The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) – the umbrella body of all Christians in Nigeria – has since its inception embraced dialogue as the primary form of resolution to disruptions in general and religious crisis in particular. Historical records will show that CAN has taken its stand at the forefront of the platforms of religious dialogue to promote peaceful conflict resolution from the inception of our nation. This position was stoically maintained at great costs to the Christian community as we chose to bear the burden of being the victimized rather than stoke the fires of disaffection in Nigeria.
Our consistent policy of religious dialogue was based upon the fundamentals of our faith which exhorts us to “Follow peace with all men” and also, we unequivocally subscribe to Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights which states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
Over the decades the Christian Association of Nigeria had observed a definite pattern to the disruptions. Perhaps undetectable at close quarters our internal study reports spanning the existence of Nigeria clearly revealed a gradual escalation of intelligent, premeditated propagation of sustained violence against the sovereignty of Nigeria with the total annihilation of the Christian Church as one of its primary targets. What had been misdiagnosed for years as religious conflicts could then be clearly seen as an ancient strain of Islamism (not conventional Islam) that had flourished undetected for centuries. The unchanged goal of the ancient scourge being the total eradication of religious liberty, a suppression of women’s rights and the imposition of a totalitarian ideology across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
As a former British prime minister said while receiving the US Congressional Gold Medal in 2003, “The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defence and our first line of attack. And just as the terrorist seeks to divide humanity in hate, so we have to unify it around an idea. And that idea is liberty. We must find the strength to fight for this idea and the compassion to make it universal. Abraham Lincoln said: ‘Those that deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.’ And it is this sense of justice that makes moral the love of liberty. In some cases where our security is under direct threat, we will have recourse to arms. In others, it will be by force of reason.”
Research studies commissioned by the CAN presidency of pastor Ayo Oritsejaifor also noted the increase in the sophistication and logistics of the attacks. Crude spears and machetes had given way to high velocity machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and high tech incendiaries replete with remote detonation devices are now in use. Suggestive immigration patterns were unearthed with evidence of foreign infiltration and financial backing. When these were factored with evidence of complicity in state organs designed to protect citizens rights and clear patterns of obfuscation of justice even in instances where the government backed panels and commissions of inquiry published called for the prosecution of known offenders. (the importation of bombs by unknown person under the umbrella of the Nigerian Police Force and a few other cases may be cited) The CAN presidency of Ayo Oritsejaifor was left with no option but to arrive at a reasonable conclusion that Nigeria had become the target of a coalition of international terror organizations merged with the local vestiges of an ancient strain of Islamism. His fears were soon confirmed by open admission of certain Islamist groups operating within Nigerian borders. Successive governments spanning the years of military rule to the present democratic structures had been in denial for years but the spate of merciless bombings and terror mongering that has been witnessed elicited an admission from the government of Nigeria.
Again quoting former Prime Minister Blair, “The terrorists and the states that support them don’t have large armies or precision weapons; they don’t need them. Their weapon is chaos.”
This is precisely the situation in Nigeria – the terrorists and their allies are getting more successful at creating chaos – religious, political, economic and social – in several parts of Nigeria. If we keep it in focus that the eradication of religious plurality is one of their primary targets we would all understand the gravity of the Christian concern in Nigeria. The current president of CAN was forced to raise an alarm when the situation worsened and it became obvious that the Nigerian government was not swift to present any acceptable or creditable plan to protect the Christians and Muslim moderates that were being targeted by the Islamist coalitions. From the systematic and sustained attacks on non-Muslims the casualty figures would approach genocidal proportions if nothing concrete is done. There are many lessons that can be gleaned from the experience of Southern Sudan where the displacement sequence claimed three million lives before the international community paid adequate attention. The evidence of “intelligent” Islamist moles in the rank and file of our institutions was further confirmed by the insidious campaign of calumny that followed the announcements made by the CAN president that non-Muslims were permitted to defend their lives if and when threatened by terrorists. The massive and well funded Islamist propaganda campaign tried to smear his reputation to no avail.
The threat to national security and religious freedom is great and there is the need to redefine our strategy, if we are to survive. We have observed that the religious dialogue platforms have been severely compromised and foreign funding was being employed to stage “religious pantomimes” that served to propagate the myths of religious disturbances instead of admitting the reality of Islamist terror in Nigeria. An African proverb says that the dance steps must change when the drum pattern is changed! We dare say that the Islamist vanguard in Nigeria have become ardent supporters of the “religious dialogue policy” because it helps to perfume and cover their tracks. Strategic consultations have also revealed Islamist doctrines of deception and other devices that deny a level playing field.
It is for this reason that the CAN president has consistently demanded an upgrade of the “religious dialogue” platforms to “progressive religious dialogue” where the overall effects of the exercises are monitored both locally and internationally with the inclusion of seasoned arbitrators if need be. This shift is again in concordance with biblical injunctions that is is the truth that makes free and principles upheld by the United Nations.
After the September 9, 2011, attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and also the July 7th and 21st 2005 bombings in London, the world woke up to the reality of a new kind of threat and the necessity of a new kind of response. It became clear that there had to be proactive and decisive action if Western civilization would continue unhindered. An unprecedented kind of evil had arrived on the scene and an alliance had to be built around a consensus on the necessity of containing and eliminating it. The progress the world has made since then is a result of this decisiveness on the part of Western leaders to keep the world safe for all peoples. Africa is also asking that the same yardstick needs to be applied to the same threat on our continent.
Taking a cue from recent history and also from accounts of threats to the existence of people groups all over the world, the church in Nigeria seeks to build an alliance around a similar consensus – the need to identify and isolate the individuals, groups and countries who form the Islamist coalition that threaten the continued wellbeing of Christians in Nigeria. This is all that Pastor Ayo Oritsejaifor is asking for on behalf of the tens of millions of Nigerian Christians under his care. The specter of an Islamist Nigeria is not something that this world can afford and we are prepared to work with anyone that will assist in ensuring that uniform justice is applied across the board. Compensation must be paid to those who have suffered needlessly whether they be Christians or Muslim moderates. The Nigerian government must work to prevent an Islamist hijack of its mandate. The senseless massacres must cease and religious freedom must be preserved. This is what “progressive religious dialogue” is all about and CAN will cooperate with all religious bodies, international concerns and governments that will work to find a lasting and peaceful solution to the real and present danger. We desire strategic partnerships that will work to identify, isolate and prosecute those behind the Islamist programs and are prepared to imbibe appropriate methodologies of international arbitration and diplomacy required to protect the lives and rights of our citizenry.