by Ibrahim Ola Balogun
Globally, democracy simply means that all voices be heard in a situation that enables majority to have their way and allows minority to have their say. Strong democratic settings and institutions allow strong opposition which complements majority rule in making life abundant for the generality of the people. In the event of a weaker opposition as presented by the troubled People’s Democratic Party in this current political dispensation, the ruling government and its representatives may become complacent and insensitive to the feelings of the masses and the duration of their rule. This was the reason why well-meaning, non-partisan Nigerians hope that PDP eventually rises from its ashes or give way to another strong opposition. But what Nigerians did not see coming is the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) taking up the toga of a political party and presenting itself as the new opposition party in the country.
The body (CAN) left little or no doubt after its recent statement that was delivered at a press conference of the coalition of Christian groups in Nigeria held at the Jubilee House of National Christian Centre, Abuja on Friday 3rd June, 2016. The press release that was widely spread on various social media platforms confirmed one’s insinuation about the politicised CAN as portrayed by the Osun State Chapter of the association that it is now the new-found and major opposition to Governor Rauf Aregbesola. At the press conference, the body did not only raise some unfounded allegation of an attempt to Islamise Nigeria by the Buhari-led administration but it also clearly demonstrated its insensitivity at a level of national prominence.
Without mincing words, it is an open secret that CAN was a major beneficiary of the largesse of the corrupt practices of the last regime; but what is least expected is, rather than struggling to redeem the image that had been sorely tarnished by seizing the opportune period to key into the anti-corruption fight of this current administration, CAN suddenly and unadvisedly turned itself into an unsettling opposition – opposing everything for the sake of opposing and serving the interest of the remnants of the PDP.
Members of the former ruling party (PDP) were obviously not prepared for their failure at the 2015 general elections; so also was the CAN whose President and all its foot soldiers fought a relentless but fruitless battle to sustain the mega-corrupt regime of Goodluck Jonathan. Remember Pastor Bosun Emmanuel with his divisive preachings and Bishop David Oyedepo who threatened to open the door of Hell for whoever refuses to vote Jonathan? The CAN members were shocked to the marrow to watch the credibility of their erstwhile highly revered organisation became irredeemably plummeted with the involvement of its president in the shady arms deal in far away South Africa.
Even before the shocking demise of the previous administration, its members were surprised to discover that, despite the unjustifiable favouritism and monetary inducement from the then government; they still could not dominate all the way like the atrocious but unjustifiable numerical advantage it enjoyed at the futile National Conference. They became selectively mute as they refused to speak against the injustice and oppression of the perceived opponents and enemies because it favoured them.
It is thus interesting to see CAN waking up to a supposed reality, demanding that no religion should have unbridled control and overwhelming influence over the presidency just as it did during the clueless regime of President Jonathan. A careful perusal of the recent statement delivered at the said press conference would leave no one in doubt that Nigeria now has a new opposition party in CAN; and since its leadership agreed in the regrettable release that they ‘stand to be corrected looking at the issues listed below’, it will therefore be apt to correct the body in its emotional misjudgment and prejudicial claims.
The intention of the group (CAN) that was disowned by its teeming members in the last election becomes suspicious therefore; as it on one hand, declares full support for the current administration’s determination to go all out in their war against corruption, believing that the monster should be dealt with, and on the other hand, echoes the opinion of the corrupt and the opposition by saying that ‘…selective action in this fight against corruption is sending out very wrong signals’. Paraphrasing Festus Kiyamo “and for those crying ‘selectiveness’ where’s your outrage first against the thief that has been caught before you raise the alarm over some escapees?”. One would have expected responsible religious bodies to call the corrupt people to order and not be their voice under any pretence.
For some years now, the fear factor for public officers regarding corruption totally vanished. Now, it is back! Any conscientious Christian body should not be fighting that. Due process and the respect for human right should and does not mean that looters should be allowed to lay in their beds at home either in Dubai or London drinking wine and answering EFCC questions on phone. Logically, if CAN is labeling all the dramatis personae in the scenery of Dasukigate as ‘an Islamization process’ of the country, does it then mean that we should safely conclude that the roles played by Jonathan, the Dasukis, the Dezianis, the Fani-Kayodes, the Omisores and the Tompolos in the tragi-comedy and the docu-drama of the Dasukigate as well as the Ayo Oritsejafors in the South African Arms Gate were also a Christianization of the country?
CAN actually gives itself out as a new opposition party when it writes ‘We are not unaware of the likelihood of sponsored persons and groups organisations that perceive CAN in negative light and wish, for the personal and group self-interest to create non-existence confusion and divisions’. Is it not laughable for an association whose president was involved in the infamous ‘arm-for-cash’ shady deals of the most corrupt government to accuse anyone of attempts to portray it in bad light? Does it require undue interferences by external bodies and demonic forces of wickedness for CAN to be seen in any supposed negative light, whatsoever? More so, should CAN also blame the perceived but unfounded fear of Islamisation on its failure to organise its ordinary election, will it not be wise for the body to truly transform and fully face partisan politics that Oristajafor’s CAN was highly reputed for rather than being hypocritical and dragging the highly respected name of the organisation of millions of Christian faithful in the mud?
