We bring greetings and best wishes to all Nigerians, both at home and abroad, in the name of the Almighty God. It is our prayer that this nation shall continue to experience peace, unity, and prosperity for all the citizens. Our history as a nation, though not too long in comparison with other nations in the world, has been turbulent and at times full of uncertainty. Nevertheless, God in His mercy has granted us the grace to survive and remain united.
In 1999, after many years of military rule, Nigeria returned to democracy. There was hope in the nation that liberty and freedom of choice that will ultimately translate into justice, equality and fairness for all had returned to the nation. The tripod of justice, equality, and fairness shall certainly produce prosperity and strengthen the unity of the divergent groups within the nation.
Unfortunately, recent events in the nation signal a steady reversal of the expectations of the founding fathers of Nigeria that this shall be a country based upon the principle of liberal democracy, in which citizens shall have freedom of choice and be treated equally. There are worrisome signals that Nigeria is sliding dangerously down the destructive slope of injustice, oppression, discrimination and disregard for the rule of law.
It is imperative, given the challenges facing the Nigerian Church and the Nigerian nation to stress the need for the Nigerian Church to unite so that it can take its pride of place in the building of one united nation.
We also call on all Christians, and indeed all Nigerians, whether in or out of Government to realize that corruption is not only a crime under the Laws of our land, but also and more importantly a sin against God and humanity.
The National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) therefore, condemns corruption in all of its ramifications and charges all persons in positions of responsibility and at all levels to shun corruption, as well as abide by the Laws and Rules governing their general conduct. This would ensure that Government is not put under unnecessary pressure and the resources of the nation would then be applied fully to developmental projects.
Nevertheless, while commending the efforts of the Government to tackle corruption in the country, NCEF advises that adequate care should be taken to ensure that prosecution of corrupt persons should be done across board.
MANIPULATION OF RELIGION
There is the need to alert Nigerians that there is a gradual increase in state sponsored manipulation of religion for cultural and political domination. In a culturally and religiously divergent society, this level of discrimination is an invitation to chaos and anarchy. Consequent upon certain discriminatory actions and utterances, discordant voices are rising in protests threatening the peace and unity of the nation. What the nation requires is mature nationalistic leadership that will accommodate all Nigerians and provide an all inclusive fair treatment for all the divergent groups in the country on the basis of equality and fairness to everybody. This need for equality and fairness is underscored in our old National Anthem which states “… though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.” The prayer in the last verse sums up the yearning of the founding fathers of the nation, “O God of all creation, grant this our one request. Help us to build a nation where no one is oppressed.”
This intervention does not in any way seek to denigrate one religion and promote another. The major religions in the nation, traditional worship, Islam and Christianity, all seek to find God through their respective modes of worship. Unfortunately, a group within one of the religions seeks to manipulate religion for political gains.
Islam is a religion and there are many Muslims in the nation committed to genuine practice of Islam. However, there exists a group known internationally as Islamists which practices religion as a political system. While Islam is a religion, Islamism is not. Islamism is a political ideology that holds that Islam is not only a religion but also a political ideology that demands that only Islamists must dominate the environment in which they are.
Today, Nigerians point to the South West as an example of tolerance in religion with all the various forms of religion in the nation cohabiting in peace. The reason is that majority of the Muslims in the South West region practice Islam solely as a religion while in the North East and North West zones, Islamists are greatly entrenched. With Islamism comes discrimination on the basis of religion, intolerance of non-Islamists, (including Muslims that are not Islamists), destruction of lives and properties and gross violation of human rights.
Islamism which started in Egypt in 1928 as the Muslim Brotherhood is the ideology driving all the major Islamic terrorist organizations in the world. These include the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS, Al Nusra, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, etc.
It is instructive to note that many Arab nations have found Islamism an extreme way of religious expression and have taken steps to ban it. Examples are Egypt and Tunisia. After the Arab Spring revolution, both nations voted Islamists into power and within a few months, staged another revolution to oust them. Even the United Arabs Emirates is on record to have denounced the extremism associated with Islamism when it alerted Britain on the dangers of giving oxygen to what Britain does not understand.
Any nation in which Islamists believe that they are sufficiently strong to exercise influence rarely experience peaceful cohabitation amongst the divergent groups within it. This is the current situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and so on. Islamism thrives on injustice, inequality and unfairness.
