Unfortunately, the media neglected the inflammatory and inciting part of his presentation which was full of historical incongruities and erroneous interpretation of facts. It is only a Christian evangelist that can speak so openly in the presence of the custodians of security in Nigeria which included the Commander-in-Chief himself, distorting history, preaching hate and goading Christians against Muslims without the press calling for his arrest, or his establishment expelling him. If any imam were to speak thus he would have been stopped, accused ‘of inciting people against the government’ (as happened to me at the National Mosque same time last year), and subsequently removed from his position. Many were the imams that have been so expelled in not a few of Northern states for speaking against injustice, corruption and electoral malpractices during the 2011 elections.
Close study of the First Scripture Reading in that Democracy Day Sermon betrays a deep level of congruence between the verses read and the import of Akinola’s presentation which portrayed a grand design by the Muslims in Nigeria, ‘under different names and guises’, to annihilate the Christians. That First Scripture Reading was from A song of ascents of David in Psalms 124:1-8 I will quote from the same New International Version (NIV) of the Bible as did President Jonathan during his Second Scripture Reading at the event, whatever his reasons were. “If the Lord had not been on our side—let Israel say — if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
President Jonathan delivered the Second Scripture Reading in Romans 8: 28-39 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him… If God is for us, who can be against us? …… Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That was the Second Scripture Reading by the number one citizen, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Federal Republic of Nigeria. The Islamic community is bereft of political leaders who are proud of being Muslims or who desire even to be identified with the religion in anyway.
After the First and the Second Scripture Readings Archbishop Akinola started by quoting Luke 5:36-37: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined….”
On the strength of these verses Archbishop Akinola questioned the subsistence of ‘the geographical expression’ called Nigeria based on the 1914 amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates. According to him the amalgamation was effected illegally ‘for the political and economic interests of the colonial overloads’, without consultation or permission of the ethnic nationalities from these Protectorates. In other words, Nigeria is a consortium of unwilling partners; we remain fragmented and mistrust ourselves.
This situation led to the civil war which could not keep Nigeria one despite the popular slogan portraying why the government took up arms against its own people. ‘Unity’ he posited, ‘cannot be attained by military fiat or by war. You get unity through the collective will of the people in the atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.’
In Akinola’s estimation bringing the Northern and Southern Protectorates together has been ‘the root cause of our problems which the government continue to deny by patching up the unpatchable’ and ‘putting new wine into old wineskin, and the wineskin has been bursting…. The problem is not about this government or about President Jonathan. It is because, ab initio, we failed to do the right thing – seeking the consent of all nationalities. If we had sought for the consent of all before the amalgamation, those now calling for a religious state would have chosen a different path.’
This is quite revealing! Actually, I doubt if this balkanisation agenda was a unanimous position of all Christians gathered for the Democracy Day Sermon. It begs that question: what gave Archbishop Akinola the nerve to preach his divisive gospel in the presence of President Jonathan, and knowing that the proceedings were beamed live on national television stations? Is President Jonathan privy to any surreptitious design to break up this country along ethnic and religious divides? And why is this coming now? Is the current state of insecurity in the country fashioned in consonance with that design?
Archbishop Akinola said ‘killings and political insecurity have been with us from the beginning of our nationhood; it is not new.’
The North has a history of violence and political pogrom that ‘are older than most of you sitting here today’, he told his audience. According to him the mayhem that preceded the civil war in which millions of Igbos were massacred was called ‘Araba’ in the Hausa language. Araba, in Archbishop Akinola’s dictionary ‘means to separate infidels from real people of God…. It was a clear case of religious and ethnic cleansing.’
This is not true. I thought the Archbishop was unaffected when he, at the commencement of his sermon, declared to reveal ‘the truth about us in our past; the truth about our beginning as a country, to determine from where we are and where we are going….’ I am taken aback by this employment of canard history to preach hate at a time that we need to foster Christian-Muslim mutual respect and understanding.
