By Sam Eyoboka
Amid the raging insurgency in the North-east, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, says, contrary to the claim in some quarters, Christians, rather than Muslims, are the targets of the Boko Haram Islamist group. Oritsejafor lists six ways to end the insurgent attacks including northern leaders engaging Boko Haram in dialogue. The CAN leader spoke to Sunday Vanguard after the Daughters of Sarah convention, co-hosted by his World of Life Bible Church, Warri, Delta State. Excerpts:
What drives you? Why do you always want to give during every programme here?
I have asked myself that question too! Somehow I think I have lost my mind. When I sit down and think, it’s very natural to give. That’s where I am now. It didn’t start naturally but that’s where I am now. If I don’t give, I think I will be sick or something. But I think it started with understanding the scripture. Let me say this: I remember when I gave my life to Christ, I felt the urge to go into ministry and I went to a Bible school. I wanted to leave; the reason I wanted to leave was that I felt I will be unproductive to God.
So I said why waste God’s time and waste my own time. That was when I said I better leave and go and do something else with my life, because I am a realist. So when it comes to giving, what I did, just like I do in most cases, I started studying the Bible. I started reading to understand God’s mind about giving and I discovered that giving is one of the most misunderstood subjects in the Bible. But the truth is, it is the most consistent subject in the Bible.
You find it from Genesis to Revelation; it comes in so many shapes that if you are not careful, you will miss it. I did a study all through the Bible; even a lot of young men that do all kinds of crazy things to get stuff out of people—it’s a misunderstanding that they got themselves into—because when you understand the scriptural meaning of giving, you will discover that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
You will not be straining yourself to get from people. The way the principle of giving works, it is always to give and you receive, not the other way round. Even young preachers who are trying to get from people, they think it’s when they get that they can give to people, no! That’s a wrong principle. It is always give and it shall be given unto you, sow and then you reap. It is not get and then you give. Like I said, I’ve done that study, based on that understanding, it doesn’t matter what anybody says or preaches. I will always give. It’s a way of life for me. When you get to that point, you will enjoy God beyond your expectations.
Several candidates for employment into the Nigerian Immigration Service died. How did you feel when it happened?
I’m pained! It is so unfortunate! But this is where we are today. I hope our political leaders are watching. When I’m talking of political leaders, I’m not talking of President Goodluck Jonathan because we have reached a place in Nigeria today where everything is Jonathan; as if Jonathan is the only elected official in this country. First of all, the situation where we find ourselves today, is it Jonathan that created it?
How can a man that became President three years ago be the one that created all these problems? Something is wrong. I don’t know if the media realize the damage they are doing to the psyche and the integrity of the Nigerian society; to give the impression that one man is responsible for the problems of this country that has been in existence for many years. Let’s go back and look at the history of Nigeria, look at the leadership, the political leaders.
It’s horrible. Jonathan is President; he cannot run away from being part of the blame. What about this government? State government where the House of Assembly will go and pass a budget in the governor’s house and everybody is silent, nobody is saying anything. Can you imagine, Jonathan taking all members of the National Assembly and the budget is passed within two hours in his house; will Nigeria not run down? Why is the media presenting things like this? It’s not right. Government comprises political leaders at all levels, and it’s been happening, and they are getting away with it, so to speak.
That is why I advocated last October that all political and government officials should forfeit half of their emoluments for one year. Do you know how many billions of naira that will amount to? I told them this money should be put in a dedicated account and credible Nigerians should be fetched from each of the six geo-political zones to manage that money to create jobs.
The level of unemployment in Nigeria is so high. Universities that we are trying to build must be universities that will educate people to be self employed, people who will be able to contribute to the progress of Nigeria, not just people who acquire degrees and wait for white collar jobs. That is my number one emphasis; job creation. Number two, leadership; and number three, God.
It’s a very unfortunate thing that (Immigration job tragedy) has happened. My prayer is that such a thing will not happen again. I also want to speak to the private sector, some of them have tried, but they can do more. If we love this country, we can pull Nigeria out of this situation. If we leave everything to government, I don’t know what will happen.
