A well-known public peace advocate for the release of Dapchi school girl, Leah Sharibu; and Christian leader, The Revd Gideon Para-Mallam, reacted to the accusation by the Presidency that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is politicising the insecurity situation in the country.
In this interview with Nigeria Everyday, he also speaks on the courage of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah in calling a spade a spade comparing the Islamisation agenda of the present administration and Book Haram terrorists.
Of course, he did not leave out Leah Sharibu; and the recently abducted CAN Chairman of Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State, Rev. Lawal Andimi.
Reaction to statement by CAN
To be honest, this is an unfortunate problem we have in this nation and as far as I’m concerned, the presidency didn’t think too deeply before making that statement. For this simple reason: For this government or any government anywhere in the world to claim that it knows all the answers to societies problems and are able to diagnose the issues more than any segment of society is the greatest lie of the 21st century. Unfortunately, this has been ongoing in this nation. This government in particular seems to portray this false picture. Governments are not superhuman; it is human beings like you and me who run government and it is human beings who are in the Buhari government.
This government would like to rather talk down on people than listen to their citizens. It should be the other way around, the government should first listen to the people and talk based on the information they have balancing both. This way they help put things in perspective.
Unfortunately, I will not credit the statement made by Garba Shehu as a statement made in good faith and has helped put things in perspective. Why?
This is one of the most difficult period for Christians in Nigeria. Just before Christmas, several Christians that I know of travelled from different parts of the country to go to the North-East; some to Biu, Chibok, Gwoza, Madagali, Maiduguri, etc., legitimately to celebrate Christmas. A number of them were slaughtered, shot and killed on the highway and some kidnapped before, during and after. On Christmas Day, ISWAP beheaded 10 Christians and shot one; who only days earlier had cried out for help to the same government that practically did nothing, at least to the best of my knowledge. Then on Boxing Day December 26th, Miss Martha Bulus, was traveling to her wedding due to take place on December 31st, 2019, along with her bridesmaids, 8 of them were slaughtered and the only two Muslims in the vehicle were released and set free. The 2019 Christmas was a BLACK CHRISTMAS for Christians in Nigeria. So, right now Christians are hurting, killing Christians on Christmas day itself, a day that Christians respect and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by beheading?
So what did you expect from government?
What one expected from the government is a strong message to empathize with Christians who are a significant segment of this nation. Government could have responded to CAN by saying, “look, we are doing the best we can to return all those who have been taken hostages back to their parents, back to their communities and we hope to work for peace to be restored in the North-East.” That would have made more sense. But to pick on CAN frankly makes no sense at all.
Now, why did I say this?, when you say that CAN is politicising, is talking too much and that they are looking at the issues from a one-sided; purely from the religious angle, then I ask myself, did the spokesperson for the presidency, really read thoughtfully some of those statements issued by CAN? There is insecurity in the land and Christians are being killed and we are supposed to have a government in place who seems to look the other way and has now technically allowed this impunity to continue unbated. CAN is concerned about that and those are the issues government should have focused on addressing; the insecurity, that is the concern of Nigerians, not just CAN. Now, is it in doubt that Christians have been subjected and targeted for various attacks in this country? Who are those suffering the wrath of Boko Haram right now in the North-East? Christians!
Speaking against this is not politicising religion, this is a fact, and this is reality. If you do not diagnose a sickness very correctly as a medical doctor how then do you treat it? So, as far as I’m concerned, the Presidency through Garba Shehu has made what is politically- correct statement and personally, I was disappointed by that statement. The respected Sultan of Sokoto around mid-December, even said CAN is lying by saying that Christians are being persecuted in Nigeria. That statement itself is a fat lie. Why is this government and the head of the Muslims in Nigeria living in denial? So much injustice is being perpetuated against Christians in Nigeria.
Now, fine, we would love to see them returned to their families but if you also listen to some of the appeals that many of us have made. One of the appeals we made is that, promises have been made through the years. When will this government go beyond promises to actually deliver these hostages?
