President Muhammadu Buhari has frowned at the tendency of the Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) to read religious meanings into terrorist activities in the country, noting that not seeing terrorists as they should be seen panders to their wish to have Nigerians turn against one another.
CAN had on Sunday called on the Federal Government to use all necessary means to stop the incessant slaughter of ChristIans that characterised the Christmas and new year celebrations in the north-east.
Not less than 17 Christians, including a young lady, Martha, and her bridal train, were killed by terrorists. 10 others were filmed as they were killed by the insurgent group, Boko Haram, in Borno State.
In Adamawa State, the Chairman of CAN in Michika Local Government Area, Rev. Lawal Andimi, was abducted while others were killed after Boko Haram stormed Michika town. The insurgents later released a video of the CAN leader making a plea for his life.
But in a statement on Tuesday, President Buhari’s spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu, took on CAN for crying out.
His words: “The security forces of Nigeria are working continuously to return those taken hostage by Boko Haram to their families, friends and communities. In doing this, the government has full confidence in their ability to accomplish the task.
“The government has condemned some of the appalling acts of terror, especially following the festive period. Yet, to continue to see these happenings solely in religious terms – removed from social, economic and environmental factors – simplifies complexities that must be heeded. Not seeing them as they should be is exactly what Boko Haram and groups wish: they want Nigerians to see their beliefs as reason to turn against one another. Boko Haram should be the happiest, seeing our religious leaders tearing at one another.
“Happily, a majority of our citizens, Christians and Muslims are united in their opposition to the terrorist group and the hatred for decency that the infamous group stands for.
“Nigerians must continue to be united in ensuring that they do not subscribe to its message of division. Unfortunately, some leaders and politicians seek to make political capital from our religious differences. As we fight Boko Haram on the ground, so too must we tackle their beliefs: stability and unity in face of their hatred is itself a rejection of their worldview.
“This government shall never tolerate religious intolerance. We clearly and unambiguously restate our support for the freedom to practice whichever belief you wish. The politicisation of religion – as forbidden by the constitution – has no place in Nigeria.
“What this country needs urgently at the moment is addressing rampant unemployment, alleviating poverty and delivering long-delayed infrastructure. We urgently need jobs, economic growth and relief from debilitating corruption. The President does not wish to be distracted from this major focus by divisive politics promoting religion and accusations and counter accusations on baseless religious issues.”
Just before the CAN reaction, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese in Sokoto, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, was quoted in a Catholic online publication as saying that the only difference between the government and Boko Haram is Boko Haram is holding a bomb.
He added: “They are using the levers of power to secure the supremacy of Islam, which then gives more weight to the idea that it can be achieved by violence. With the situation in Nigeria, it is hard to see the moral basis they have to defeat Boko Haram.
“They have created the conditions to make it possible for Boko Haram to behave the way they are behaving.”
Bishop Kukah said the Nigerian government, by packing key government positions with hardline Muslims, gives tacit approval to such groups.
“If the people in power don’t do enough to integrate Christians then they give oxygen to Islamism. If they have countries where everybody is Muslim in power then you give vent to the idea that Islam should be supreme.”
Bishop Kukah said that the only thing preventing Nigeria from being engulfed in civil war was the peaceful tenets of Christianity.
He said: “Christians have every reason to feel insecure and also there is a general feeling of their marginalisation from the political process. If the principles of our religion were different, there would be a civil war by now.
“It is the glory of our religion that this hasn’t happened. It is difficult to preach peace in this context. Any resolution depends on how Christians decide to react. They won’t use violence but what will they do?”