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Thursday, July 5, 2012

2012 DEMOCRACY DAY CHURCH SERVICE


                     National Christian Centre



The above was how NTA Network captioned proceedings at the National Christian Centre, formally, the National Ecumenical Centre, where interdenominational services are held, which, I think, would be more apt in capturing what really happened at the centre. That was not a church service. It was an interdenominational service for 2012 Democracy Day.


The online community’s comments and media reports have dwelt more on the aspect of corruption as addressed by the guest speaker ARCHBISHOP PETER AKINOLA, and it is with this aspect of his speech I shall begin.


Credit must be given to Archbishop Peter Akinola for his firm words against corruption, the part of his speech that got media attention, as mentioned earlier. The pulpit has never been so frank on the issue of corruption. This aspect of the speech did not leave anybody out – we are all in it together; ‘almost everybody is stealing either with his pen or gun’. Everybody is part of the corruption monster in Nigeria, he said: public and private office holders, the politicians, the clergy and everyday people who steal everything they set eyes on, from streetlights to bridge rails, anything in Nigeria is stolen ‘like an abandoned wreckage’.


He also said that ‘Government has only a half-hearted resolve to fighting corruption, or punishing those guilty of corrupt practices.’ Only those who lost favour with the government of the day are punished. Those with the right political connection are spared. ‘Those fighting corruption in the judiciary and police have no clean hands’. Even National Assembly’s invitations are addressed only to such government ministries, parastatals and agencies that have not remitted part of their loot to individual members of the committees overseeing them. ‘Those who have made their way with’ our commonwealth ‘and are living far beyond their means’ are further rewarded by our traditional rulers, making them high chiefs. ‘Our universities have joined the queue by inviting such people and giving them honorary doctorate degrees’. Corruption will continue to strive ‘in full gear because Nigerians and their governments have chosen to give only lip service to its eradication’.


He concluded by what is called Mubaahalah in Islamic parlance as in Qur’an 3:61, for two disputing parties to gather together, ‘earnestly pray, and invoke the curse of Allah on those who lie!". He said, of course paraphrasing Ezekiel 18:20 (The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him...): ‘I believe there is a way out, as a Christian, as a preacher, as one who reads the Bible; I believe there is a way out. Corruption is another word for stealing; stealing is a sin, God commands us all not to commit. And as you know, every soul that sins and fails to repent shall die in its sin and end up in Hell. So, let us resolve here today, to take to the Court of God, beginning from this place, all those thieves who have failed to repent.’




                                       Archbishop Peter Akinola




At this point he perused the audience carefully as if to make sure who and who was there. Seated right in front of him was President Jonathan, state governors and leaders of the National Assembly or their representatives. Also present were ministers and other top government functionaries. Then the guest speaker, Archbishop Akinola asked ‘Will you join me?’ in connection to what he said earlier of taking ‘all those thieves to the Court of God’. No response. Nobody said amen. You could hear a pin drop. Quiet, save a faint murmur! ‘Are your hands clean enough?’ He charged further. No answer.


The scenario would have been the same if this mubaahalah were conducted in any mosque in this country. Thievery knows no bounds or religion. The counterparts of the same people who gathered at the Christian Centre among the Muslims are also stealing the country blind. If any imam would be courageous enough to invoke Allah’s curse on thieves of our commonwealth only a few or none of his congregation will dare say ameen.


The few minutes of that silence in the Christian Centre lingered, then the guest speaker broke it ‘There you go’ said he, ‘corruption is corruption but you are not ready to fight it, because you are all beneficiaries of it. Whether you steal in a small way or you steal in a big way, stealing is stealing.’


He then turned to his constituency, the clergy, and challenged them for eating people’s property in vanity, devouring what does not belong to them and interacting with the thieves in government without speaking truth to power. ‘Let us take our case to the Court of God if you dare!’ On this also there was complete silence. ‘So,’ he continued, ‘who is deceiving who? You are only deceiving yourselves, not God.’