Leah Sharibu for instance, and we will talk about that later, the President made a promise that he was going to deliver Leah to her parents. He spoke to Leah’s mother late 2018, suggesting that he would do everything to deliver Leah to her parents, it is more than a year since that promise was made and by next month, February 18, Leah will be two years in captivity, unless the Buhari administration acts to bring her out.
What is there to celebrate in terms of promises from this government? I think the government needs to do more, we do not need more promises, we do not need more narratives, what we need is more action to convince Nigerians that they are committed to bringing these captives home. I think that is the focus and I think to pick on CAN, quite frankly, is a little bit childish.
I am one of those who has made that kind of statement. I have made them in some of my public statements and write ups. I can make some of my write ups available on the existential threat that Christians and Christianity faces in Nigeria and I acknowledged even in those write-ups, that Muslims too are being killed. Therefore, is anyone suggesting that because Muslims are also being killed, Christians should keep quiet when Christians are being killed? It is very illogical.
Let me add this, if you look at most of the political appointments made at the security level, CAN has been crying and shouting and crying for a long time, that most in fact almost all of them are Muslims. Should we ignore that? Most of those who have been replaced as heads of various parastatals recently are replaced by Muslims, so should Christians just keep quiet? Are Muslims themselves happy with this social injustice and religious persecution even within the government?
It is not a lie that this government is favoring Islam and the government should be able to look into this issue in the spirit of fairness and provide balance. We are talking of inclusiveness; we are not talking of an exclusive government that dishes out tokenism to Christians.
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah’s comments comparing the present administration to Boko Haram
I have a relationship with Bishop Mathew Kukah . . . If he made that statement, as I was out of the country at the time and haven’t put a call through to him to confirm this, then quite frankly, I salute his courage. It takes courage to make that kind of statement.
Let me tell you this, during the civil rights movement in America, several people struggled for the liberation of the blacks, even though slavery had come to an end, but the blacks were still being segregated against and the black community had to do a lot of things to make sure that there was equal treatment for them in America. Profiling of blacks is still an issue in America today hence the rise of the Black Lives Matters movement. When you study and watch videos of the civil right struggles; the riots, Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. opted for a non-violent resistance to the white supremacists attacks and killings of blacks which some of the State governments in the South tactically supported. I tell you that if you watch some of the footages of things that happened in places, like, Alabama, Memphis, Birmingham and some of the southern cities, you could see that the body language of some of the State governments was to encourage some of the white supremacists to keep on attacking and blaming the blacks for causing the riots while they looked the other way. Imagine State government in the South allowing water hose to be used to splash children to protect segregation of community. Schools and even the American society would have remained segregated but for the political will and courage of some Presidents, like Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, even the FBI Director J-Edgar Hoover was going to be a spoiler. The blacks stayed focused and resisted the many distractions including dirt thrown at them. The goal of the detractors was to the leave the real issues and causes which led to the non-violent struggle and focused on the reactions of the blacks. Therefore, making the blacks double victims of segregation and portrayed as rioters and looters. So, when you look at that, you could tell almost without saying that the state was supporting some of the terrible things that those white supremacists were doing.
President Buhari will need to act like a President John F. Kennedy who refused some of the tactics of manipulation by Hoover. Our DSS needs to help the President do what is right for the good of the nation. Christians cannot and must not be allowed to be captives in their own nation. We will never accept this and will resist this discrimination and injustice!
What I’m really saying here is that Bishop Matthew Kukah has said what he has said because, whether you like it or not, if this government is truly committed to ending some of these impunities, the crises and the attacks on Christians would have stopped, a lot more could have been done to achieve this. Just check the statistics of people who have been killed. Some of us condemn when Muslims are killed and condemn when Christians are killed. But the non-controversial point being made is that Christians are being targeted and killed. All right-thinking Nigerians, Christians and Muslims alike; along with the international community should condemn such and seek an end to this impunity. What Kukah has said, as far as I’m concerned, is something the government needs to listen to and should go back to the drawing board and end this unacceptable impunity in Nigeria.
