The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) – the umbrella body for all Christians in Nigeria – has since its creation embraced a policy of dialogue as the primary form of resolution to disruptions, conflict and religious crisis. Historical records will show that since the inception of our nation, CAN has taken a stand at the forefront of the platforms of religious dialogue. This position is stoically maintained at great cost to the Christian community as we continually choose to embrace and personify the values of our Christian faith, bearing the burden of being the victimized rather than stoking the fires of disaffection in Nigeria.
Our consistent policy of religious dialogue is 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 has observed a definite pattern to the disruptions leading up to the current conflict in Nigeria, which was perhaps undetectable to the untrained observer, but internal studies and reports spanning the existence of Nigeria clearly reveal a gradual escalation of intelligent, premeditated propagation for a campaign 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 isolated conflicts could now clearly be seen as an ancient strain of Islamism; a totalitarian ideology that had flourished undetected for centuries, with the unchanged goal being that of the total eradication of religious liberty, a suppression of women’s rights and the imposition of a totalitarian state based on Shari’ah law across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
The United States and the world have faced and defeated totalitarian ideologies before. These ideologies are all categorized by a monumental arrogance that leads to the absolute intolerance of the beliefs and opinions of others, and the conviction that violence and murder are justified so long as they are sanctioned by the ideology and those who interpret it for others. It is important to make a distinction between Islamism, which is a direct threat to individual freedom and liberty, and the Muslims who reject violence, who are oftentimes the first to suffer at the hands of Islamists. To do so, we must begin by defining what the root of Islamism consists of. Just as we now understand that Nazism was based on anti-semitism and ethnic intolerance, and that Fascism was based on race intolerance and Communism on class intolerance, we have to recognize that Islamism is based on religious intolerance. By recognizing this basic fact, one can begin to organize strategies of dialogue that will ensure equal protection in the eyes of the law to all those who are suffering persecution at the hands of the Islamist agenda.
Research studies commissioned by the CAN presidency of pastor Ayo Oritsejafor have noted the increase in the sophistication and logistics of the attacks being carried out in Nigeria today. Crude spears and machetes have given way to high velocity machine guns, rocket propelled grenades and high tech incendiaries replete with remote detonation devices. The use of improvised explosive devices has greatly increased, including the use of suicide bombers and vehicle borne improvised explosive devices; tactics not native to Nigeria. In addition to the importation of weapons and technology, suggestive immigration patterns were unearthed, providing evidence of foreign infiltration and financial backing. When these factors were coupled with evidence of complicity in state agencies designed to protect citizens rights, clear patterns of obstruction of justice emerged, even in instances where government backed panels and commissions of inquiry called for the prosecution of known offenders. As a result, 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 Islamist terrorist groups merged with the local vestiges of an ancient strain of Islamism already present in Nigeria. His fears were soon confirmed by the open admissions of Islamist groups operating within Nigeria’s borders.
According to former Prime Minister Tony 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 Nigeria. The eradication of religious plurality is one of their primary targets, and an understanding of this agenda justifies 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 credible plan to protect the Christians and Muslims who rejected violence and were being targeted by the Islamist coalitions. The systematic and sustained attacks on non-Muslims could soon 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 threat to national security and religious freedom is at an all time high, and there is an immediate need to redefine our strategy, if we are to survive. CAN has observed that the religious dialogue platforms have been severely compromised and that foreign funding has been employed to stage “religious pantomimes” that served only to propagate the myths of the root causes of terrorism in Nigeria, in an effort to deny the reality of an Islamist agenda based in religious intolerance and the desire to institute Shari’ah law.
The Islamist vanguard in Nigeria have become ardent supporters of the “religious dialogue policy” because it helps to remove the focus from the real issue, which is religious intolerance, while at the same time, giving the appearance of a desire for plurality in religion. Strategic consultations have also revealed Islamist doctrines of deception (Taqiyya) and other devices that deny honest dialogue.
It is for this reason that the CAN has consistently demanded an upgrade from the current “religious dialogue” platform to one of “progressive religious dialogue”, requiring the institution of benchmarks that provide measurable outcomes for all parties dialoguing. This is a huge shift from the current open ended dialogue practices where the ability to measure success or failure is subjective, at best. CAN is requesting an upgrade of the current policies to include a platform where the overall effects of the dialogue can be measured and monitored, both locally and internationally, with the inclusion of seasoned and objective arbitrators if need be.
After the September 11, 2001, 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. 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 direct result of this decisiveness on the part of Western leaders to keep the world safe for all peoples. Africa is also asking for the same consensus and proactive decision making towards the same threat on our continent.
Taking a cue from recent history and also from accounts of threats to the existence of those being persecuted by the Islamist agenda 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 threatens the continued wellbeing of Christians in Nigeria. 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 uniform justice is applied across the board. This is not only limited to punitive measures, but also an understanding of victim’s rights. Compensation must be paid to those who have suffered needlessly whether they be Christians or Muslims who have chosen to reject violence. The Nigerian government must work to prevent an Islamist hijack of its mandate to protect its citizens equally in the eyes of the law.
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 monitors and governments that will work to find a lasting and peaceful solution to this very real and present danger. We desire strategic partnerships that will work to identify, isolate and prosecute those behind the Islamist agenda and we are prepared to implement appropriate methodologies of international arbitration and diplomacy required to protect the lives and rights of our citizenry.