My wife had a very interesting conversation about the elections with Emma, her driver, recently. The conversation went from inquiring over whether he had collected his PVC to the candidates themselves.
‘Madam them say make we no vote for Buhari o!', Emma said. When she asked why, he replied. ‘Because I hear say he go Islamise Nigeria’. He went further to add. 'Madam, it is true o. Dem say APC na Islamic party and na dem dey sponsor Boko Haram’
My wife said she was at a loss for words on how to educate him regarding this increasingly popular perception among people of the Christian faith. Should she start by explaining to him through the instrumentality of the constitution why that particular allegation is closer to impossible than probable? Or should she start by going the ISIS route to show that Boko Haram is just a terrorist organization intent on spreading terror, not Islam?
I told this story to illustrate how far and deep the highly divisive message on Islamophobia authored by people like Bosun Emmanuel (A former pastor in RCCG and a delegate at the last Confab) has gone. To say it has affected negatively on the electoral campaign is an understatement. Worse, it has helped to divide Nigerians further along religious lines.
I got my copy of the CD from a friend after a Sunday service. I understood he had a package full of the CDs that he was handing out. To the best of my knowledge, the issue of Bosun Emmanuel and his highly toxic message has been well trashed on both mainstream and social media. We shouldn’t also forget that his message has been discredited by none other than Pastor Adeboye himself. So no need to delve into any forensic analysis of the message.
However, the distribution of the message has gone far and wide, with no one really knowing the full extent of the damage it might have caused. I can't recall the number of times I have had conversations with fellow Christians that starts off as - "I am not happy with the way things are going on in this country..things are really bad.… I think we need change….but, I don't know about this Buhari.. I fear he may Islamise Nigeria".
Honestly, when I hear this kind of talk, it usually takes a high dose of patience to restrain myself from blurting out the words ‘Are you so stupid to believe such crap?’. Sometimes, I literarily have to bite my lips to keep from committing what you could consider the equivalent of verbal assault on the person’s brain.
However, I have come to understand that somehow what people just need is some sense of comfort and assurance. So usually, I take time to explain to them why it was not possible and why their fears are unfounded and misplaced. 9 out of 10, it usually works. It works because it so happens that the majority of those I speak to can, to a large extent, comprehend my analysis and follow my step-by-step rational presentation of the issue. But how do you reach a man like Emma who has been indoctrinated almost to the point of no return? How do you reach a class of people not traditionally given to rational deduction, but more comfortable with mystical idealism? How do you reach a class of people who get their news from backroom prophets, beer parlour gossip, marketplace banter and not mainstream/social media? It is the extent of the impact this kind of message has on people like this that makes me deeply concerned.
My concern is not unconnected to the divisive tendency inherent in this kind of messaging. At a time this country should be seeking opportunities for unity and coming together, it is ironic that we are instead fixated on a divisive message built on top of one of our weakest fault lines—Religion. I am convinced that every Christian with the slightest understanding of the dangers of fermenting this kind of mindset must confront this challenge head-on and defeat it. We must not allow this kind of hateful ideology to take deep root and grow in our land. We must understand that this kind of ideology divides and does not unite us as a nation.
We must let our people know that the document flying around as the “Abuja Declaration” of 1989 is a forgery and not authentic. We must disabuse the minds of people and let them know that it is impossible for IBB to have committed 87% of our GDP to Islam by donating $21 billion in 1989 when our total GDP as a country was $24.23 billion. Even if that’s not convincing enough, the fact that we only earned N54 billion in total revenue in 1989 should be sufficient to quell all doubts. At an exchange rate of 12.26 of the Naira to the dollar, this translates to just $4 Billion in income. So please tell me, where did IBB get $21 Billion (in our treasury) in 1989 to give to OIC for a purported “Islamic Agenda”? These facts are so obvious that it is shocking why seemingly educated people can’t do the math. This was the foundation of Bosun Emmanuel’s entire fairy tale and conspiracy theory. If this foundation itself is a fabrication, then we can, by extension, infer that everything else built on it cannot stand the test of scrutiny.
Let’s even for the sake of analysis imagine there is an “Islamic agenda”. It certainly can't be far from the “Christianity agenda” of evangelism and soul-winning in which many churches have committed huge human and material resources into. Besides, history (right from Biblical times) has taught us that the church has always risen out of the ashes of violent persecution to become stronger. The message of the cross has always been a message of love, peace, redemption and liberty (freedom). When Jesus was born, the Jews were expecting a military king, one who was going to deliver them from the shackles of the Romans. But Jesus came in the guise of a prophet, a healer, a deliverer. His message? Love.
Make no mistake, no violent persecution of the church or of Christianity can ever or has ever stopped the growth of the Church. It has never, and it will never. From the days of Paul the apostle who persecuted the church and came back to be its strong torchbearer to the time when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as a State Religion in 380 AD after many years of persecuting the church, the Kingdom of God has been marching on and the gates of hell cannot and has not prevailed over it. The recent events in Paris only go to show us that those who peddle hate and violence can never win. For if you kill 17, millions will stand to take their place. In the end, Liberty won. Not the terrorist.