If shame actually exists, shouldn’t CAN harbour one for what it ‘celebrated’ during the regime of former president Goodluck Jonathan with series of trips to Israel in the company of CAN leadership as well as the political desecration of (visits to) varying podiums in Nigeria? CAN never alleged an infringement on the constitution when some church leaders took N6billion bribe from the former president (Peoples Democratic Party) to campaign against the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) as alleged by Rotimi Ameachi. It is noteworthy that Muslims then, did not reduce the issue of corruption to political issue, as it is being cheaply alleged, by the CAN, presently.
It is on record that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, a foremost Christian leader in Nigeria posited that it was President Goodluck Jonathan who was the first and only Nigerian leader to have attended a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Countries, IOC. None of the successors of General Babangida ever attended any of IOC meeting. If Prof. Osinbajo said, “But it is on record that in 2013, President Jonathan, undermining the constitutional limitation, ensured that Nigeria attended an IOC meeting”, was the former president planning to Islamize Nigeria too? It is a clear case of insincerity of the first order to say that ‘to maintain the unity, faith, peace and corporate progress of Nigeria, we demand that the Shariah should be expunged from the Constitution and Shariah-based public institutions, agencies and practices in the States should be abolished.’ Anyone with an unadulterated love and interest of Nigeria at heart will at best recommend that legal system that has had a lot of influence from Christian English law, with all sense of fairness and equality should have consideration for other religious customs and legal systems.
Would CAN also call for the abrogation of all customary laws of the Ibos, the Yorubas and other ethnic nationalities? Does CAN realise that Islam predated Christianity and colonialism for over 800 years and that the only custom/culture of the Northern Hausa-Fulani is Islam? Do the advocates of abrogation realise that even the colonialists had no option but to accept Shari’ah in the law and established Shari’ah courts in the North and some parts of the South including Iwo and Ede where Islam was the culture and the culture was Islam? Therefore CAN’s campaign of calumny about the Islamisation of Nigeria is nothing but a dull and mischievous attempt at distorting history. Rather than demand for the return of the 1964 constitution, the religio-political body should have probably ask for a return to the constitution that has all the semblance of pre-colonial era when legal system of the North and some parts of the South was Shari’ah legal system.
What is the need for calling for a constitution that did not only stagnate the advancement and growth of African civilisation and culture but also stalled the Shari’ah spread in Yoruba land, bastardised proudly Yoruba culture and bastardise unique Igbo traditional? Why then would the failure of the colonial masters and their missionary accomplices to completely suppress Nigerians in all facets of life be blamed on those who dared to rediscover their real self?
Why would the genuine attempt by Northerners, Muslims and indeed indigenous citizens who, after mere cosmetic political independence, dared to be truly independent and free themselves from the inglorious past of domination of Western civilisation, rid themselves from vestiges of colonialism, liberate their mentality from the hangouts of pre-independence era and remnants of colonial mentality; all these in their attempt to be truly Nigerian be criminally tagged Islamization, Hausanisation, Igbonisation, Yorubalisation of the polity of Nigeria just because the political CAN, as fashioned and guided by Oritsejafor lost out in the last election?
CAN needs to be told that the issue of lopsided appointment is an ethnic clamour of a certain region which was once upon a time in firm control of the biggest political party in Africa. Now that your ‘party’ has taken up the responsibility and resulted to quoting Dr Frederick Fasheun’s recent comment that President Buhari is “governing Nigeria by intimidation”, If your ‘party’ is intimidated, then, it must be corrupt because it is only the corrupt individuals and associations that are intimidated under this regime. Remember, President Muhammadu Buhari belongs to everybody and he belongs to nobody!
If your party’s attempt to misinform unsuspecting Nigerians that ‘Never before in the history of Nigeria has the nation been so sharply divided along tribal, ethnic, religious, and cultural lines’ you might need to tell Nigerians if Buhari was the President when pastors turned churches to campaign arenas of the PDP. Your ‘opposition party’ must take out time to verify its facts as that may be your major undoing. Whoever agrees with a CAN that considers the prosecution of Dasuki as ‘settling old score’ despite the earth quaky revelations of unprecedented embezzlement of the funds that led to the death of thousands of Nigerians and the displacement of millions should consider himself a member of a Cold-blooded Association Nigeria and not Christians Association of Nigeria.
A body that wants to be taken serious would not say ‘Nigeria is ripe for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ and still believe that the truth seen in Dasukigate shouldn’t be pursued to a logical conclusion. One can only suspect your party because most of those who are against the anti-corruption war are either corrupt or had something to do with it. One will not be surprised if Dasuki fund is traced to CAN or Oritejafor. Less we forget, it is an axiom that ‘justice is the soul of peace’, so you can’t deny one and retain the other.