It takes courage and sincere passion to say the words he said and more so in the presence of the country’s sitting president. He minced no words and the elite present meekly listened to these outpourings of a distressed heart. It is as he said: the rich and the political class are running this country aground. They do not steal by the millions any more but by the billions and lately, trillions! Exactly how long any sane person thinks this can last, I do not know; but I know it is not sustainable for any length of time.


I admire courage whenever it is honestly displayed and I would like to think this particular one was not stage-managed but sincere. Akinola has a good track record in calling a spade a spade in the presence of authority. I recall his encounter with the Anglican Communion leadership in England when he threatened to secede with millions of Anglicans from the central body for what he believed to be immoral interpretations of the Bible which were used in support of same sex marriages.


Unfortunately, the media neglected the inflammatory and inciting part of his presentation which was full of historical incongruities and erroneous interpretation of facts. It is only a Christian evangelist that can speak so openly in the presence of the custodians of security in Nigeria which included the Commander-in-Chief himself, distorting history, preaching hate and goading Christians against Muslims without the press calling for his arrest, or his establishment expelling him. If any imam were to speak thus he would have been stopped, accused ‘of inciting people against the government’ (as happened to me at the National Mosque same time last year), and subsequently removed from his position. Many were the imams that have been so expelled in not a few of Northern states for speaking against injustice, corruption and electoral malpractices during the 2011 elections.


Close study of the First Scripture Reading in that Democracy Day Sermon betrays a deep level of congruence between the verses read and the import of Akinola’s presentation which portrayed a grand design by the Muslims in Nigeria, ‘under different names and guises’, to annihilate the Christians. That First Scripture Reading was from A song of ascents of David in Psalms 124:1-8 I will quote from the same New International Version (NIV) of the Bible as did President Jonathan during his Second Scripture Reading at the event, whatever his reasons were. If the Lord had not been on our side—let Israel say — if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”


President Jonathan delivered the Second Scripture Reading in Romans 8: 28-39 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him… If God is for us, who can be against us? …… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:


For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”


“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


That was the Second Scripture Reading by the number one citizen, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Islamic community is bereft of political leaders who are proud of being Muslims or who desire even to be identified with the religion in anyway.


After the First and the Second Scripture Readings Archbishop Akinola started by quoting Luke 5:36-37:  “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined….”


On the strength of these verses Archbishop Akinola questioned the subsistence of ‘the geographical expression’ called Nigeria based on the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates. According to him the amalgamation was effected illegally ‘for the political and economic interests of the colonial overloads’, without consultation or permission of the ethnic nationalities from these Protectorates. In other words, Nigeria is a consortium of unwilling partners; we remain fragmented and mistrust ourselves. This situation led to the civil war which could not keep Nigeria one despite the popular slogan portraying why the government took up arms against its own people. ‘Unity’ he posited, ‘cannot be attained by military fiat or by war. You get unity through the collective will of the people in the atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.’


In Akinola’s estimation bringing the Northern and Southern Protectorates together has been ‘the root cause of our problems which governments continue to deny by patching up the unpatchableand ‘putting new wine into old wineskin, and the wineskin has been bursting…. The problem is not about this government or about President Jonathan. It is because, ab initio, we failed to do the right thing – seeking the consent of all nationalities. If we had sought for the consent of all before the amalgamation, those now calling for a religious state would have chosen a different path.’


This is quite revealing! Actually, I doubt if this balkanisation agenda was a unanimous position of all Christians gathered for the Democracy Day Sermon. It begs that question: what gave Archbishop Akinola the nerve to preach his divisive gospel in the presence of President Jonathan, and knowing that the proceedings were beamed live on national television stations? Is President Jonathan privy to any surreptitious design to break up this country along ethnic and religious divides? And why is this coming now? Is the current state of insecurity in the country fashioned in consonance with that design?


