Says negotiation is waste of time
•Lists four ways to stop insurgency
•Explains why the Sultan, himself, others have not met over killings
By Sam Eyoboka
National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, on Monday, celebrated his birthday by giving out cheques of N50,000 each to about 30 disabled individuals from different parts of Delta State. In this interview, he laments that for two years now, Nigeria Inter-religious Council, NIREC, has not seen the need to meet despite the growing menace of insurgency in parts of the country. When asked whether constant attacks on his person will deter him from speaking his mind, his answer was: “God forbid. It cannot!” Excerpts…
What’s your birthday wish for Nigeria?
My birthday wish for Nigeria is that we will have a nation where everyone is equal; not just by national anthem, not just in words, but in deeds. That Nigeria will be a nation where people are not judged by tribe or by religion, but purely on the quality of their character, their person. My wish is to have a nation where anybody can go from Sokoto to Calabar and be accepted as a Nigerian. I don’t have to change my religion to live in a certain part of the country.
To mark your birthday, you gave out cheques to disabled people in Warri. What inspired it?
That is my life. The major thing that gives me joy in life is to give joy to other people. When I have opportunity to do that, I jump at it because it does something to me. I feel fulfilled. Yes, I’m a Christian, I’m spiritual, but I feel like a human being when I touch other people. It reminds me of my own humanity. It reminds me that if not for God, I will not be who I am; I will not be where I am today. You saw a woman giving testimony and then she said she had stopped doing business. Whatever stopped her from business, obviously stopped her from a livelihood. It just occurred to me there, ‘why don’t you just help her?’ She is healed, she is happy, but why not just take it a step further and help her to have a livelihood? And you could see her reaction.
That gives me fulfilment. December 26th is an incredible day for me here in Warri. I did not fully understand the word Boxing Day. I thought it was a feast thing, but then I began to understand that it is a day where many things are packaged; it’s a day of boxing things to give to people. So we do that here every December 26th. We give out cars, tricycles. That’s my joy. I’m a pastor. How much do I have? What can I do? Very little. But there are big businessmen, big companies; if we all try to do a little; everybody seems to be pushing it all to government but government can’t do everything. We can all do something. If I do a little something, and somebody else does, and everybody else does, you would be surprised how many people we can take out of poverty, how many people we can actually put on their feet so they can stand for themselves and fend for themselves. It will change this country.
The theme of the Jubilee: Talitha Cumi Arise 2015, does it have anything to do with next year elections? What’s the purpose of the theme?
I have a chair in my bedroom where I kneel to pray, but sometimes I sit if I’m praying for long, it’s like a rocking chair. I was sitting there meditating some five months ago. I can’t explain whether it was a trance, but I saw something like a screen, and written on it were the words: ‘TALITHA CUMI’. I happen to know that phrase because I’ve preached from it for years and I know that it means, `Damsel arise’. Underneath it I saw ‘ARISE 2015’. I know we are in 2014, why 2015? And the impression from God came to me that this year is preparatory towards 2015. Many things have been predicted about 2015, but the Lord impressed on me that many things that were dead will come alive. Hopeless situations, God will bring life into them. But also that Nigeria will arise. This nation will not go under. Nigeria will not be consumed. Nigeria will survive. It will be tough, but God says we will arise. So it’s very prophetic. It will definitely affect 2015. Call it the election, call it the aftermath of the election, call it whatever, but we will survive 2015. When Nigeria survives 2015, Nigeria will survive anything.
In view of the growing insurgency in parts of the country, why has NIREC not held any meeting to address the challenge?
I am as puzzled as you are because the Sultan and I are co-chairs of that organisation. We’ve not had a meeting now for almost two years and I’m puzzled because at least three times I have been informed of a meeting. We were supposed to meet in Gombe, only for the Secretary/coordinator, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, to call to tell me it won’t hold, something happened, the governor was going somewhere or something. We fixed another date, he came up with something again.
We fixed a third date; they came up with something again why it could not hold. At a point, they even said there was no money. But early this year, I was told that there was some money now, so I said let’s do it. I talked with the two very important people involved. I suggested some dates; they said those dates were not good. So I’m still waiting for a date.
So it has nothing to do with me. I would love that we sit and talk. And we should be able to put these issues on the table and put timeline and agree on how we want to solve some of the problems facing Nigeria today. The traditional rulers, the religious leaders and political leaders; these three groups of people are very crucial to solving the problems facing Nigeria today.
