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Jos crisis: Perpetrators’ sponsors should be brought to book, says Archbishop Onaiyekan

The unending Jos religious crisis has continued to elicit comments from all quarters.  Whereas some people blame Plateau government for the crisis, others believe it is the fault of Federal Government who has failed to take concrete action. But the Archbishop of Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, Most. Rev. John Onaiyekan, who is also the president of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), has a different opinion.

To him, there is more to it than religion. He says current efforts at resolving the Jos imbroglio are nothing but scratching the surface, saying until the root causes are revealed, the crisis may continue.  In this interview, the archbishop did not stop at Jos crisis.  He also comments on the new cabinet, the alleged sexual abuse in the church and why people should not celebrate it.

Religious crisis has been recurring in some parts of the country despite all efforts to address it.  What could be responsible?

There is no doubt that there is religion involved in these disturbances and conflicts that we are seeing in the north, precisely in Jos. We have to look into the causes, what is there in the way people perceive their religion that make it ends up contrary to what religion is all about? I think we have to remember that if we say this is Muslim and Christian fighting, we will be asking ourselves, are there no Muslims in other parts of Nigeria?  Particularly, we have Muslims and Christians living together in Yoruba land, and we don’t see such things there, which means there is more to it than religion.

Personally, I think, the major thing is not religion, but, in this particular case, religion comes out in the open. When a group of murderers starts shooting guns in the middle of night, and begins to shout, ‘Allahu Akuba, Allahu Akuba”, and killing people, the obvious thing to say is that these are Muslims who have decided to kill Christians in the name of Jihad and it is a pity that this should happen.

I do believe that the Muslim leadership in Nigeria must begin to look seriously into this, and not allowing anybody to misuse Islam in that way. I know that Muslim leadership condemns what happened in Jos and environs, but they should go beyond condemnation, they should find out who are those doing this and help government to identify and deal with them. If we go beyond that, go to the root of the matter, we will find out, because people have various reasons they quarrel and fight.

As we are talking now, villagers are fighting and killing one another in Ebonyi State, but nobody is talking about religious riot there. And there was a time, a town in Onitsha in Anambra State called Aguleri, people were killing one another, burning houses, nobody said Christians and Muslims were fighting, because there were no Christians and Muslims there; even in that particular case, there were Catholics on both sides. When there was crisis between Tivs and Jukuns or between Tivs and Nassarawa, people didn’t talk about Christians and Muslims.

Therefore, when these things happen in the far north, to quickly begin to say Christians and Muslims, in my view, does not lead us to the root of the matter. The question, how can we stop this reoccurring crisis?, can be answered if we go to the root of the matter, then we will stop the recurring riot, but if we keep saying it is religion, and we fail to go to the root of the matter, then we are not facing the reality.  It will continue and I believe the state has a role to play.

We have a government in Nigeria, and we are supposed to have laws. In Nigeria, law-abiding citizens should be able to sleep peacefully in their houses without being afraid that their wives and children will be slaughtered at night. And if people should come and start killing, government should be there to fish out whoever has done it and punish them. Government must do its work, the state must do its work, they should stop giving excuses, and they should stop saying the perpetrators are hoodlums. I heard now that a few poor pe

ople have been rounded up and they are going to start trials in Jos over the last massacre. I am afraid we are just scratching the surface. We must find out, who organized them, who motivated them, who mobilized them, how did they get their guns? It is those people whom we should find out.  They are not small boys,  the so-called leaders who are recruiting them should be brought to book. . I even heard that some of them were actually hired from other parts of the country and brought in as mercenaries. Who is paying for all these, and, I think, the state must seriously address that. Otherwise you could condemn 30 of those people to death, it will not stop it.

What do you think is the root cause of the riots?

Well, there are some people who have political ambitions, or who want to fight a particular cause; they recruit people to do the fighting for them. These must be leaders in high level; I don’t know them, because if I do, I will call their names. But what I am sure of is, it is not those arrested that caused this crisis. Whenever they burn churches and mosques, they gather those poor people.

Nobody goes back to say who gave them petrol, how did they get the petrol, who gave them signals that they can now go out?  I am hearing that now when they leave the mosque, they go on rampage, what did they tell them in the mosque? These are the people that should be picked. If at the end of the Mass, my Catholic Youths Organization (CYON) and Men of Order (MODs) went straight to the mosque and burn it, then they should ask, what did I tell them in the church?  They should leave the boys alone and hold me responsible. We should stop giving people the room to do terrible things and get away with it.

Would you say the various committees set up by FG to investigate the problem  are doing the work?

Again, we are back to the same thing. The committees were set up with terms of reference, and if these terms do not go to the root of the matter, nothing will happen; secondly, if during their investigation, they hit certain people, and then they cover it up, nothing will happen. People have been complaining that all the previous commissions of enquiry on this matter, government has not made their outcomes public.

Solomon Lar’s Committee on the Jos crisis reported that the Fulani representatives did not show up. What does this imply?

Well, you should ask the people who set up the committee. If the head of state set up a committee and a particular group boycotts it, it means that they are not ready for peace. If I were the head of state, I will arrest that person and ask him for explanations.

We heard that the Boko Haram group has issued a threat that they will strike again. What is your opinion?

I have not heard about that, but we all know that Boko Haram issues were not completely settled. In fact, we all know that when the real leader who should have been called to give explanation to us was killed in cold blood, the issue is still hanging. Again, we have not got to the root of the matter. Who are those supporting this group? In the case of Boko Haram, we are told that there is a whole section in Maiduguri, where this group has made their empire, nobody goes in there, and there is a governor in that state.