Archbishop Akinola said ‘killings and political insecurity have been with us from the beginning of our nationhood; it is not new.’ The North has a history of violence and political pogrom that ‘are older than most of you sitting here today’, he told his audience. According to him the mayhem that preceded the civil war in which millions of Igbos were massacred was called ‘Araba’ in the Hausa language. Araba, in Archbishop Akinola’s dictionary ‘means to separate infidels from real people of God…. It was a clear case of religious and ethnic cleansing.’


This is not true. I thought the Archbishop was unaffected when he, at the commencement of his sermon, declared to reveal ‘the truth about us in our past; the truth about our beginning as a country, to determine from where we are and where we are going….’ I am taken aback by this employment of canard history to preach hate at a time that we need to foster Christian-Muslim mutual respect and understanding.


Araba, Let Truth Be Told, conjures up the sad events of the first military coup of January 15, 1966, which, actually, was The Siege of a Nation, and the motivation of the principal actors or, more appropriately, the executioners – Nigeria’s Five Majors. The perceived selective, gruesome murder of Northern leaders during the coup will necessitate An Intimate Portrait of Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, and why the violent overthrow was described in some quarters as “Igbo Coup”.


Araba and also Aware were words used to signify separation after the violence occasioned by the counter-coup of that despondent period of our history. It is not uncommon for some people due to their ignorance of the bigger picture and their selfish motives to call for secession; it is still so today. Pogroms had been unleashed against Igbos in the North as well as against Northerners in the East, which sad event necessitated the mass exodus of people across both lines of the divide to their ancestral homelands – the Igbos from the North to the East, and the Northerners from the East to the North. The calamitous results of this mass exodus brought about the position taken by the late Ojukwu, the then Military Governor, that since the property and lives of Igbos and Northerners cannot be guaranteed in either North or East of Nigeria, as the case may be, the Igbos shall assert their independence by having a separate country of their own. That was the context in which Araba was used; it was not a ‘means to separate infidels from real people of God….’ It was not ‘a clear case of religious and ethnic cleansing’ as the Archbishop presented. Besides, Akinola seemed to have forgotten that the North has always had its fair share of Christians who until the advent of political religion lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbours. This sad occurrence, if anything, reminded us of our inherent ability for brutal reprisal whether justified or otherwise. None of us is an epitome of ethics when it comes to turbulent circumstances; many of us, not withstanding our professed faiths, whether as Christians or Muslims, permit our compassion and sympathy to desert us, and we end up descending into the bottomless pit of belligerence and massacre.


I find no rationale for a man to avenge the death of his innocent brother by killing more innocent people. The South East chapter of CAN gave a last warning of sorts to Muslims recently that they would start killing innocent Muslims in reprisal if there was another bombing of a church. There was no reaction to this by security agents; as stupid, unchristian and ill-thought out as it was to say that. What we are in fact witnessing is the reign of bigotry and mediocrity on both sides. People who have no business being religious leaders have found their way into positions of leadership, and erudition is now mistaken for wisdom; selfishness and callousness for courage and bravery.


Whatever the circumstance of our coming together; as at 1914, Nigeria had a heterogeneous religious community in both the north and the south. Akinola in saying the amalgamation was a forced coupling of 2 unwilling parties is letting us into the inner workings of his mind; a mind that sees the north as black and the south as white or vice versa. He could not fathom or countenance any shade in between. This is either religious bigotry or sectionalism. From Sokoto to Adamawa to Yobe and Kaduna, there has been a long history of Christians and Christianity.


The late Sardauna of Sokoto had the late Sunday Awoniyi, a Yoruba speaking Christian as his secretary. He once travelled over 500 kilometres to a remote school to personally congratulate a Christian pupil who had just done the north proud in WASC examinations. That boy has risen to become one of the most respected and one of the few rational voices on the matter of insecurity on the Christian side; my good friend Archbishop John Onaiyekan. In the South West most especially, the population of both Muslims and Christians is roughly equal. If there was a grand design to exterminate Christians like Akinola was insinuating, what took the Muslims so long? By the way, Muslim leaders have been having reports, for long, of a CAN Army complete with branded CAN rifles and camouflage uniforms and even armoured vehicles. The responsible leaders among us have been quelling these in the minds of their followers. This is to douse any tension and avert any trouble that it may occasion later. Distrust breeds more distrust ad infinitum, ad nauseum. I hope both sides will understand this and work for once for real peace and not mere surface politeness.