Recently we heard that there was a ceasefire, later we were told that there was no ceasefire whatsoever……
I think I’m the wrong person to ask this because, first of all, I was not part of it. I don’t know anything about any ceasefire. You people should ask the relevant authorities to explain what they meant by ceasefire because I have no idea. What I know from what some very devout Muslims have told me is that when a Jihad starts, they don’t stop. The Jihad has to be completed. They either die or they achieve their goal. And the goal is to Islamize Nigeria. The real war is a war between the ideology of Sharia and the ideology of democracy. This is the war that is going on, and it is a worldwide war.
In Nigeria, we are ostriches; we put our heads in the sand. The western world is doing the same. They think as long as they are hiding in the sand, their problems will vanish. It’s not going anywhere. We have to face reality. The problem is real. Boko Haram will not negotiate with anybody. It’s a waste of time, energy and effort. They may end up talking with some people. But the problem is there are people who are still killing people and raising up their flags every day in different places. This is the reality on ground. Let’s stop the deception. Let’s stop the games. What is happening is real. People are being killed on a daily basis. So what ceasefire? There’s nothing like that anywhere. Shekau himself has been coming out almost every day, saying he doesn’t know anything about any deal. What deal is anybody going to strike with you that is going to stop this trend now that is going on?
To me, there are three or four things that should be done to solve this problem of insurgency in Nigeria. I don’t know if we can ever totally eradicate it but I think we can reduce it drastically and isolate it.
Number one, Christians must not relent in their prayers. There has to be a divine input into what is happening. I have a feeling that God has helped us as a country; if not, the situation would be worse. So I want to plead with every well-meaning Nigerian to pray and pray harder.
Number two, the military must not relent. They must buckle up. I find it very difficult to criticise them and just pull them down to say they are useless and all that. I’m not telling you that I’m satisfied with what I see, but I find it difficult to do that. There are many reasons for that. Number one, these men are Nigerians like us. The difference is that they signed to become soldiers. They are married with wives and children. They are being killed also and their wives made widows and their children orphans. Why should I stand here now to say that they are useless? Having said that, there is a serious problem in our security agency, the problem of sabotage. I’ve been crying out about this for almost two years now, now a lot of people are talking about it. There is serious sabotage. It’s been there, it is just being magnified more and more. All our security agencies have this problem. There are people sympathetic to Boko Haram; some of them are even literally Boko Haram themselves. They leak information every day. It has become so bad that even reporters now get the stories.
The other day I read where a plane was to go and bomb a Boko Harm stronghold which could have stopped the recent invasion of Mubi; but as the plane was approaching its destination, the pilot got a call that he should return to base and he returned to base and these people did all they wanted to do, then they said he should go. So who made that call? Well, I don’t know if they’ve found out who made the call now. There was also an armoured car that was abandoned intentionally. When journalists report and say the soldiers ran away, they make it sound too simple. That’s not what really happened.
From the information I have sometimes, there are some commanders, not all, who will refuse to give the command. By military operations, soldiers cannot attack or respond without a command. Now, if the man who is to command them is not giving them command, and it’s obvious they are going to kill them, what do you expect them to do? So some of them drop their weapons and run. The picture has to be painted correctly. So that’s why some of them run away like that. Then there are some who the thing has been arranged, the people want to leave these weapons for the other people, so they are instructed to run. So they just run away and leave the weapons. It’s not really that they are afraid or can’t fight, but it’s still this sabotage issue. They have to work out the mechanisms by which they can fish out these people.
No matter the equipment you buy; you can buy all the modern equipment, it is getting to a point where the problem is not of poor equipment, the problem is that these saboteurs are using these equipment against government in the sense that they are handing them over to the insurgents. So these crazy people use these same equipment bought with Nigerian money to kill Nigerians. This is an issue that must be looked into seriously and addressed urgently.
Now the third thing; this is also very important, Nigerians, I beg us, let us stop this pretence. It is either we are totally ignorant, which I will be surprised of, or we are totally wicked and pretentious. We keep saying that this thing is not religious; it’s an insult to the sensibility of the average Nigerian. So when will we agree that this is a religious problem? When Nigeria is wiped out? When these people overrun the whole nation before we will know? I read in the papers today that an insurgent was walking around the streets of Mubi preaching. The report states that Boko Haram patrol captured towns preaching to residents. Are they going round begging for food? They are preaching. Preaching what? Don’t we know what they are preaching? They are preaching Sharia. Why are we pretending to be politically correct?
