A former National Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum and spokesman for northern delegates in the last National Conference, Anthony Sani, speaks with BAYO AKINLOYE about recent religion-inspired killings and why Muslims should not be blamed for violence in Nigeria
A lot of killings of non-Muslims, said to be mostly Christians, have been attributed to Muslims, leaving many to conclude that Islam is a religion of violence. Is that correct?
I do not share the view that Islam is a religion of violence. What is happening is that terrorists are using religion to legitimise their heinous activities for worldly ends. That is precisely what Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and even the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda have been doing. But the recent killings in Saudi Arabia, the bombing of mosques, market places and motor parks by Boko Haram as well as the recent killing of one Ms. Aisha in the precinct of Abuja have betrayed the motives which could be for anything but for Allah. And that may explain why President Barack Obama was given Nobel Prize for making a clear distinction between terrorism and Islam; a scenario that has helped in no small measure to encourage Islamic countries to join the coalition of the 66 countries led by the US and the United Kingdom against ISIS.
Do you think Muslims are responsible for the violent death of Christians in recent times, like the Redeemed Christian Church of God female pastor killed in Abuja and an Evangelical Church of West Africa clergyman killed in Nasarawa State?
I do not believe a true Muslim would decide to murder people for no justifiable reasons. I read that one Aisha was also killed in Abuja. But it is possible that elements of the desiccated Boko Haram sect are doing that as a strategy to inspire reprisals by Christians for the purpose of engendering a religious conflict. Mind you, the terrorists have been doing everything possible to bring about religious conflict that would bolster their strength for terrorism under the guise of Jihad. No true Muslim would embark on killing of innocent people for no just cause. But for strategic reasons, the killers give their criminal activities Islamic colouration. I recently overheard some members of Boko Haram who have surrendered regretting their actions on grounds that they were hoodwinked into believing they were fighting Jihadists only for them to discover innocent Muslims and innocent Christians were being killed in churches, mosques, motor parks and markets, whereas Jihadists are expected to target only evil people. But I understand why it is much easier for these terrorists to use Islam to legitimise their crimes. This is precisely because there are still three Islamic countries namely: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan which still practise Islamic theocracy with Sharia as the constitution. Christendom has since outgrown Christian theocracy with ‘the Inquisition’ as the constitution in favour of secularity. And that was why when the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda attempted to use Christian theocracy that the government should be guided by the Ten Commandments; it could not get traction. I am pretty sure that as soon as the remaining three Islamic countries outgrow Islamic theocracy with Sharia as the constitution, the terrorists who seek to use Islam as a strategy to legitimise their terrorism would have nothing more to use.
The Christian Association of Nigeria has accused Muslims of deliberately trying to wipe out Christians. Do you think there is such a religious plot?
I do not share that view because were there such plans by Muslims to wipe out the majority of Christians, the majority of Muslims would have joined the terrorists. It is also vital to note that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is a devoted Muslim, would not be leading the fight against Boko Haram which claims to be fighting for Jihad. Were there such a plan, most of the Islamic countries would not be among the coalition of 66 countries against Islamic terrorism.
But CAN has alleged that no Muslim or Muslim group has spoken against the latest killings. Why hasn’t that happened?
I have heard the Sultan (of Sokoto) saying the Islamic terrorists are desecrating Islam and that it is evil for anybody or group to claim they are killing for God, who can fight his own cause. In any case, President Buhari is a Muslim who has subdued Boko Haram very substantially.
CAN is also worried that non-Muslims, especially Christians, will not get justice because most of the people in charge of Nigeria’s security agencies are not just northerners but Muslims. Do you agree with that view?
CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) seems to cosplay Donald Trump who said he would not get justice from a judge, not for content of character of the judge, but because of the judge’s origin is from Mexico. Recall how both the Republicans and Democrats (two major political parties in the United States of America) roundly condemned Mr. Trump for promoting division among Americans. Recall also President Obama said recently that the gunmen who killed 49 gays in Orlando did not do so in representative capacity for Muslims; the one who killed nine blacks in Charleston Church did not do it in representative capacity for white Americans and the gunmen who killed the five police officers in Dallas did not do so in representative capacity for blacks. While I appreciate the concern of CAN that has been informed largely by mistrust and suspicion in the society of today, the respected organisation should not help to promote cleavages of our nation along religious lines.
What do you think can be done to stop the incessant killings of Christians?
The government should give such killers the treatment it is giving Boko Haram by rounding them up and prosecuting them as deterrence for others. In the past, people used to hesistate to report Boko Haram out of fear that they would be killed by the sect, since the sect appeared invincible at that time. But today, people are volunteering information which is responsible for the frequent arrests of members of the sect. The same approach for the (non-Muslims and Christians) killers will lead to arrest and retribution that will go a long way in stopping the mindless killings.
Fulani herdsmen’s violent attacks have continued unabated. Where do you think the problems lie?
There are so many factors. We have increase in population which has reduced lands for cattle to graze. There is the problem of e-payment which has reduced amount of cash people carry thereby reducing armed robbery – that has transmuted to cattle rustling. There is the Libya factor and there is the problem of collapse of moral value and of social contract among groups and among individuals thereby leading to collapse of the core value of humanity. These are some of the causative factors. I am not sure the killings by herdsmen remain unabated since the President has given the directive to security agencies to deal with criminal herdsmen. The phenomenon has reduced significantly. I hope you know Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has given lie to the report that 80 people were killed by herdsmen in his state. Somehow, I do not want the ethnic colouration being given to the herdsmen phenomenon. This is because there are many Fulani people who are not herdsmen while many non-Fulanis are herdsmen. But when we give the phenomenon ethnic coloration, we risk offending sensitivity of all Fulanis and pushing criminals to hide under ethnicity and perpetrate crimes knowing it is hard to prosecute an ethnic group. I read recently a protest letter by my friend, Senator Dan Sadau, to Buhari pleading that the President should declare a state of emergency in Zamfara State on account of (government’s) inability to secure the state from activities of herdsmen and unidentified gunmen (terrorising the state). But we know the state is predominantly Fulanis. Thus, let us be cautious in the way we promote cleavages of the nation along ethnic and religious lines.
CAN feels that President Muhammadu Buhari, as the nation’s commander-in-chief should be blamed for the unprovoked killings of Christians. Do you agree?
No need for that question. I forwarded a list of appointments (made by President Buhari) to you earlier (you’ll see that he cares as much for the North as he cares for the South). Please read the import of what President Obama said about the recent killings in Orlando, Charleston Church and that of Dallas, as well as the condemnation of Trump by Americans for being divisive and my advice to CAN is not to help promote cleavages of the nation along religious line.
I’m asking again if CAN’s allegation against Buhari is true.
It is implied in my response. If I can advise CAN not to help promote cleavages of the nation along religious lines, it follows that the blame is misplaced. I noticed northern CAN was the one which complained, but does it make sense to posit that Mr. President would make appointments without consulting the Secretary to the Government of Federation and the Speaker (of the House of Representatives) who are northern Christians and seminal members of the government?
The allegation was made by the national CAN, not its northern chapter.
I only read the allegations by the northern chapter of CAN. But my response still stands. I have not bothered to analyse the appointments by religion because of my attitude that it does not matter the colour of the cat provided it can catch the rats. But I read the submission by one Senator Adeyeye who said there are 18 Christian ministers and 18 Muslim ministers. He also said while it is true that the appointments for security heads favour the North, since only the Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Naval Staff are from the South, in the case of portfolios for development it favours the South; considering only agriculture and education ministers are northerners. He also said there were more Christian senators. In any case, when the time for accountability comes, Nigerians would rate the regime on issues of real concern to ordinary Nigerians and not how the regime was able to balance appointments by religion, by ethnicity, by region, by gender and by age.