‘Fourteen years later’, continued Archbishop Akinola, ‘came the Maitatsine riots targeting Christians, destroying their churches and hard-earned properties.’ This unsound narrative relates to the bloody clash of December 1980 between the militant followers of Mohammadu Marwa (alias Maitatsine) and the Police. That crisis was the aftermath of flawed exegesis of the precepts of Islam and its practices by Maitatsine, against the known and right interpretations of orthodox Islam.  The Maitatsine group was outside mainstream Islam and rejected what it termed as “crass materialism of orthodox mainstream (Tijjaniya/Qadiriyya) while ascribing divine power and authority bordering on blasphemy to its leader Mohammed Marwa, Maitatsine”. Therefore, the Maitatsine riots were more of an intra-Muslim crisis on the one hand, and Maitatsine and the police on the other. It was not an uprising ‘targeting the Christians, destroying their churches…’


The sermon also touched on ‘the 1987 Kafanchan and Kaduna riots’ that ‘claimed 1000’ Christian lives; the ‘1992 Zagon Kataf’ mayhem ‘and the killing of those considered as infidels’; the slaying of Christians in ‘Tafawa Balewa’ in 1991, 1995 and 2000; the ‘persecution of Christians in Plateau from 1994 to date, due to the question of emirship of Jos, a predominantly Christian community…’


If politicians lie or twist historical facts to achieve a mundane end, it is no surprise, for they are wont to attain to power by any means necessary, lawful or otherwise. But one should be disturbed nay be fretful when blatant untruth is uttered from the dais and embroidered with scriptural authorities. I still fail to understand why Archbishop Akinola chose to go into many sad periods of our nationhood and at the same time presenting it in a way that will incite his audience against the Muslims.


The Kafanchan unrest was the outcome of a ‘crusade’ tagged ‘Mission 87’ organised by the Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS) of Kafanchan College of Education. During the crusade a Christian convert, Abubakar Bako, was the guest speaker. He used the occasion to deliberately misinterpret the Qur’an to which action the Muslim Students Society (MSS) took exception. Trust youthful exuberance to make a mountain out of a molehill and before you know it, things went out of hand and later the crisis erupted in the campus with spillages in the town of Kafanchan and Kaduna state as a whole. So, it was a seemingly calculated act of provocation on the part of the FCS on the campus to organise a crusade featuring a Christian convert to use the scripture of his former religion to asperse its teachings. That was the cause of the crisis.


Economic reasons brought about the disturbances of Zagon Kataf in 1992. It was a crisis over the resettlement of a market from its old site to a new one, and who would have control of what in the way the market was run, between the indigenous Atyab and the 17th century settlers among the Hausa-Fulani. The Atyab happened to be predominantly Christian, and the Hausa-Fulani predominantly Muslim just like in Jos. The crisis, at its infancy, had nothing to do with religion; but it later assumed a religious dimension with devastating consequences. This has been the trend with most of the insurrections in the North; a purely ethnic, political or economic clash of powers turning into a religious crisis because one side happens to be Christian and the other Muslim; the one a so-called indigene, the other settler.


The crisis in the Plateau is a good example at hand. Archbishop Akinola said it is ‘due to the question of emirship of Jos’; nothing could be further from the truth. I’m certain most people among his audience did not believe what he was saying on this. The truth is that the indigenous Christians of Birom and other confederate tribes purposed to ethnically cleanse Jos of the Hausa-Fulani who they claim to be settlers, and who happen to be Muslims. Was it emirship tussle that led to the massacre and cannibalisation of Muslims on Eid day in Jos? On September 28th, 2011, armless Muslims who went out for the Ramadan eid prayers were ambushed by a mob of Rukuba, Afizere and Birom Christian youths, killed, their flesh roasted and devoured by some the murderers. It would have been godlier for the pulpit to condemn such acts of barbarism as unchristian and against the teachings of Christ, with the same abhorrence that the issue of corruption was addressed.


