Every law abiding Nigerian should be appalled by the audacity of the video where Apostle Johnson Suleiman, General Overseer of the Omega Fire Ministries, asked members of his church to resort to premeditative self-help at the sight of Fulani herdsmen near their church premises.
Suleiman, who recently came into public consciousness, appears to be comfortable in the embrace of controversy, a number of which he has been involved lately. Most of these are to the eternal irritation of those with no aptitude for spiritual dramatics.
An example was his declaration, read prophecy, that the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, would die if he failed to reverse his proposal to amend the “Religious Preaching Law 1984.” It was not clear whether this was a personal declaration on the strength of a special relationship with God or a communication from the Supreme Being, but it sure came across as an abuse of prophetic liberty.
Even if this law were to affect only Christians, the office of a cleric is a public one. It bears a measure of responsibility and should not lend itself to temperamental outbursts. But such outbursts are more of the rule than the exception for Suleiman, all culminating in a reservoir of public resentment against him. Then, enter the video under discussion.
In the three-minute video, apparently recorded during a church session, the fiery cleric advised congregants to “kill” any herdsman found loitering around the church. He even prescribed the mode of execution as cutting of the head! At the end of it all, you would wonder if this was a country governed by any set of rules.
But it would be dishonest to pretend not to see Suleiman’s point even if he sounds anarchistic in that video. He claimed that a particular man had warned him about an impending attack on him and his church. The unnamed source reportedly gave him a description of how the irruption would be unleashed and tacitly suggested that the cleric fled for his life.
Suleiman said he dismissed the idea and rather, assured this source of his readiness to confront the would-be assailants. The call to war in that video is, therefore, part of his preparation for the attack that might come.
We can pontificate about how much this order flies in the face of the very essence of love and perseverance that Christianity preaches but this is what you get when a country shirks its fundamental duty of protecting people and their property.
Suleiman asked that his people should cut the head of the enemy before the adversary gets the better of them. The cleric gave the example of David killing Goliath in the Bible but I propose that Peter drawing the sword against those who came to arrest Jesus Christ is a more apt instance of the human being’s basic instinct for self-preservation, no matter how godly he is.
Jesus, who cautioned Peter in this incident and restored the man whose ear was chopped off to perfect health, was according to Christian theology, part God, so we should not have the same expectation of men.
It is also possible to cite the instance of people like Stephen, who willingly submitted to martyrdom, but there are two things to note here. The first is that men have different levels of grace when reacting to such pressures. Secondly, what is happening in Nigeria at the moment is not just persecution on the basis of religion. It includes the avaricious conquest of properties and forceful acquisition of wives of harmless men who would have been killed.It seems to me that religion isn’t really the issue. It is just accidental that the two sides adhere to different faiths.
Now, nothing demeans a man like an inability to prevent the colonisation of his territory, the killing of his children and the rape and forceful acquisition of his wife and daughter(s). The only restraint against the savagery of killing before you get killed when you grapple with situations like this is the assurance that your nation is ready to protect you. In the absence of this, every man returns to that primal state in which the self is prime. Nigeria is unfortunately in that state at the moment.
Ask yourself how many people have died at the hands of Fulani herdsmen in the past 18 months. From the Agatu massacre in Benue State to the Nimbo massacre in Uzo-Uwani of Enugu State, to the violence in Delta State, the killings in Ekiti and Adamawa states, to the genocide in Kaduna State, thousands of Nigerian lives have been snuffed out by these criminals without as much as one single arrest!
There is currently no part of Nigeria that has not had a taste of these vicious attacks, yet the state has failed to address the situation. The best we have had are feeble instructions to the security agencies to fish out the perpetrators and the ridiculous offer by el-Rufai to appease the killers with money. El-Rufai says these monetary offerings were compensatory for the cattle killed in the 2011 post-election violence as well as incentives for the killers to stop their rampage. But what the governor communicates to us here is the incapacity or reluctance of the state to deal with these evil men.
There are conspiracy theories that the latter is the case. Movers of these theories suggest that being Fulani themselves, President Muhammadu Buhari and el-Rufai are indisposed to tackling their kinsmen who have become totally consumed by murderous and covetous spirits.
This conjecture is strengthened not just by the fact that the murderers rampage on without check but also by a recall of a 2012 el-Rufai tweet as follows: “We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not that kills the Fulani takes a loan repayable one day no matter how long it takes.”
The man who guaranteed the implacability of his folks is now governor of the state where no fewer than a thousand lives were lost within days. He is also buddy cum kith and kin with the First Citizen of the country where, at least another 2,000 have died through Fulani herdsmen without repercussion! And we think people will not defend themselves?
The situation is worsened by the ancillary injustice all around the country. When the Nigerian state is treating marauding herders with kid’s gloves, harmless protesters of other ethnicities are being shot dead and hounded into prisons all over the country daily.
Leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and his wife, Zeenah Ibraheem, have been in detention for over one year, in spite of court orders for their release. They were arrested after soldiers allegedly summarily executed hundreds of members including women and children more than one year back.
Penultimate week, 11 members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra were reportedly shot dead by soldiers while on a solidarity march for newly sworn in President Trump of the United States. Forty five others were rounded up and later arraigned in court for treason.Nnamdi Kalu, who founded the group, has been in prison for allegedly running an illegal radio to pursue his cause.
But for the peculiar landscape of the Niger Delta, the Buhari administration would have gone all out to fish out militants who sabotage the economy of Nigeria just as it did loads of militants who strayed into the creeks in the South-West to terrorise citizens. So, virtually every other part of the country where there has been any form of uprising has received some ward off from the state except for cattlemen.
So, what does the ordinary citizen do in this circumstance? A circumstance that is worsened by harsh and unchecked economic realities, increasing insecurity and the unwitting liberalisation of the legitimate use of force.
Our leaders should realise that Nigeria is currently on its path to failing and this is not alarmist in anyway. With pressures including emigration and brain drain, social inequalities, increasing specialised corruption, violation of human rights, illegal security mechanism and rising citizens’ distrust of government, a lot of caution is needed.
Were he alive today, unforgettable political sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, would have considered writing those words he once offered President Shehu Shagari to the current leadership. But thank God for the durability of the written word, we should offer Buhari these words without charge. Dear President Buhari, “…the ship of state is heading inexorably towards the rock and you, as the chief helmsman, owe it a duty to steer the ship away from it…” otherwise, we replicate more Suleimans in Nigeria.
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