian or Moslem. But when it comes to issue of welfare, people start segregating among themselves. In Ilorin where I live, there are sections where they say they are the real indigenes; you have some that are second class indigenes. In Lagos, not all Yoruba can beat their chest and say they are from Lagos; they will stone them.
If you go to the East, they have free -born and slaves. So the point I am making is that we have so many reasons to be different but let us work together for the sake of the country.