As a principle, Islamists “loathe” democracy believing that it is a “man-made” law that must give way for “God made” law, which is Sharia. Islamists, as opposed to Muslims that practice Islam as a religion, will go to every possible length to eradicate democracy in any society so that Sharia can be introduced. Nevertheless, Islamists pay lip service to democracy and claim to promote and support it. Nigerians should understand that such claims by Islamists of supporting democracy are mere pretensions and a display of“TAQIYYA” (deliberate deception) because they work surreptitiously underground to undermine and destroy democracy.
It therefore becomes very worrisome when the intolerant and discriminatory traits of Islamism are detected in the exercise of state power in Nigeria. For Nigeria to survive, thrive and flourish in peace and unity, the nation must stand solidly upon the principles and practice of liberal democracy. The only way any government in Nigeria can succeed is for it to harness the potentials of all the divergent groups in the nation. A government with discriminatory tendencies will only utilize the potentials available within the narrow confines of its exclusive group while it would unwittingly, shut out the larger potentials available in the other groups. That is reason the Federal Character principle was introduced.
At the onset of the present administration, government was run without Ministers for seven months contrary to what the Constitution stipulates. Nigerians should be aware that it was not a mistake, it was deliberate. Already the present Constitution of Nigeria has been severely compromised to the extent that the nation now carries a Constitution with “dual ideology” – Liberal Democracy and Sharia. If Nigeria is to survive and flourish, Nigerians should intentionally strengthen and promote Liberal Democracy as the only ideology that can accommodate all the divergent groups in the nation.
Before independence, the Willink’s Commission wrote:
“The whole structure of the proceedings leading to independence is based on the belief that Nigeria meant to follow the road of liberal democracy and parliamentary government and to base part of the structure on the opposite assumption is to invite government to do their worst. But if the road is followed (liberal democracy and parliamentary government), votes will count and in the last resort it is votes that will win fair treatment for minorities”
The consequence of a dual ideology is that the nation has no identity, has no direction and makes no progress. Nigeria at 55 years after Independence cannot stand beside nations that commenced the journey of development with it in the 1960s. Today, nations like China, Brazil, Malaysia, Singapore, have left Nigeria far behind. As the two ideologies, completely antithetical to each other, pull the nation in opposite directions, Nigerian citizens become the unfortunate victims of the ideological struggle.
It is necessary to point out to Nigerians, that the main problem of the nation is not only corruption or tribalism, neither is it ethnicity nor mediocrity. Those are symptoms of the disease. Nigeria is in the throes of a terrible ideological struggle between Liberal Democracy and Sharia that must be resolved in favor of Liberal Democracy in the best interest of the divergent ethnic, cultural, and religious groups in the nation.
ISSUES OF THE MOMENT
We are amazed at the level of glaring impunity into which governance in Nigeria is sliding. Certain decisions and proposals that are on the table require reconsideration in the overall best interest of the nation. Please, permit us to highlight a few:
National Security: It was with an appreciation of the cultural and religious diversity in Nigeria that the Federal Character principle was enshrined in the Constitution. It is therefore strange that the government in power would concentrate leadership of all the security units in only one section of the country. Presently, the Director General of Department of State Services (DSS), the National Security Adviser, (NSA), the Minister of Defense, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Comptroller General of Customs, are all adherents of the same religion. This is not right.
Demolition of Churches in Zamfara: It is on record that Boko Haram destroyed hundreds of Churches in the northern parts of the country. We are yet to resolve the devastation when reports reached us that on 19th January, 2016 the Government of Zamfara state rolled out machines and demolished the Auditorium of Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship in the state. At the same time, Dominican Catholic Church and the Anglican Church were also demolished.
It should be noted that these places of worship were not marked for demolition at any time. On the contrary, buildings which had been marked for demolition in the environment were left untouched. Are we to conclude that Section 38 (1) of the Constitution is no longer sacrosanct?
Section 38 (1) of the Constitution states, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
We demand that the State Government of Zamfara should urgently rebuild, at its expense, the Christian places of worship that were destroyed by its agents. This should not be difficult because when such a similar act of wanton destruction was carried out on the Baptist Church place of worship and the Pastor’s house in April 2015 at Gidan Maso, Rogo LGA, in Kano State, the Emir of Kano personally visited the Church and instructed that the Chairman of the LGA should send the estimate for the reconstruction to the Kano State Government. When the Kano State Government did not respond quickly, the Emir offered to pay for the cost of the reconstruction of the properties. Presently, work is on-going on the reconstruction project. The Emir went further and sternly warned all the District Heads that if such an act of impunity should occur again, the District Head in charge of the affected area risks forfeiting his position and throne.