There are Muslims that are good friends and I associate with. I love them. I cannot hate Muslims. Why should I? My religion forbids me to do that, but I am begging these people that Muslim clerics, the notable ones from all the denominations of Islam, because Islam has denominations; all the Muslim clerics, all the Muslim political leaders, all the Muslim traditional rulers; these three groups should please for God’s sake and for the sake of Nigeria and for the sake of their own future and their own children and children’s children, they should come together.
Boko Haram will not listen to me. Boko Haram is an ideology. Please ask this question, what is the Salafi ideology in Islam? What is the Wahhabi doctrine in Islam? Are there doctrines like that? Yes. What are the doctrines that these terrorists around the world believe in? The doctrines they are teaching, are they not coming out of this Wahhabi and Salafi doctrines? Boko Haram is basically an ideology. To defeat an ideology, you need a superior ideology. Many of our Muslim brothers have come to say to those of us who don’t know much about Islam that these people are not Muslims.
Alright, but what are these people preaching? Is it not from the Quran? Now you say you have the real thing that this is not the real thing. Then match the real thing with the unreal thing or with the fake. In other words, they must engage these people. There are few Muslim clerics that these people respect till tomorrow. From what I hear, they like discussing the Quran, up to Shekau himself. They must find ways to engage them. I will never have access to them. They don’t even want to hear anything about me because I’m an infidel. But they would listen to some of these clerics. They must locate them, find ways to engage them probably through some of these their Quranic studies and scholars, they may be able to get to a point where they can discourage some of their activities and gradually get them to become sane again.
Number four will be for these same religious clerics to help us go to the grassroots and start convincing the average person on the streets probably in the mosques, that they are Nigerians and Nigeria is a good place to belong to. Because certain things are being told to the people; they should start telling them that this is a great country to believe in. They should make them understand that Boko Haram is not fighting for them or for their good. They are the ones that can say these things to those people. If they gradually do that, a lot of them, even at the risk of their lives, will give out better information to our security agents. Because you can’t fight a war like this successfully without getting good intelligence from the local people. Some are afraid. If there is nothing you can die for, then you really have nothing to live for. The reality is if you don’t give out these information, one day, these same people will kill you. If you give out information and they catch you, they kill you. If you don’t give out information, one day, they will still kill you. Is it not better to give out information? They have to try to convince them, to make them feel that they are Nigerians.
Government will also play their part. But it is not about poverty. They are destroying all the infrastructures that would help put food on people’s table, so it’s not about poverty. If you buy car for every single one and build a house for every one of them, it’s not going to solve the problem because it’s a problem of ideology. So they have to bring some reorientation. These things must happen. So there must be a grassroots work. Like I said, government has a part, but to me, government’s part in this thing is not as strong as religious leaders, political leaders and traditional rulers. They have a greater part to play in solving this problem. Government will arm the military and all that stuff, but all these three groups are the ones that need to help us to get to the grassroots.
A lot of Almajiri schools have been built everywhere, how many schools have been built for Christians? Do you think a Christian can go to almajiri school? Are there no Christians in the North? Who is crying out for them? Who is speaking out for them? Their own children are roaming the streets.
Are we not all aware of what the nice governor of Bauchi State did in Tafawa Balewa and other areas dominated predominantly by Christians? How he went and closed down a girl’s secondary school 2011. Most of the students are Christians. He took the Muslim students from there and put them into other Muslim schools and abandoned all the Christian students. They have nowhere to go till today. Who cares? Where are our human rights organisations? Where are our civil society groups? Is it that they became deaf and dumb intentionally? Those girls are roaming the streets. If they want, we can go and show them. They are all over the place. I can go on and on and show you some of these things.
There is also the challenge of porous borders that need to be properly policed. Those are government issues too. The borders are porous and they need to look at the kind of people they post to those borders too; not people who are sympathetic to this madness. You post the same kind of people to the borders wearing government uniforms but working for Boko Haram, they will go there and just be telling people to pass with all the big trailers allegedly carrying food, cow and other things whereas they are loaded with equipment that are coming into this country from different directions.
