PRESS RELEASE BY THE ECWA PRESIDENT REV. (DR) STEPHEN BABA PANYA ON THE DETERIORATING SECURITY SITUATION AND OTHER NATIONAL ISSUES
1. I bring you greetings from ECWA Executive and ECWA family worldwide.
2. As a nation, we are no doubt in the most difficult times of our nationhood. Nevertheless, in line with Biblical injunction in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we have been enjoined as Christians to rejoice always; pray continually; giving thanks in all circumstances; believing it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. We do this in faith knowing and believing in God’s promise in Romans 8:28 that in all things God is working everything together for our good, because we love Him and are called according to His purpose.
3. It has become necessary for me to once more speak on the state of our nation. This is because even a cursory observer of events in Nigeria would attest to the fact that the security situation in Nigeria and all other developmental indices, especially the economy, have all worsened and continue to worsen daily. Consequently, Nigeria is being taunted as a failed state. Furthermore, the increasing number of ethnic nationalities and/or regions openly agitating for self-determination as sovereign states is a clear pointer to how susceptible we are to the centrifugal forces of religion, ethnicity and regionalism.
4. With the seeming inability of the Federal Government to deal decisively with the heightened insecurity across the country, and the massive occupation of ungoverned spaces by criminals, non-state actors have taken the center stage in a bid to protect their people from murderous criminals while also exploiting the situation to pursue their quest for self- determination.
5. The debilitating impact of insecurity and COVID-19 pandemic is further compounding the already depressed economy. As it is now, farmers are no longer able to go to farms due to insecurity, while the rate of unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is on the increase. Considering that agriculture is the mainstay of the economy in terms of employment and strategic contribution to the general wellbeing of citizens, and the fact that unemployment fuels greater insecurity as many of the jobless youth resort to criminality, Nigeria will continue to experience a vicious cycle of insecurity and remain in a cauldron, if these challenges are not addressed.
5. Despite the effort by government over the years to tackle insecurity, the situation continues to deteriorate with the emergence of other troubling dimensions to the crises. If we must be sincere with our effort at dealing with the situation, then a number of issues must be considered and addressed:
Boko Haram and ISWAP have destroyed tens of thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of Nigerians. It is unfortunate that many Christians and Christian communities have been deliberately targeted and destroyed. It is clear that these terrorist groups are gradually but tactically expanding their activities and making incursions into other parts of the north and even beyond. The apparent lack of unity in the fight against these terrorist groups and the inability of government to deal decisively with them within the shortest possible time has emboldened them to do more havoc.
Historically, Fulani herdsmen and farmers have always had conflicts, which were easily resolved. However, the magnitude and dimension these conflicts have taken in recent years shows that there is more to it than mere conflict on water and grass. What we are seeing today is simply terrorism under the guise of herders/farmers conflict. Unless these Fulani killer herdsmen are treated as terrorists, the situation will continue to persist. Also, the seeming silence of government on their activities gives the impression of a tacit support akin to what happened between the regime of Omar Al-Bashir and the supporter of APC terrorists in Sudan. It is a well-known fact that this unholy alliance was what eventually led to the emergence of South Sudan. We must not allow this situation to repeat itself in Nigeria.
Miyetti Allah as a group has been the official and most vocal voice and force behind the activities of the killer herdsmen. They not only give justifications for their terror activities but work hard, in addition to narratives by some highly placed government officials, to sell them to both local and international communities as the victims of the recent bloodshed in Nigeria. But the calibre of weapons they use and the sophistry of their operations leave more questions than answers. It also leaves one baffling how, for the first time in history, the ‘supposed victim’ is highly armed with military grade weapons while the ‘supposed hostile communities’ are littered with mass graves, refugee camps and high economic impoverishment as a result of paying millions of naira in ransom for their kidnapped relatives, if at all they are lucky to receive them alive. This is the case in Southern Kaduna, Plateau State, Benue State and generally in the Christian dominated Middle Belt region of Nigeria.
Miyetti Allah, on many occasions has not only owned up to attacks on innocent Nigerians but also given justifications for such attacks. As a result, many have called for its proscription, but to no avail. They are fast becoming a government within the constituted government of Nigeria. The attempted assassination of His Excellency, Dr. Samuel Ortom, the seating Governor of Benue State, amounts to introducing another very dangerous dimension to the security challenge, which if not properly and decisively handled, can threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria. It is noteworthy that the faceless Fulani Nationality Movement (FUNAM) has owned up to this dastardly act. Nevertheless, the decision of the security agencies to thoroughly investigate the assassination attempt is commendable and it is our hope that measures will be taken to unravel those behind the attack and to begin the process of rebuilding the long-deteriorated trust between government and the people.
It has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between Fulani herdsmen, bandits and even Boko Haram members because their antics are basically the same, and it may be only the underlying dominant driving motives that may differ. While money is more of a driving force for bandits, land grabbing and territorial expansion is more dominant for the Fulani militia, and religious motive more dominant for Boko Haram. However, the utterances of self-acclaimed negotiators and so-called mediators like Sheikh Gumi, are clearly effort to stir the bandits towards a religious war. Nothing less can be deduced from his statement to the Fulani militia that he was reliably told it was Christian soldiers that treated them harshly and killed them. This is totally condemnable and it would have been expected that government would totally condemn his clandestine mission while relevant security agencies would have done the needful.