And we hear that the governor visits them once in a while. This man was well known, he was rich, and people were giving him cars and motorcycles. He was not doing things in hiding. People knew they were piling guns and ammunition and they were left alone. So, somebody in government is not doing his work. This is not good for Nigeria. If law-abiding citizens can no longer trust government to protect them, then they will start making provisions to protect themselves and their families. So, we will

be back to the law of the jungle; surely, this is not what we want. Government that cannot guarantee safety of life and property of its citizens should resign; it means there is no government.

Do you see the nation moving forward with this cabinet?

What do you expect? This National Assembly are the same people that were there, the same government machinery, anybody expecting any new thing must have been deceiving himself. As far as I am concerned, I am not surprised. The question is, would they perform? I don’t know. They will probably perform the same way they did before. Maybe they considered their re-confirmation as a sign of approval that they have done well for those who they are working for.

The basic question now is,  are they there to work for Nigerians or are they working for a group of those who put them there, those who presented their names?  And if they satisfy those who nominated them, as far as they are concerned, they have done well. We are not in the position to say we don’t want them, because we are not those who confirmed them, who are sitting comfortable there, who are getting more than N2 million allowances every month, who are not living in the same Nigeria as I am living, who can send their children and wives abroad for medical ch

eck-up of ordinary headache. They are the ones who are doing all these things, and, until this changes, we will wait for God to take care of the poor people.

What do you expect from the acting president, given that he has just about 14 months to go?

Goodluck Jonathan did not plan the present situation and indeed nobody planned it. In fact, the plans that people are making ahead of 2011 have totally been disorganized now by this mysterious sickness of our president. I believe nothing happens without God knowing.  I am not saying God struck Yar’Adua, but I can certainly say, God has given Nigeria an opportunity to review and re-arrange things. Jonathan is at the centre of that opportunity, will he use it well, or shall we again blow the opportunity the way we did during the days of Abacha?  I don’t know.

Sex scandals involving Catholic priests have been reported in Europe and other countries, though none has been heard in Nigeria.  As an archbishop, what does this signify?  Has  it anything to do with the doctrine of the church?

The media has given the impression that there are sex scandals; if you listen carefully, they are talking about one or two reverend fathers in different countries, who did such thing 20-30 years ago. Is that what they mean by lots of sex scandals in the church? That is my answer to that question. There are some people, who have their reasons to want to paint the Catholic Church bad, and they look for any opportunity to jump at it.

Unfortunately, they are succeeding in giving the people the impression, but eventually the truth will come out. It has nothing to do with our doctrine, because it is not our doctrine that priests should molest children. Those priests who did this knew very well they were doing the wrong thing and the bishop told them that they were doing the wrong thing and asked them to change. Now after 30 years, some people are sitting there claiming to be judge and saying the church should not have done it that way. We forget at that time that teachers in government schools were doing the same t

hing, even worse. Nobody is asking the ministers of education or even the prime ministers of those countries to come and explain what have they done about the sexual abuse by teachers in their schools. Because, church is church and people can talk about us and say all kinds of rubbish even against the Pope without fear of any violent reaction.

You know there are some people who will not take that lying low, they will react in a violent way, but this is not in our character. This thing will pass away, it is a matter of time, and the truth will come out. As an archbishop, I refuse to accept to do the work of the police. It is not my job to be handing over people to the police; they should do their own investigation.

If the police have a criminal case against any of my priests, I will not hide the priest, I will tell the priest, ‘Father, go and answer for your crime’.

If I should be hiding him or even saying it is according to our doctrine, that he should be stealing and molesting children, then they can start talking.

But people are saying it is because the church did not allow the priests to marry.

But they forget that among those who are molesting children, the majority are not reverend fathers, they are people who are married and the greatest number of molestation of children is within the family, that is what they are saying in Europe and America.

Fathers molesting their own children, uncles molesting their nephews. If you pursue it further, they have carried out investigations among religious leaders of other churches and it was far worse than in the Catholic Church, but nobody is talking about them. And I don’t think they even have the courage to start talking about what Muslim Imams do, they will not dare, I am waiting for them to do so.

Is there any sanction for such priest who indulges in this kind of offence, especially in the local church?

This must be looked at from two different angles. When a priest misbehaves, and it is known to the bishop and it is not according to our law, we have our own sanctions for the priest.

For us in the Catholic Church, the greatest punishment you can give to a priest is to stop him from doing the work of a priest. So when a priest does something that is really bad we suspend him. With that we have finished our dealings with him, but if the case, becomes a criminal case it is no longer our responsibility; it goes to the police and court. It is not we, as bishop, who should be carrying out the job of the court.

CAN appears no longer as vocal as it used to be in addressing national issues.  Is there any problem in the association?

Well, it depends on what you mean. This last one, I wasn’t around, the Secretary-General made a statement. Do we call a press conference at this point? I don’t know whether we have said what we ought to say. You can’t keep on saying one thing without a change. Rather than calling a press conference, we are working. And I will like to say that one of the things we are doing that people don’t appreciate is that we are trying to work together with our Muslim counterparts so that at least we can, together, talk against these things.

We are not doing that before, but some people don’t probably think it is important, but I think it is very important because when you do that, it will be clear that nobody can go in the name of religion and start doing terrible things. As to whether we should be talking louder and making statements, it depends.

When we were under military rule, there were things to say, but now we are in a different environment, there are better ways of dealing with a situation than making press statements. Sometimes, the quiet approach might even be more successful.

•Editor’s note: This interview took place before Archbishop Onaiyekan and other clerics met ailing President Umaru Yar’ Adua.


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