About 10 people who have the same mind can come together and set up medium sized businesses. We must begin to venture into areas like this. I have some ideas myself; I just pray I’m able to finance them. But it’s not right for the private sector to leave everything to government. We all have to be involved and find ways to lift people out of poverty. You saw the grinding machines we gave out, these are some ways of eliminating unemployment. The more people you can give jobs, the stronger and the better the nation will be. Political leaders should take note, past to present, God will hold them responsible, He will judge them.
The National Conference has finally taken off. What’s your agenda for the delegates?
Go there and speak the truth, speak the minds of the people you are representing, that should be the priority. One of the things that have brought Nigeria to her knees is that we lie to ourselves. We know the truth, but we deceive ourselves. We are hypocrites. We try to convince ourselves that everything is good. If you say there are differences, then you are a bad person, but if you want to be celebrated in Nigeria, just come out and say “One Nigeria”.
The moment you try to tell the truth, you are a bad person. I think all delegates should go there with the fear of God to tell the truth as it concerns those who sent them there. Let them table truth on the table, and, from there, Nigeria will be able to move forward. They may not agree on everything, but the truth should be told.
At the end of the day, I believe that it can never be a waste of time. People are always talking. They are just formalizing the talking. I just pray that whatever decisions are taken should be implemented. You will be shocked with the understanding that it will yield. It is never be a waste of time. These same people say National Conference is a waste of time but dialoguing with Boko Haram is not a waste of time. Let truth meet truth on the table, I believe it will yield good fruits.
Of late, a lot of people are saying that Boko Haram is actually not just killing Christians, but that there are more Muslim victims than Christians. How do you respond to that?
I was embarrassed by such statement. As a matter of fact, I read one piece where it was said that 98 per cent of all the people killed by Boko Haram are Muslims. It is not true. How can you say 98 per cent of those killed are Muslims? First of all, in every single statement that Shekau, the Boko Haram leader, has made, he always made it very clear that their target are Christians; their purpose is to create an Islamic state, to the ridiculous extent of telling a sitting President of a country that he needs amnesty from him (Shekau) and that his only option is that Christians can only be saved if they convert from Christianity to Islam. And you tell me that 98 per cent of those who have been killed are Muslims.
These are the things that create tension. These are the things that certain people use to make it look like we hate Muslims when we respond. You can’t turn Nigeria to a Muslim country. To think like that is to insult the sensitivity of rational people. This is very wrong. Until about six months ago, almost all the people killed were Christians. That’s the reality. In 2013, from the reports I’m getting, there were not more than five mosques that were destroyed.
In 2013 alone, from the information I have, there are not less than 300 churches that were destroyed. I don’t know how such people come up with their statistics. Are they trying to tell me now that everybody in Borno or Kano or Adamawa states are Muslims? This is not right. Let us put it on record that nothing less than 90 per cent of people who have been killed by Boko Haram are Christians. I’m the leader of Christians in Nigeria, so I put it on record and that is the truth.
Let me also add that the Muslims that have been killed, every single one of them, his life is as precious as the lives of the Christians killed; I am aware that there are two categories of Muslims that they have been killing and my heart bleeds because they are human beings. Two categories: there’s the category of Muslims who oppose what they are doing; their clerics who come out to say this is against Islam, they slaughter them. The second category belong of Muslims they kill are those they feel have betrayed them. In other words, they’ve been giving information to security agents that were used to either capture them or kill them.
From information I have, they go to mosques where preachers are against them or somebody in the congregation has spoken against them and they don’t know the exact person, they just go and blow the mosques up. These are the two categories of Muslims that have been killed so far. Killing Muslims is not their primary target. If anybody has the opportunity of interviewing Shekau today, he will say what I’m saying now.
Their primary targets are Christians. He has said it again and again that Christians are his primary target. Look at the post-election violence period, who are the people who suffered, who died like rats, killed, burnt, destroyed? There are Muslim clerics that have been killed; my heart goes out to them, but how many pastors have been killed since 2009? Who really cares? Who has taken the pains to look at it?
