By Ndahi Marama
Reverend Emmanuel Morris, the Bishop of Anglican Communion, Maiduguri Diocese, took charge of the Diocese on October 22, 2017 after the demise of his predecessor, the Most Rev. Emmanuel Kana Mani, earlier in February. In this interview, Morris bares his mind on Boko Haram and other issues in the polity.
Borno State is obviously challenged by insecurity. How do you assess the situation?
I came into the state last year at a time when there was a relative peace, and the peace has continued to improve.
Which areas do you think the state government needs to improve in order to impact positively on the lives of the people, especially the vulnerable groups?
Let everybody work for peace; let us understand that something has gone wrong; we need to stop shifting blames. Let us identify where the problem lies and solve it. And to the insurgents, we must appeal to them to lay down their arms because killing and destruction of properties is not the ideal thing; they must join us in the path of peace. They are our brothers and sisters. I also appeal to people who might have been hurt in the course of this insurgency to forgive, let us put behind what has happened and let us forge ahead. Without forgiveness, we can never progress. When we talk about peace, we are not talking about religion. In Islam they say ‘Asallamalaikum’. In Christianity we say ‘Peace be unto you’. What does that suggest to us? And in Judaism they say ‘Shalom’ which is peace; so peace is a concept of life and not something which is limited to religion. Even as a Muslim, if you say ‘Assalamalaikum’, it is not only to your fellow Muslims; it is to anybody you see around you that such person should have peace, meaning you are praying for that person to have peace and you want him to exist. So in these religions, peace is very important, and, honesty, I must tell you that I was really impressed when I came to Borno and I saw Muslims and Christians going to the same filling stations, recreation centres, markets; we use the same highways, we eat food in the same restaurants, we use the same hotels, banks, we do almost everything together. And so, how can you wake up and tell me that Borno is not peaceful? This state was a peaceful state until 2009 or thereabouts when the issue of Boko Haram came up; so let us identify that something has gone wrong and let us address the problem irrespective of religion, ethnic or political inclination. When you go into history, the first three places of worship that were burnt were churches. And the last three places that were burnt were mosques. This insurgency crisis affected both Muslims and Christians. It is something that has come to disorganize us, and we should understand that and try to resolve it collectively.
You must have been watching at a distance the Boko Haram scenario as it unfolded in the past. Now that you are in Borno, how do you describe the efforts of government to contain it and care for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)?
Let us put politics aside and analyze things as they were. When I came on board, I discovered that Governor Kashim Shettima and the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai Elkanemi, were doing their best. Regrettably, when you are outside Borno, you will think the state is a no-go-area, but when I came here, I discovered that shops and business places remained open from 6am to 10pm every day. I really want to commend the efforts of the governor because I have always seen that street lights are on from 6pm to 6am daily, keeping everywhere bright to the extent that, even if you drive in the night in Maiduguri metropolis and Jere Local Government Area, you will not bother to put on your headlights as everywhere is bright, and that is part of the security, because, if something is happening, you will see. But they must find some new ways to calm the situation absolutely with assistance from our gallant troops and other security agencies. This is because, as I speak, there are still bombings and soft target attacks on the outskirts of Maiduguri metropolis whereas Gwoza and Bama, Abadam Local Government Areas still experience soft target attacks. Therefore government and our security forces should do the needful to ensure that all our villages and communities are safe for IDPs to return.
Are you aware that the state government has started rebuilding the communities destroyed by insurgents for IDPs to return home?
I am quite aware that not only individuals’ houses, but churches also were built and rebuilt; so also mosques that were destroyed during the peak of the crisis. So it is a good thing to help the people recover their lives, and that is what democracy is all about.
But, ordinarily, government is not supposed to be involved in the building of churches and mosques?
Government is supposed to be involved directly. Churches and mosques are public buildings. School is a public building, church or mosque also is a public building; and, if government has the resources, it should assist in rebuilding the places of worship that were destroyed. It is the right thing to do because the people don’t have the resources as their economy has been destroyed, their homes have been destroyed and they don’t have anywhere to live and worship; so you cannot say that the places of worship that have been destroyed should not be rebuilt by a responsible government.
What is your take on the issue of herdsmen and farmers clashes in some parts of the country?
When you talk about herdsmen, let us define what herdsmen means in the Nigerian context. Do you know if these people are actually herdsmen or they are something else? Herdsmen in the early Nigerian context were Fulani people that carried sticks and followed their cows and controlled them. But in this case, when you see the so-called herdsman carrying AK47 rifles and you call them herdsmen…………., is it because you see them herding cows that you qualify them to be herdsmen? Well, you may be right to call them herdsmen when you see them with cows around, but what will you call them when you see them carrying AK47? I am not saying that those people killing farmers across the country were herdsmen or not, but let us define them in the Nigerian context.
So are you trying to say the issue of herdsmen has no religious connotation?
When some people talk about herdsmen and relate it to religion, it is very unfortunate. I don’t think the issue of herdsmen has anything to do with religion or politics. Because I know that herdsmen that existed before could even go to other herdsmen, take their cows and add to their own and take them away, and remember, all of them were in the same religion. So we cannot typically say it is a religious issue. Although, some people will interpret it to mean something else, we should look critically into what is happening nowadays. We have different people with different motives. But I strongly condemn whatever has to do with killings. The Church does not condone killings whether of herdsmen or farmers because it is barbaric, evil, it is sin. It is written in the Bible clearly in EXODUS 20: ‘Thou Shall Not Kill’.
What is your advice to government on these killings?
Government at all levels should live up to its responsibility of protecting lives and property. Let government wake up from its slumber and ensure that farmers are adequately protected from herdsmen attacks and vice versa. Government must stop this madness.
What is your take on the government’s decision to establish cattle colonies?
We have been living with herdsmen in peace before; let us go back to the traditional way of living. And let us be realistic, we need the cattle. Farmers eat meat while herdsmen also eat food. So it is a matter of understanding. So let us go back to the old tradition, where you see people farming while herdsmen were busy grazing their animals in the same environment without chaos.
Coming back to Borno State, how do you describe the relationship between government and the Christian community?
It is cordial. We don’t have any problem with the governor. Honestly, since I came on board, I have been looking for an opportunity to meet with the governor and commend his foresight and doggedness. We as a Church and people have not seen anything in the governor discriminatory.
You said you want to meet with the governor. What do you tell him?
I want to help the governor particularly in the area of peace. I am an Ambassador of Peace and I have the duty to preach and advocate for peace. I also want to continue to talk to the Muslim and Christian communities on the need to live in peace. My position as a bishop is an institution that has influence on the society. Very soon you will see people coming into the Bishop’s Court; Muslims and Christians come here and we talk, so we can help the governor and government to promote peace and religious harmony. Government can also help us in terms of keeping to its promises. You know it is one thing for the bishop to tell the people that the governor will do this for you, and when the governor does not do it, it becomes something else. And government has to also to be fair to the people, not just Muslims and Christians, by giving everybody the opportunity to practice his/her religion without hindrance. The issue of saying that people should not go to the mosque or church because of insecurity should not arise, because the people are always praying for peace and government to succeed. So my appeal to government is to always provide security for people, be it in the mosque or in the church or any other place of worship.