Similarly, when a mob destroyed a Mosque in Onitsha during a public protest, the Governor of Anambra state immediately paid for the renovation and reconstruction. Within a few weeks after the occurrence, the Mosque was renovated.
Osun State – Threatening Religious Harmony in the South West: It is disturbing to note the alarming developments in Osun state where the religious harmony for which the South West is commended is intentionally being undermined. The peaceful co-existence between the Christians and the Muslims in the state is being deliberately threatened by agents of Islamism.
The introduction of Sukkuk loan into the state as an alternative to the conventional economic model of borrowing is designed, in our assessment, to plunge the state into chaos and provide means for Arabs and Islamists to take over infrastructure, like schools, particularly those schools previously owned by Christian missionaries. There are states in Nigeria that are returning Christian missionary schools to the Christian owners because government takeover of those schools was done arbitrarily. Rather than follow suit, Osun State Government wishes to surreptitiously convert those Christian schools to Islamic infrastructure through injecting Sukkuk funds into them.
Some of the affected Christian schools are:
Baptist Boys High School
Seven Day Adventist Sec. School
St. James Grammar School
St. Francis Grammar School
St. Paul’s Grammar School
St. Michael Grammar School
The plan to inject Sukkuk funding into these Christian Schools is a sly and devious ploy to turn these Christian Schools into Muslim institutions and investments. We are aware that any project that is funded by Sukkuk loan must be administered according to the dictates of Sharia. We therefore call on the Osun state government to return Christian Schools to the missionary owners. If there is any renovation and upgrading that should be done, the owners of the schools shall be glad to do it.
Saudi Arabia Led Military Coalition: Without recourse to the National Assembly, this Administration was alleged to include Nigeria in the Saudi Arabia led military coalition of 34 Arab/Muslim nations to fight ISIS. While fighting terrorism is the right thing to do, why should Nigeria, a non-aligned and multi-religious nation, be enlisted, allegedly, in a military coalition that specifically identifies participating nations as “Arab/Muslims”?
This is another attempt to railroad the nation into an Islamic Sharia controlled state. We state emphatically that Nigeria is not an Islamic nation and it is not ruled by Sharia law.
Sukkuk Loan: In an attempt to fund the deficit in the 2016 Budget, the Federal Government resorted to seeking external loan. Earlier reports indicated that Government was looking in the direction of obtaining a Sukkuk loan from Islamic lenders. However, we are pleased to observe that Government is now contemplating receiving a World Bank and AfDB loan to fund the deficit in the Budget. (Nevertheless, it should be a matter of concern to all Nigerians, the report that some State Governors in the North are negotiating Sukkuk loan. The report, if true, would be very unfortunate because the expression of religious extremism resulted in widespread devastation and destruction in the North. It is clear that obtaining Sukkuk loan would exacerbate such religious extremism rather than diminish it. Such negotiations should discontinue because Nigeria is not an Islamic nation.)
While we appreciate Federal Government’s sensitivity, in this case, to the diversities in the nation, we find it disturbing that Government should present a bloated budget that requires external borrowing to fund. It is wise that in a period of dwindling economic resources government should cut its coat according to its size. Why should the government present a bloated budget that the nation cannot fund? And, if the nation is to seek a loan, definitely, it should not seek one that is based on sectional religion. Therefore, we hope that there would no recourse at any time, directly or indirectly, to engage the nation on a loan that is based on sectional religion. Sukkuk is described internationally as “Sharia compliant” loan. It should be clear to everyone that Nigeria is not a Sharia compliant nation.
For those who are not aware, Sukkuk loan is ASSET BASED as opposed to conventional banking which is ASSET BACKED. Under Sukkuk, both the lender and the debtor will own the asset which is based on land. It therefore implies that if Nigeria should contemplate the Sukkuk loan, both the Arabs and Nigerians will own Nigeria.
Other disturbing aspects of the Sukkuk are:
At no time does the title to the asset pass to the customer (debtor), nor is it expected to pass. (If Nigeria takes Sukkuk, Arabs become the co-owners of Nigeria.)
If the customer wishes to purchase the asset at a later date a separate agreement is drawn up.
The “New Rules/Amendments to the Rules and Regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission”, paragraph 5.0 (c) states, “Ensure that the applicable Shariah principles and any relevant resolutions and rulings endorsed are complied with;) Paragraph 6.0 (a) states, “The underlying asset and its use shall comply with the requirements of Shariah.”
We urge Government to always bear in mind the cultural, ethnic, and religious diversity of Nigeria and always take decisions that will reflect the non-aligned status of the nation.
