By Bisi Lawrence
The recent call on the President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, by none other than His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, to grant amnesty to all the members of the Boko Haram, deserves a second look.
As the acknowledged spiritual leader of all Muslims in Nigeria, his word counts for much on such an issue which mingles the activities of certain members of his faith with the security of the entire nation.
A sultanate is accredited to be the centre of an Islamic “kingdom”, and its head is designated as a stalwart of the faith. There used to be no more than only few in number at the height of the Jihadist expansion, installed in certain countries like Morocco, Zanzibar etc. which were perceived to be outposts of Islamic expansion. The historic position of Nigeria in Islamism may be better appreciated when considered in that context. So also may be the place of whoever occupies the seat of power in any Sultanate as the de facto personification of the faith in that area.
The Sultan has successfully made the image of himself as a peaceable, benign ruler acceptable to all and sundry. His eminence often identifies himself with actions and movements that are associated with the progressive endeavours of a country under the stress of historical polarization as well as current divisive ambitions. In the light of his recent call for amnesty for the Boko Haram, his approach to the scourge of the onslaught of the terrorist organization on the unity and welfare of the nation, could be that of a cautious activist caught in an ambivalent stance. On the other hand, it might have been no less than a circumspect ploy of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. One might then wonder if his call for amnesty for those whose horrible actions have devastated the welfare of several communities is a due exposure of where his sympathies lie.
The call came at a time when the murderous activities attained a peak with the attempted assassination of the Emir of Kano, His Royal Highness Ado Bayero. The Emir was attacked publicly and in broad daylight, thus expunging any doubt as to the identity of the target and the fell intent of the aggressors. The ideal of the Boko Haram had been disguised as the eradication of Western education, but took form in the brutal attacks inflicted on Christian establishments, especially in the Northern part of the country. That almost made sense in a way, since Western education has been strongly fostered by Christian institutions over the years. But then came the attacks on government institutions and establishments of international organizations, like the attack on the UN building. While observers were still trying to analyse the pattern of the aggression unleashed indiscriminately in this manner, the perception was diffused by the attempt on the life of the Emir of Kano. And many people wondered why, Alhaji Ado who is a man of liberal views, untrammelled by sectional prejudices, and uninvolved with any strand of the street politics that now holds Nigeria in thrall, a man in his eighties drained of pedestrian passions and puerile ambitions, gently coasting towards the end of a fulfilled tenure, could have been earmarked for such a heart-rending end.
Be that as ever it may, the question of amnesty will remain largely unanswered until it has a focus of responsibility attached to it, in the persons or party that can guarantee that it can fulfill its purpose. That purpose can be nothing short of a cessation of the aggression so blatantly inflicted as a means of terror on the populace. But vocal as the Boko Haram is, it still remains shrouded and faceless. That was the unarguable assertion with which President Jonathan answered the Bomu Elders who also recently confronted him with the amnesty issue, after the Sultan’s big. How do you grant amnesty to “ghosts”?
The President was forthright and freely so, advising the elders to be serious in considering the matter for which, he felt, they must bear some responsibility. He made them realize that the issue of the Boko Haram was not on all fours with the Delta Crisis, to which a handle could be attached and dealt with. The aggrieved parties did come out of the creeks to discuss the problems openly, and some solutions were arrived at.
The confrontation of the President in Bomu was something of an eye-opener to me personally because it hinted at a much deeper, a less bewildered leader, than he seems to be generally. portrayed to be. He displayed sheer guts in looking the Bomu “greybeards” in the eye ‘and telling them, “You’re not serious.” And no apologies.
Christ is victorious
For me, Easter Sundays have a singular association, apart from the strictly religious position they hold in Christian belief. Each marks another year of the absence of my elder brother, Olatunde, who joined the Church Triumphant on the Twelfth day of April, 1998. It was Easter Sunday that year. It brings back all the memories of the joys, of regrets, of tiffs, of secrets shared and lost. Underlying it all, of course, is the indelible pain and anguish of the separation that one hopes will not be permanent, for that is at the core of the Easter Message — the assurance, (in the fact, not just in the hope) of the resurrection of the dead. St. Paul puts the import in clear perspective in this argument:
“How say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not raised. And if Christ be not raised, then is our preaching vain and your faith is also in vain … And if Christ is not raised, you are yet in your sins. Then they also who have fallen asleep in Christ are perished …
But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept”. (1 Corinthians, 15: 12)
That is the Christian hope of glory, the assurance of faith in resurrection leading to salvation. The miscreant on the cross to the right hand of Jesus at the crucifixion had that faith and was certain of the glory; Saint Stephen also saw that vision before he saw death and was sure of the glory; thousands of martyrs who followed after him shared the faith and were assured of the glory too. The number grows each day; the faith stands rampant in the face of persecution and death. Easter comes round each year to re-assure those who truly believe in Christ, that the hope will never diminish despite the evil deeds of the wicked ones who have chosen the way of Satan to discourage the faithful. But no demons, known and unknown, can touch the victory that Christ has won by the shedding of His blood at Calvary— no, not even the brazen and brassy Boko Haram. Whatever their aim, no matter their vision, they will, they shall, prostrate under the shadow of the Cross.
It is during a festive season like Easter that they commit the heinous crimes against Christianity and humanity by shedding innocent blood in the name of a faith that, ironically, professes a clear abhorrence of their actions. They strike at defenceless targets raving like demented dogs in a manner that sets them apart from other human beings. And when their apologists talk about amnesty, or even negotiations, you ask about the subject on the table. Is it the freedom guaranteed in the Constitution of the land, to worship, or to associate with any person or group of people as you desire in the lawful pursuit of your happiness? But even then, in what language do you conduct the “dialogue”— in the language of the gun and the bomb? In the language no decent human being speaks in the light of day?
But whatever crimes they might have committed themselves to perpetrate in the unceasing attack on Christians and Christianity, they are sure to fail. Easter is approaching to once again declare the glorious Victory of Christ.
Ave Papa! Jorge Mario Berigoglio is the 266th Pope. He has opted to be known as Pope Francis I, Okay, stale news? Everyone knows that already, but the story has just begun to unfold. It is also well known that he is of Italian descent, though from Argentina— “half-way across the world”, as he puts it. But the Italian connection must have stood him in good stead. Those who were hoping, or merely wishing, for a “Black Pope” would concede that Africa is still much farther than “half-way across the world” in the geography of Roman Catholicism. That season is yet far from due. It goes really beyond a matter of colour or race. It goes far back into history.
There are two very prominent Roman Catholic figures by the name of Francis. The pope might have taken his title from either of them. The first is St. Francis of Assisi, the mystic who founded the Franciscan Order. He was of the 12th Century. The other, Saint Francis Xavier who lived in the 16th Century, also founded the Society of Jesus with the ascetic Ignatius Loyola who became the first Superior of the Jesuits. St. Francis became the first Secretary of the Order— to which Pope Francis, as a matter of fact, belongs.
He has stepped into “the fisherman’s shoes” as the Bishop of Rome at a time in which the church he leads has never been under a darker cloud of proven indictments of inappropriate behaviour against so many of its priests. The entire world, on its own, is also facing a monumental tide of crisis in various directions — domestic economies, climate change, and international disharmony. But His Holiness knows where to lay his burden, even so colossal though it is. We may be in for an interesting time, as distinct from interesting times