Araba, Let Truth Be Told, conjures up the sad events of the first military coup of January 15, 1966, which, actually, was The Siege of a Nation, and the motivation of the principal actors or, more appropriately, the executioners – Nigeria’s Five Majors. The perceived selective, gruesome murder of Northern leaders during the coup will necessitate An Intimate Portrait of Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, and why the violent overthrow was described in some quarters as “Igbo Coup”.
Araba and also Aware were words used to signify separation after the violence occasioned by the counter-coup of that despondent period of our history. It is not uncommon for some people due to their ignorance of the bigger picture and their selfish motives to call for secession; it is still so today. Pogroms had been unleashed against Igbos in the North as well as against Northerners in the East, which sad event necessitated the mass exodus of people across both lines of the divide to their ancestral homelands – the Igbos from the North to the East, and the Northerners from the East to the North.
The calamitous results of this mass exodus brought about the position taken by the late Ojukwu, the then Military Governor, that since the property and lives of Igbos and Northerners cannot be guaranteed in either North or East of Nigeria, as the case may be, the Igbos shall assert their independence by having a separate country of their own. That was the context in which Araba was used; it was not a ‘means to separate infidels from real people of God….’ It was not ‘a clear case of religious and ethnic cleansing’ as the Archbishop presented. Besides, Akinola seemed to have forgotten that the North has always had its fair share of Christians who until the advent of political religion lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbours.
This sad occurrence, if anything, reminded us of our inherent ability for brutal reprisal whether justified or otherwise. None of us is an epitome of ethics when it comes to turbulent circumstances; many of us, not withstanding our professed faiths, whether as Christians or Muslims, permit our compassion and sympathy to desert us, and we end up descending into the bottomless pit of belligerence and massacre.
I find no rationale for a man to avenge the death of his innocent brother by killing more innocent people. The South East chapter of CAN gave a last warning of sorts to Muslims recently that they would start killing innocent Muslims in reprisal if there was another bombing of a church. There was no reaction to this by security agents; as stupid, unchristian and ill-thought out as it was to say that. What we are in fact witnessing is the reign of bigotry and mediocrity on both sides. People who have no business being religious leaders have found their way into positions of leadership and erudition is now mistaken for wisdom; selfishness and callousness for courage and bravery.
Whatever the circumstance of our coming together; as at 1914, Nigeria had a heterogeneous religious community in both the north and south. Akinola in saying the amalgamation was a forced coupling of 2 unwilling parties is letting us into the inner workings of his mind; a mind that sees the north as black and the south as white or vice versa. He could not fathom or countenance any shade in between. This is either religious bigotry or sectionalism. From Sokoto to Adamawa to Yobe and Kaduna, there has been a long history of Christians and Christianity.
The late Sardauna of Sokoto had the late Sunday Awoniyi, a Yoruba speaking Christian as his secretary. He once travelled over 500 kilometres to a remote school to personally congratulate a Christian pupil who had just done the north proud in WASC examinations. That boy has risen to become one of the most respected and one of the few rational voices on the matter of insecurity on the Christian side; my good friend Archbishop John Onaiyekan. In the South West most especially, the population of both Muslims and Christians is roughly equal.
If there was a grand design to exterminate Christians like Akinola was insinuating, what took the Muslims so long? By the way, Muslim leaders have been having reports, for long, of a CAN Army complete with branded CAN rifles and camouflage uniforms and even armoured vehicles. The responsible leaders among us have been quelling these in the minds of their followers. This is to douse any tension and avert any trouble that it may occasion later. Distrust breeds more distrust ad infinitum, ad nauseum. I hope both sides will understand this and work for once for real peace and not mere surface politeness.
I will later dwell on the significance of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria reading the passages I have quoted above at the time he did and at the place he did with the Chief of Defence Staff and other top military brass listening. These are indeed disturbing times.