On Leah Sharibu
This is a very dear issue to my heart and as you could see the pensive look on my face as I reflected through your question on whether there is hope. Yes, there is hope. Life without hope is internal vanquishing – for to live without hope is to gradually start dying from inside before the physical manifestation. So, there has to be hope and we are hopeful. That is what I use to keep encouraging Leah’s parents, this is also what I use to encourage myself and those who care about Leah all around the world. Let’s not give up, there is hope that Leah is still alive and will be out one day. I receive calls from different parts of the country concerning Leah and I want to assure you that there are several people asking, “What is going on with Leah?” “What can we do to help in terms of prayer, in terms of awareness, in terms of publicity?” So, there is a lot of concern over the issue of Leah. Now the good news we have from all available sources and data is that Leah Sharibu is still alive. There are additional things I have picked up from some sources but I’m not going to talk about them here. What is most critical is that Leah is still alive by God’s grace and we pray that God will continue to keep her alive wherever she is right now. Leah if you ever get this see or read this: take courage and remain resolved inside that Jesus will bring you out one day and soon and very soon!
What needs to be clear is that Leah is being kept because of her Christian faith. Imagine that the 100 plus girls were negotiated for and were released but Leah was kept back. We will go back again to Garba Shehu, if the Federal government was really that committed, the time they negotiated for the 100 plus girls, and Boko Haram decided to keep Leah back, they government should have leveraged on the window of negotiation to say we cannot accept the rest while Leah is kept back. But they didn’t. Do you know the psychological and symbolic statement they were making to actually negotiate for all to be released while leaving one behind especially on account of her faith?
From the accounts we received, they (terrorists) brought them out but before releasing them asked, “are there still Christians among you?” Leah courageously said: “I am a Christian.” God bless the soul of this brave 14- year old girl at the time but who is now 16 years. If the lives of all Nigerians mattered to the Federal government of Nigeria, they ought to have insisted on Leah’s release or said we will not accept only 99% while 1% is kept back in captivity. That is the principle of the 1% that Jesus demonstrated, you cannot have 99% and be content with just the 99 while leaving out the one lost sheep to wolves. No! You go after that lost sheep until you find it and bring back all of the lost sheep home. So, Leah today, has become the one lost sheep of the Dapchi school girls because of her religion and to me that is another form of religious and social discrimination at its highest level in this government. This government should have worked hard to get her out by now.
Kidnap of Rev, Andimi
Again, just to say quickly that the kidnapping of Rev. Lawal Andimin is an unfortunate development and we are also glad that within a short time, we got to see the video appeal. We got to hear from him directly, in a sense this is comforting. Let me also say that I like the message from that video, the calmness and courage displayed reminds me of Leah Sharibu. You see a man who already has defeated death even in the lion’s den. A man who has always lived with eternity in view. A man who in the face of extreme persecution – in the valley of the shadow of death would say, I am not afraid of death if this is what God allows. His video message also reminded me of the life the three Hebrew children – Daniel and his three friends – similarly in a Babylonian (modern day Iraq) captivity.
They said, “We will not defile ourselves . . . we will not bow,” even in the face of death and fire. That was a very courageous message from Rev. Lawal Andimi. He basically said that, “if God wills, I will be out of here, but if it pleases the Lord that I do not come out, so be it.” That’s courage and, quite frankly, reminds me of many courageous lives and we need to give kudos to Christians in the North-East because they are standing up and that is the kind of courage we are talking about – when it comes to following Christ unashamedly in a 21st Century global climate which has become so hostile to Christians. What is happening in Nigeria though unacceptable, does not surprise me.