A more worrisome development is the use or more accurately, the misuse of government machinery in favour of one religion over the other. This is the case with regards the imposition of a Muslim candidate as Chief, against the popular choice of a Christian candidate, over a community that is over 90% Christian in the Tangale chiefdom of Gombe State. This is clearly a forceful imposition on the psyche of Nigerians that there is dominance of one religion over the other or that the adherents of other religious beliefs are second-class citizens. This is oppressive and only succeeds in sowing hatred and bitterness and creating a false sense of superiority of one human being over another.
Similarly, of serious concern is the attempt by the Kwara state government to impose the use of Hijab in Christian schools in the state. It must be clear that the careful use of the term, ‘grant-aided’ schools, being publicized by the state government and some media outfits would not insult the common sense of Nigerians to make them see Christian schools other than what they have always been. Ten schools were shut down by the state government in an attempt to bully the Christian schools to adopting the use of Hijab and the staff of the schools are being intimidated into returning to work under the new law which infringes on the Christian ethics of running mission schools.
We appeal to government at all levels to stop the use of state powers to favour one religion over another.
7. From the foregoing observations, we wish to proffer the following solutions as a way of dousing tension in the land, and bring restoration of the desired peace, stability and progress of our nation.
Return of Missions Schools to their Owners
In the short term, we call on the Kwara State government to return all mission schools to their owners without any grant aiding. Let Missions schools be administered according to the tenets of their faith and anyone who voluntarily chooses to enroll their wards there must be ready to abide by the established rules and regulations of the school.
The Mai Tangale Stool
We understand that this has been challenged in the court of law. We encourage the good and peace-loving people of Tangale to continue with this legitimate and peaceful means of seeking redress, trusting that God will use the courts, adjudged as the last hope of the common man, to ensure that justice is done, so that the popular choice of the people can be honoured.
The MACBAN and other Non- State Actors
This organization and all non-state actors must be called to order to stop their incitive and vituperative statements and activities.
Show of Common Concern and Care for All
We watched with joy the effort and urgency that the Federal and various State governments in the north made for the rescue of school children kidnapped in Katsina, Zamfara and Niger States. Very sadly, despite several promises by President Mohammadu Buhari and security agencies, freedom remains a mirage for Leah Sharibu and other Christian girls like Alice Loksha Ngadah, Grace Lukas, Lilliang Gyang and the remaining Chibok girls. Not to mention Rev. Polycarp Zango, the eight Redeemed Christian Church of God members and many other Christians in captivity of Boko Haram, ISWAP and bandits alike. The President and security agencies need to show more commitment, care and concern for all, irrespective of their religious faith and make effort to free all those in captivity.
Equity, Justice and Fairness
I recall that when the late Elder Statesman, Alhaji Maitama Sule, led a group of northern elders to congratulate the then President-Elect, Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015, he stressed on the critical and indispensable role of justice in ensuring good governance, peace and stability. In his own very words, he said to Buhari: “Sir, it is easy; I know, it was easy when you were a military leader and what made it easy was justice. With justice, you can rule Nigeria well. Justice is the key; irrespective of tribe, religion and race, justice must be done to whosoever deserves it. Power can remain in the hands of an infidel if he is just and fair but it will not remain in the hands of a believer if he is unfair and unjust.” Maitama Sule also said injustice was the fundamental cause of crises all over the world and that the only solution to avert crisis was justice. According to him, “The world itself can never be governed by force or by fear nor by power; in the end, what governs is the mind, what conquers is the spirit and what governs the mind and spirit are justice and fair play. I have always known you to be a man of justice and I ask you to please continue, don’t change or compromise justice for anything. Mr. President-elect sir, we know what we have gone through. I will ask you not to discriminate against any part of Nigeria but I’ll urge you to do justice to all parts of Nigeria, justice that will bring about peace and stability, that will lead to the development of Nigeria. I know you believe that one day you will stand before God to give account of everything you have done here on earth. I will rather prefer that you disappoint me than to disappoint God, your creator.”
In his very short counsel, Maitama Sule used the word justice ten times! Genuine peace has to be premised on justice, fair play and equity. Indeed, the scriptures, the Holy Bible, have very strong words on this: By justice a king gives a country stability (Proverbs 29:4). When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers (Proverbs 21:15). Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully (Proverbs 28:5). Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right (Psalms 106:3). Let us seek and pursue peace that is premised on justice, if we want a truly lasting peace and by that, God will be pleased with us and reward us greatly on that day of our appearing before His judgment seat, for everyone to receive his or her reward. On this, the Bible also says we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The 2014 National Conference Resolutions
To ignore the deliberations and resolutions of the 2014 conference is tantamount to throwing away the baby with the birth water. We therefore re-iterate our call that that the 2014 National Conference, which has over 600 resolutions, be implemented because it has substantially addressed these challenges. We urge the Buhari administration to put in place the necessary mechanisms for implementation of recommendations of the Conference Report. The Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and other stakeholders should work together to actualize this.
8. We in ECWA shall continue to make requests, prayers, intercession with thanksgiving for everyone, including the Executive, the Legislative and Judicial arms of government and all those in authority. That we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
9. We sincerely pray that government will do its part and live up to its responsibility.
10. Long live Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA)!
Long live Nigeria!
31st March, 2021.