Some of the widows and orphans they left behind are being taken care of by me. A recent one was in Borno State where a CAN secretary was slaughtered in the presence of his family members. The latest one was in Katsina, the chairman of CAN in Katsina local government, they said they saw the corpse of a child near his house, they went into this young man’s house and they beat him unconscious. He was rescued and taken to hospital. They surrounded the hospital, dragged him out of the hospital and burnt him alive. Where is justice in all these things?
The security situation in this country has gone out of control as the Boko Haram members now go to barracks to kill soldiers. Do we need another approach to tackle terrorism?
I wouldn’t say we need a new approach. I’d just say that we need to sharpen our approach because there are basic things; just that some people don’t see it as an important area to look into. There are about six or seven things that must be done and we have no choice but to do them. One is prayer; we can’t run away from that. That is why I have said that Christians and all well-meaning Nigerians should join us every last Friday of every month to fast and pray for the peace of Nigeria. Whatever God needs to do to turn this tide, He should do it.
Two, the military should be strengthened. They must continue to bombard these people. The number of men in the military is not enough to meet the demands on ground. All I am advocating is that the number of personnel needs to be multiplied. The screening has to be done right because the insurgents themselves will try to join the military.
In fact they are inside the military as we speak. There are also members of the Boko Haram in the military. Some have been prosecuted, some are top officers. The authorities should be careful in giving out positions particularly with regards to information gathering. They have to find ways to detect such people and flush them out with no sentiments attached. The most important thing to be done is the involvement of Muslim political leaders; Muslim clerics and Muslim traditional rulers.
When our boys in the creeks were doing what they were doing, some of us went there. We engaged them, and we didn’t ask government. We engaged them because it was the right thing to do. My friend, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), is now talking. These are people who said the insurgents should be given amnesty; they should be treated like Niger Delta boys. They are now talking, but they must go beyond talking. We strategised, we talked to our boys, and they should go and talk to their boys. They say they are talking to the boys, yet they are killing. We want them to go beyond the talking; go to where these boys are, risk their lives like we did, and begin to engage them, dialogue with them.
It is not government that will dialogue with them; it is their people they will listen to. The boys respect some of the clerics that are good. Bring these boys and discuss with them from the Qur’an. This engagement must filter into the mosques. They must start teaching that Nigeria is their country; re-orient their minds so that they can think positively. All these are what must be done at all levels and done not just by Jonathan, but by governors of the affected states as well as the local people there. The talking is important, but they must go beyond the talking.
Another factor we’ve not said anything about is the menace of Fulani herdsmen…
I see that as another chapter of Boko Haram. They don’t want people like us to talk but we have to talk. What kind of Fulani herdsmen? It’s unacceptable. Is there any other tribe that can do this kind of things and get away with it in the last three years? They have terrorized Nigeria. There is no state where they don’t kill people; these same Fulani herdsmen killed somebody recently in Delta Central.
Where did these people get AK47 rifles from? Who taught them how to shoot? How is it that these people are never apprehended? I have reports that there are communities where they have destroyed crops, killed people, raped women, yet, at the end of the day, it’s the local people the police go after. Look at what is happening in Benue State! Imagine some of the leaders of the Fulani coming out to hold a press conference, accusing the government to be the cause of the crisis.
They actually admitted that they sent people to cause the crisis and police didn’t pick them up? What is the nonsense? Does it mean other tribes cannot do this? Is there monopoly of violence? Does this mean other tribes don’t know where to get arms from? Everyone is trying to build a civil and peaceful nation. As a leader of millions, should I tell these people to arm themselves? Government should take note. One tribe will hold a whole nation to ransom when in Nigeria we have over 500 tribes?
I fear for Nigeria. This issue has to be addressed. They should come out and tell the truth. What is the agenda of the Fulani herdsmen? Is it really about grazing land? They were almost passing a bill, which will never be implemented in Jesus name, that they will just take people’s land just as they like and give it to somebody else. It’s never heard of. I know of a RCCG parish in Zamfara State which they destroyed and the church was trying to rebuild it and the authorities said they shouldn’t try to rebuild.
This is 21st century; don’t people eat cows in America? Do you see people leading cows across the streets? They should go back to where they are from and create modernized way of farming and cattle rearing. These are things we should look at.