Are you not aware that Libyans have joined them? Are you not aware that Somalians are among them now? Are you not aware that Tunisians are among them? From different parts, they are there among them now, fighting alongside the insurgents. Our borders are so porous. Not only the land borders, but even the air and sea. What of all the weapons that were found in Lagos, where are the weapons till today? Iran was indicted. Where are those people that were caught? What has happened to them? What about the ones found in Kano? We were later told that they were linked to certain Lebanese people based in Kano and Abuja. What has happened to all those things? What has happened to all those people? Have some of those places not been reopened in Abuja? What are we doing to this country? And we say we want to fight insurgency. All these problems are there. If we look at all these things realistically, holistically, genuinely, honestly, with integrity, we may wipe out insurgency and probably, if nothing else, reduce it to the barest minimum.
Otherwise, you think Nigeria may go the way of Turkey?
Turkey, some time ago, was 100 per cent Christians. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire that was a neighbour to Constantinople was a 19-year-old boy. And the Christians were warned of what was going to happen, they said it could not happen. They sent emissaries to him. He received them. They said ‘we told you, they are so nice’. When the boy turned 21, he invaded Constantinople. Guess who helped him? Christians. The cannon with which he blew down the walls were invented by a Bulgarian Christian that was even inside Constantinople. He invented this thing and approached the king of Constantinople for money in exchange for the weapon, the man said he didn’t have.
The inventor sneaked out of town with his invention, went to the Sultan and the Sultan gave him money and collected the equipment and helped to lead the troops to blow down the whole wall. In the meantime, Christians inside had been fighting each other, talking nonsense about nothing. When they saw the invaders approaching, they held hands to say they were praying. Which prayer? And they came in straight, and the first place they went to was the church. And the Sultan walked into the church shouting ‘Allah Akbar’; and made his way to the pulpit, made some rituals and turned it into a mosque. For the next 1,000 years, that building was used as a mosque. The man who started the modern day Turkey by introducing democracy, what he did was to stop the place from being used as a mosque but he didn’t return it to the church. Instead he turned it into a museum. So inside that museum, you will see Muslim things and you will see Christian things. Do you think if that place was originally a mosque and was changed to a church, and they came and stopped the church, you think they will not change it back to a mosque?
Look at what is happening in Jerusalem. When we talk like this, some people will attack me. Look at the Al-Aqsa Mosque; was there not something in that place before that mosque? There was a Jewish temple there before that mosque. Why is it that the world never ask questions? If the original thing there was a mosque, and the Jews came and built a synagogue or a temple on top of it, you think it will stand? They would have blown it up by now. Everybody is talking about the mosque. What about what was built there before the mosque? Nobody is asking, nobody is talking.
We talk about western colonization; what about Arab colonization? We never talk about it. We pretend that it doesn’t exist or it didn’t happen. What happened to Egypt? Is it not the same thing that happened in Turkey? For over 1,000 years, Egypt was totally a Christian nation. The Arabs invaded. They came in. In the usual stupidity of Christians, they said it could not happen. They killed them like rats. And brought in a lot of Arabs within 50 years. Today, Egypt is known as an Arab country. Were the Pharaohs Arabs? Please let’s be realistic. They were real Africans, black people. Is that what you have there today?
What happened in Sudan? Why is it that Sudan split? You have Southern Sudan and Sudan. The whole of Sudan was pure black people. The same thing, they came in from Egypt and raided that place, took it over. Killed the men, dashed themselves the women, and brought in a lot of Arabs. Within 50 years or thereabouts, it became Arab Republic or Islam Republic or something. Today, everybody is seeing Sudan now as an Arab country. But was it really an Arab country? Is Sudan really an Arab country? Nobody asks questions.
I can push it further. Fulani herdsmen kill innocent natives across the nation, rape women and do several despicable things to people in the nation, but what do we hear ? Calls for compensation for them. People clamour for grazing land for them as if to say the nation should compensate them for killing innocent Nigerians. Nobody has asked the question as to where herdsmen get sophisticated weapons like AK47 from? Do you know that for the past 30 to 40 years, no church organisation has been issued a certificate of occupancy to build a church in the far North?
Go to the North of Nigeria and see the suffering of Christians. Are you aware that generally across the North, you cannot be a traditional ruler except you convert? Go to Gwoza. Gwoza is 80 per cent Christians, but they have an Emir of Gwoza. Does it make sense? That a place where 80 per cent of the people are Christians, you start an emirate, and there’s an emir who is a Muslim over 80 per cent Christians. Look at Mubi that was just taken over; there was an Emir of Mubi. In a place that is also over 80 per cent Christians. Can it be the other way round? Can you try it?