I must state in the strongest terms that any Muslim who targets any Christian who has in no way attacked or abetted an attack on Muslims is playing with Hell. Only Allah can forgive such a major crime if such repent before it is too late. It is one of the most abhorrent things a Muslim can do. I must also urge my Christian brethren; at least those who have not been blinded by hatred and bigotry to see that killing an innocent Muslim for the death of an innocent Christian is equally barbaric, unchristian and indefensible before our Creator. We must together condemn evil not minding whose ox is gored.


On Boko Haram Archbishop Akinola said, ‘The Boko Haram therefore, is a continuation of the Araba agenda of 1966 under a new name, guise….’ And he admonished the congregation: ‘People of God! Don’t be deceived; and I urge you, in the name of God to shun all political, religious and hypocritical claims by some of our religious and political leaders that the Boko Haram attacks were not an act of Islamic aggression against Christianity. Foul! It is. This has been going on for the past 36 years, under different names and guises, unabated.’


Here the truth is out naked! The Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) which is the official government censor of radio and TV broadcasts did not deem it fit to censor such inflammatory broadcast. But pray tell me why they should? The ‘man of God’ needed not look further for approval; the C-in-C was part of the congregation that listened to all that junk.


In other words, Akinola was urging all Christians not to trust all Muslims no matter how sincere they are when they say that Boko Haram is on its own and not part of the rest of us and that his flock should not be deceived into believing the Muslims mean well. With friends of Nigeria like Akinola, who needs any enemies from without? The Yorubas have two grades of elders; the ones that know how to bring harmony into homes and those who don’t. I leave you to determine in which of the categories he falls.


I am not familiar with the standard of civility and etiquette that the church enjoins on worshipers during such gatherings. I kept wondering what was going on in the mind of President Jonathan, members of his cabinet and other functionaries there present; what would his response be when it was his turn to speak?


Archbishop Akinola has a new interpretation for Boko Haram, ‘The word Boko’ he said, ‘is a Hausa word for book. Haram, of course, for abomination, forbidden; in the scriptures of Islam, the Jews and the Christians are often regarded as the People of the Book, Ahlel Kitab…. So, put together, therefore, Boko Haram means, Jews and Christians are contrary to popular understanding…Jews and Christians are an abomination!


I am at a loss for words to express my utter shock at this “twist in the tale”. This is a gross and deliberate distortion of facts. Akinola would not attain the position of Arch Bishop of the Anglican Communion without taking several courses in comparative religion. They study the Qur’an in that process. Hence, his definition of Ahlul Kitaab in a way which insinuates it is the same as ‘Boko’ in the phrase Boko Haram is not only mischievous but unpardonable. The Hausa word Boko was coined before all currently living generations. It was used to dissuade a Muslim from giving his child or ward to the missionaries who came along with their partners, the colonial masters. It was well documented that there were forced conversions, change of names and faith and calculated coaxing of children into Christianity under the guise of giving formal western education. This was resisted by the mainly Muslim northerners.


The group which Mohammed Yusuf headed was tagged Boko Haram not because they called themselves that but because it was the easiest way to describe them to others since they also think that the western education we get in schools today is ill-conceived and heretic and hence haram. This was very apparent to anyone who listened to the last interview he gave to the army officers who caught him before handing him over to the police. So for Archbishop Akinola to now say what that phrase means is that Christians and Jews are an abomination is dishonest and inciting.


The president took his turn on the dais and did not see anything worthy of comment in that blatant call to hate and disharmony by a so-called man of God and proceeded to thank the army for not truncating democracy yet. He did not rebut or refute or correct any impression Akinola gave. We call that positive reinforcement of negative ideas. This is tragic and sad. Former President Obasanjo would not have done that. His encounter with a Birom bigot during his visit to Jos is still fresh in our minds.

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