Harassment of Christian Leaders: Information at our disposal indicates that a wave of embarrassment and intimidation is being planned for selected Christian leaders in the nation.
We advise the government of the day to concern itself with the business of governance and desist from embarking on any form of harassment of Christian religious leaders. Christians in Nigeria constitute over 50% of the population and we shall not stand idly by and watch our leaders embarrassed and ridiculed by Islamists in government. Every Nigerian citizen has the freedom of choice and freedom of worship as enshrined in the Constitution.
Fulani Herdsmen – Murder Legalized: Under the guise of cattle herding, some “Fulani herdsmen” have legalized murder in Nigeria. These “unknown gunmen”, according to security officers, routinely murder Nigerians with impunity, sack entire communities, and leave in their wake death and destruction. It is curious that these harbingers of death and destruction have not been arrested with all the resources committed to security and defense of the nation.
One easily observable pattern in the attacks by the “Fulani herdsmen” is that their victims are predominantly Christian communities. This has therefore confirmed the suspicion that these are the military forces of the Islamists engaging in ethnic and religious cleansing in the nation. The “Fulani herdsmen” must be stopped and all the perpetrators and their sponsors must be prosecuted.
Grazing Land: One reason adduced to justify the perennial attacks of the Fulani herdsmen is the argument that they seek grazing fields for their cattle and as a result engage in conflicts with farmers. It was therefore proposed that ancestral lands of other ethnic groups should be allocated to them as grazing fields.
However, the most sensible and economically wise approach would be to build ranches for the herdsmen in their states of origin. This makes more sense and it is the internationally approved best practice under the circumstances. Other nations of the world consume beef yet, nomads do not drive herds of cattle all over the nation in the 21stcentury.
The Grazing Reserve proposal is seen as a deceptive manner of appropriating the lands of indigenous ethnic groups for the Fulani herdsmen to spread their tentacles of terror all over the nation. The proposal should be dropped and the state governments of the herdsmen should build ranches for the herdsmen in their states of origin.
In view of all the above, we wish to make the following recommendations:
Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Nigeria should convene a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to resolve every crisis in the nation. The nation needs healing and only the truth can provide it.
“Conscience is an open wound; only Truth can heal it.” – Othman Dan Fodio.
Implementation of the 4th Alteration of the 1999 Constitution: We identify with the current efforts of the National Assembly to give full effect to the 4th Alteration of the 1999 Constitution. We commend the efforts of the 7th Assembly for making the provision that the Constitutional Amendment is a continuous exercise.
The wisdom of the leadership of the 8th Assembly to continue from the 7th Assembly stemmed in recognition of the enormous human and financial resources invested in the 4thAlteration exercise. This is a clear manifestation of the commitment of the 8th Assembly to the stability and future of the Nigerian Republic.
We therefore urge the Presidency to remit without delay to the National Assembly a copy of the original 4th Alteration Bill which was submitted to the Presidency and was allegedly signed by the immediate past President of Nigeria, in order to assist the National Assembly in its current exercise.
Implementation of the Report of the National Conference: We call on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to complement the stand of the National Assembly on the Constitution and implement the Report of the National Conference as regards the Executive and Policy recommendations.
The Recommendations bordering on the Constitutional issues should be referred without any further delay to the National Assembly for legislative action. Failure to do this will amount to washing down the drain the colossal financial and human resources invested in the National Conference and will be a great disservice to the Nation at large.
Finally, we recommend that the said report be Gazetted and made public as is usual with such National document for Nigeria to move forward in peace and stability.
Development of Ethnic Security Infrastructure: In view of the security challenges facing the nation, it is highly advisable that each ethnic group should develop Community Policing to protect its people and its land. The security agencies have not been effective in providing security, particularly for vulnerable communities in the nation.
Restoration of History as a Subject in Schools: For reasons shrouded in mystery, the government stopped the teaching of History as a subject in schools. From the experience of Black Africans in Sudan, Islamists employ this sly method to eradicate the history of the indigenous ethnic groups whose land the Arabs covet and wish to takeover. Nigerian ethnic groups should be aware of this subtle attack and ensure that the teaching of History is restored in schools. If an enabling law is required, then the State Houses of Assembly should enact such a law to ensure that coming generations study the history of the various peoples of Nigeria, and in the process, also learn the history of their ancestors.
According to George Orwell, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” A people without history, is a people without a future.
God Bless Nigeria.
For and on behalf of: The National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF)
Solomon Asemota, SAN