It is equally a fact that the membership of the CONFAB was skewed in favour of Christians and the Southerners, a reality President Jonathan himself acknowledged, but failed to ‘look into correcting’ the lopsidedness as promised when the head of the Muslims, Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar visited to officially lodge complaints on behalf of the North and the entire Muslims in Nigeria who form the majority. It is also not unknown to all Nigerians that CONFAB was not only ill-timed, it was also foisted on Nigerians. This was why the main opposition party, then refused to participate in the hurriedly concocted and non-representative Confab. Hence, calling for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference report is the peak of hypocrisy for a group who condemns what they termed lopsided appointments of President Buhari to at the same time call for a Confab that was characterised with crisis and mutual suspicion from start to finish, in addition to its non-representativeness.
Why did CAN a supposedly religious body kept mute when a region was being suppressed and oppressed, only to turn back now to be an advocate of fair play? Is CAN saying lopsidedness is acceptable when it is skewed in its favours? CAN should rather treat and consider the product of such caricature of a conference report as one of the white elephant projects powered by hard earned tax payers’ money its members largely benefitted from. Consider this, Jonathan promised to implement the report if re-elected but Nigerians voted against him. The implication of this is that Nigerians were presented with the choices of ‘change’ or ‘confab implementation’ but they voted ‘change’ and rejected ‘confab implementation’. It equally means that majority of Nigerians who voted Buhari cared less about its implementation. One must, however, agree with the conveners of the press conference, that like other previous exercises, ‘the honourable Nigerians that constituted the membership of the 2014 National Conference are responsible and valuable citizens of Nigeria’, but the hard fact remains that the conference had served its purpose… a reality is not lost on Nigerians.
CAN again proved itself as a political party, for its untoward exhibition for a religious body to endorse the nefarious activities of economic terrorism of the Niger Delta militants and then accused the government of improper handling of terrorists. Is this not the same CAN that has vehemently rejected negotiation with terrorists like Boko Haram, claiming that a responsible government does not negotiate with terrorists? Interestingly, like an adroit political party, it is now time to negotiate with the Niger Delta terrorists because they are actually ‘avenging’ on behalf of the corrupt leaders of the previous regime, among whom are its prominent leaders.
Hypocrisy is when you support a crackdown on Boko Haram insurgency but pleads or preach negotiation with IPOB, MASSOB, NDA and others that have killed members of Nigerian armed forces. It is pertinent for CAN to realise that election battles had been fought and won and we all must jettison petty issues which PDP in collaboration with CAN try to utilise in the polarising us along religious lines in the heat of political campaigns ahead of 2015 general elections.
On the new educational curriculum: 9-year basic education issue, it must be said that just as Christians detest the idea, Muslims are also seriously against it. Muslims have taken time to study the curriculum and discovered that the curriculum is even more skewed in favour of the Christians. So, on the current educational curriculum which merged Christian Religious Studies (CRS) with Islamic Religious Studies (IRS) as an omnibus subject called Religion and National values, Muslims also believe in having their children study IRS without diluting it with and Christian beliefs.
Nigerians must call for unity and reduce every myopic and damaging views of religious bigotry discussions about our dear country. Reconstruction Agenda of the Federal Government for the North East is for everyone that is affected by the insurgency. It, therefore, sounds crassly irresponsible for CAN to claim as it did in the release, that the onslaught of the Boko Haram insurgency was targeted at the Christians when millions of Muslims were displaced and killed in thousands. It is callous and insensitive to play politics with the darkest and saddest event in the history of our nation. No sane mind will play politics with the aftermath of the assault of Boko Haram on the North East other than a heartless and selfish person or a mindless association.
The leadership of CAN must also be aware that Nigeria is neither an Islamic State nor a Christian Nation. It is for real, a multi-religious entity. To proclaim, ‘we are no more comfortable and do not want Shariah Law upheld again in ANY STATES of the Nation and entire Federation, not even in the North…’ shows how misguided, contemptuous, disrespectful and intolerant for the accommodation of other religions, that the CAN as a body, seems to be. Instead of insisting that the ‘need to expunge Islamism and Sharia from Nigeria Constitution will be acceptable’ why not demand that the Christian code or system be included in the constitution, if it is discovered that the Christian-oriented English legal system has not fulfilled all righteousness. Live and let live is the only way to go. Playing the dog in the manger will only further worsen social crises. The fact that the CAN has either become the mouth piece of opposition or has inadvertently turned itself to the major opposition party in the country is not surprising but condescending to a differently low level of classifying to anti-corruption war as Islamization. This is mostly uncharitable and highly dishonourable.
CAN should worry less about infiltration, for opposition politicians have already taken over the once religious body. From the conduct displayed so far, it has become obvious that CAN gives no damn if Nigeria burns to ensure its members remain in the corridors of power or produce the president of the ashes republic. It is a duty on all well meaning Nigerians especially the well Christians to resist all attempts to turn CAN to PDP incarnate. It is no less a bad omen and a sad adventure that is bound to fail.
Ibrahim Ola Balogun
Policy Analyst, Social Commentator and Blogger