Can you go to Sokoto and say that from now it’s a Christian traditional ruler that will rule over a particular area? The only Christian in Bauchi State House of Assembly is a woman and she was thrown out. What did she do? The House woke up one day with the governor, and decided that a local government area headquarters that was located in a Christian area be relocated to a Muslim enclave. And they just did it like that. The woman got up and said no. They said she insulted the House. Her tenure is almost over, they took her security, took her car, no salary for almost three months. What has anybody done? All kinds of things have happened.
We have a Christian President and all these things are happening to Christians. People are complaining that the President is weak, he doesn’t act. What do you think?
Well, personally, I will say that people’s styles are different. All leaders will not operate the same way. So don’t rule out that possibility. Also, because personalities and style would be different, you also discover that there could be a leader who feels that because I’m a Christian, I should not do things that will make people think that I’m favouring Christians and would bend backwards to satisfy the Muslim side so that they will be happy. All I will tell you is that the man is bending backwards to satisfy these our brothers. He is the President of both Christians and Muslims. But the funny thing is our Muslim brothers complain that he is not treating them well. You sit back and wonder, it’s puzzling.
Look at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), which is supposed to care of refugees, give relief to internally displaced persons when all these things are going on. I think the Director General or whatever of NEMA is a Muslim. Five out of six of the zonal coordinators in the six geo-political zones are Muslims. Only one is a Christian. My people especially in the North complain every day that the relief materials meant for displaced persons don’t get to them. In fact, as we sit here today, there were about five or six of them in this office today from Mubi and other places to see me. A pastor from Mubi told me that the clothes with which he managed to escape death was what he was still wearing. They told me that in some of the camps where they claim to take relief materials to, they don’t give relief to Christians. They told me that there are Muslims who come from their homes to collect the relief and go back home while the displaced Christians in the camp are wallowing and struggling and nothing is getting to them.
From my own observation, Mr. Jonathan bends backwards to satisfy our brothers. But I think he should look again very carefully at the treatment Christians are receiving. It is just too much.
I heard of the Potiskum Secondary School attack. Did you hear that they said I’m the Christian Boko Haram? Is it not amusing? That I’m the one killing all these people who are being killed now. Why are we so wicked? Why are we like this? I was reading about a prominent man I’ve always respected in Kaduna, an elderly man saying that insurgency is a creation of government or somebody just to win election. I just sat down and was shocked that an educated man, elderly man could be talking like this with what we are seeing with our eyes. It’s unbelievable. Is it that all these people don’t know the truth? They do know the truth, but we just pretend or wickedly don’t want to touch the truth. If you try it, then they shout. That’s what some of us are suffering. If I’m nice and accept everything, I will be getting awards left and right and getting tons of money, they will recommend me to become this and that, hailing me all over the world, while my people are dying.
I met some northern Christians who are accusing Christians in the South of not coming to their aid as much as some few people like you do. Do you still have a problem galvanising southern Christian leaders to assist these people?
We have a serious problem. Most Christians in the South are naïve. They don’t get it. I don’t know whether it is because their uncle has not been killed, or their father has not yet died. I went to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, there were many good things there but the thing that interested me most was what a German pastor by name Martin said. He said: “When they came for the communist; I said nothing because I was not a communist. When they came for the socialist, I did and said nothing because I was not a socialist. When they came for the labour unions, I did nothing because I was not in the labour union. When they came for the Jews, I did nothing because I was not a Jew. When they came for me, there was nobody left to say anything”.
I think he eventually died in jail. That is what is happening to us in the South. Most of us think that this thing is a joke because it has not yet affected us directly. But the reality is, if we do not support these people and help them, God forbid, the madness we are seeing, these people believe they can go to any length. They have interest in the South. Their people are already scattered all over the South. They are everywhere waiting to unleash mayhem on southerners. But the reality again is that the average southern Christian does not understand that what is happening in the North is actually happening to them. So we need to wake up, we need to understand that these people are Christians just like us.
Somebody said you are being attacked because of your outspokenness. Will this deter you?
God forbid! It cannot! The day I keep quiet, in my own opinion, I ought to resign being the leader of Christians. Is it the title? Is being President of CAN a title? I believe that being president of CAN should be an institution that should be respected, but anybody who takes the position of that institution, must take the responsibility that goes with the position. And one of the key things that brought about the birth of CAN is that it must be a voice for the voiceless. The moment that stops, then what is CAN? It’s also something that most people don’t even realise, that that was the purpose. I’m just doing my job, and as long as I’m President of CAN, I will continue to do my job by the grace of God.