Nigeria has never been this divided in its history. This is a country that voted massively for a Muslim/Muslim ticket of Abiola/Kingibe (1993) without flinching. A country where Muslims and Christians have lived together in peace for centuries in the SW, SS and even the north. A country where Muslims happily attend wedding ceremonies in church without a bother and Christians attend Nikkai ceremonies with no questions asked.
What changed? Politics and Politicians. Somehow, the politicians discovered that they can use the dual issue of Religion and Ethnicity as a political tool to win elections. They took time to hone their skills in previous elections and now, they have mastered the art. They will use this tool effectively and after all is said and done and they are in office, they will forget about the rhetoric and sit down to share their N150 Billion statutory transfer allocation with the same opponents and opposition they have maligned along ethno-religious lines.
Bosun Emmanuel's message started off as an appeal to the church to raise disciples and support missions (a cause he is obviously passionate about). But it quickly developed to be a tool in the hands of politicians for political benefits because he vied off into creating conspiracy theories around a political party and making linkages only fit for a Hollywood blockbuster series. Those mass-producing the tapes and distributing it among select Christian denominations have no intention of raising disciples or supporting missions. The only thing on their mind is winning elections.
Today, Dubai has become the destination of choice of many of Nigeria’s Christians, including those of the Pastorate. I can’t recall the number of times a couple of my Clergy friends recall gleefully how much they enjoyed their trip to the emirate city. Some save their hard-earned money for months to be able to afford the luxurious paradise that Dubai offers. Many are attracted by the world-class infrastructure and the tourist attractions. Business World Intelligence, in its Jan 12th 2015 edition, reported that over 300,000 Nigerians visited Dubai in 2014 and spent over N310 billion in the process. Does it ever cross the mind of these 300,000 Nigerians that this country they travel to is an Islamic country fully practising Sharia Law (applicable to only Muslims) or that the money they are spending in Dubai might as well be going towards the advancement of an “Islamic Agenda”? I bet it never crosses the mind of these tourists because when you see Dubai, you don’t see Sharia, you don’t see an “Islamic Agenda”, you don’t see Religion, rather, what you see is DEVELOPMENT.
Today, our concern should not be about the religion (or tribe) of the man/woman who wants to rule us at whatever level, it should rather be about what developmental plans they have for this country not for the next 4 years, but for the next 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years. Tell me which Nigerian does not want this country to be the Dubai of Africa. Tell me the Christian or Muslim, who is happy to bequeath to their children a nation still struggling to provide power in the next 25 years or one unable to provide basic infrastructure. At the core of our desire is a need for development of this nation to provide a home for all where every man, woman, Christian or Muslim can live in peace, prosperity, safety and be proud of our shared humanity.
The one indisputable truth in Bosun Emmanuel’s message had to do with the atrocities of Boko Haram. What they did and are doing is evil and horrific. That they kill, maim and rape is not in dispute. That they commit atrocities is a fact. That they harbour an extreme Islamic ideology is a fact. But to frame the insurgency of Boko Haram as part of a grand “Islamic Agenda” (hatched in 1989) to kill Christians is not only dis-ingenious, it is downright dangerous. We must make the argument that the Boko Haram insurgency is not a Muslim Vs Christian Insurgency, it is a Terrorist Vs The Nigerian State insurgency. These bloodthirsty terrorists are not killing Christians and Muslims, they are killing Nigerians. Their agenda is not a religious agenda, it is rather a Terrorist Agenda. And because they have taken up arms against “The State”, they should be crushed. Period.
Our recent history has taught us how to deal with terrorist behaviour like this. When Mohammed Marwa (Maitatsine) started attacking religious figures and the police in the late 70’s all in the name of his own warped idea of Islam, he was quickly put down by the army in 1980 as ordered by Shagari. The same can be said about the quick reaction of Yar’Adua to the first showing of Boko Haram in 2008. If the fact that the leaders who ordered the brutal shutdown of these groups are Muslims is not obvious, what should be obvious is the decisiveness they took in stopping the growth of these groups. They did not rationalize the issue along religion or ethnicity or party, they saw it as it was - An insurrection against the State. My concern is that there is reasoning within this Government that agrees with the submissions of Bosun Emmanuel in its framing of the Boko Haram crisis as an ethnic, religious and political crisis. I posit that as long as it is being viewed through that lens, we would never be able to defeat these terrorists. Therefore, Christians of various divides must unite in rejecting any framing or colouration of this crisis as a religious crisis.
Let me conclude by saying, Money has no religion or tribe. By the time all is said and done. The politicians irrespective of religion and tribe, will gather at their plunder to share the spoils of their labour. Spoils you and I helped them to gather by spreading such vile and hateful messages as contained in Bosun Emmanuel’s Islamophobia CD. If you must vote for a candidate, vote for them on the basis of performance/competence or what they can do and not on religion. It is insulting to our sense of value for someone to suggest to us that we should vote a candidate not because he has performed on the job he is being handsomely paid for by Tax Payers money but because by name and profession; he claims to be a Christian or Muslim.
May God teach us to know.