This is what the Presidency and their spokespersons and apologists should be watching, listening, commenting and commending. Two things, they should acknowledge, comment is speaking on the ideals, the values this Reverend embodies. Something to show-case as a courage to be commended – men and women like Adinmi and Leah are not afraid for their lives even in the den of terrorists which is like being in the lion’s den. Rev Andimi spoke what came from his heart; it also tells you that Christianity is authentic. Now, from what I have gathered, Rev. Andimi, apart from being CAN Chairman of Michika Local Government Area, he was also the Secretary for EYN in that area so, he is a very well-known person within that locality. EYN top leadership is working very hard on this issue in order to secure his release and some of us are working together with them and CAN to ensure that all is done for this clergy to be released from Boko Haram’s captivity along with others such as Leah, Alice, Grace and the Plateau State born Jennifer.
From what I gathered, it is clear that he was clearly targeted, they went for him. Boko Haram actually entered Michika, they marched into his compound and he was trying to escape, he was together with his driver who was a younger man and was able to jump over the fence but this being an elderly man could not really jump over the fence and they were able to grab him. We have also confirmed that he is not being kept by ISWAP; but with the Shekau faction of Boko Haram so let us wait and see if the efforts being made by the Adamawa State government brings glad tidings. I understand that the state government and several people are working hard and ongoing efforts not only to make contact but to see what can be done to secure his release.
Well, that’s why I said he was the EYN secretary for that locality, you cannot be a Christian leader local and unknown in that sense. It is not everybody that is a state leader or national figure or an international figure, but you can be a champion at the local level and be well-known, so his activities were well known, and again this is part of the concern, whether we like it or not. Boko Haram intentionally targeted him as someone known locally for his Christian testimony.
Watch some of the videos from Grace in July, last year, she made her direct appeal from the video ISWAP released to the CAN national president, then listen to the lecturer, Bitus Zakka Bwala, he also appealed to CAN then appealed to the federal government. It’s interesting to notice that Rev. Andimi also made his appeal to CAN and directly to the Adamawa State Governor, so I think all these captives are communicating a message which requires that we need to listen very well. This is why I believe we need a careful diagnosis of their messages and act by responding to their appeals and this may bring the desired results.
Permit me to come back to what Garba Shehu said that Boko Haram seeks to divide us, that is what they are looking for by pitching Christians against Muslims, that has been a narrative the government has been spewing out. That narrative is stale and old fashioned, it is not inspiring. Some of us have been advocating for Muslims and Christians to come together and stand side by side, hand in hand to collectively condemn the insecurity in this nation. Muslims in Nigeria should be more forth-coming in their condemnation of what Boko Haram is doing. This is not time to engage in hush hush talk or engage in the intellectual exercise of political correctness. I am not just talking of people doing it individually, we should actually come together and act collaboratively. Some of us are moving in that direction. I am hopeful and know that some Muslim leaders are out there who ready to listen and join hands. Some have actually cried out for Leah. I know of a Sheikh that cried out for Leah. The day Leah turned 16 when we were advocating for her release which was covered life by TVC news and Channels TV, I got calls from some Muslims including one of their leaders saying: “we stand together with you.” I am looking forward to when some of these cries will not just be in the secret, but we will do this together in the open. We can stand up together and say ‘no’ to the impunity and the current security situation in Nigeria and act together to compel the government or act in the interest of Nigeria. Intra and inter – divisions between Christians and Muslims is helping the government to keep destroying this nation through a divide and rule tactics. Such statements from the presidency only celebrates our divisiveness.
Now let me add in closing say that since Rev. Andimi was captured, I’m not sure any public statement has been issued by any of the Muslim organisations. I also cannot recall reading any condemnation by Muslim leaders of the Christmas beheading of Christians. However, I know Christians have issued statements on the prolonged detention of El-zakzaky even against Court orders to the contrary. No one is suggesting lawlessness and a state within a state under any guise but respecting the rule of law is what civilized nations are known. Is Nigeria a civilized state or not? These are practical common-sense issues. Our leaders in government should not be behaving as though they can do and undo. No human being is super human, only God is divine and supreme!