In a communiqué issued at the end of last week by Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), the umbrella body for Muslims in the north of Nigeria, a series of false claims was made which, because of their outlandish nature, cannot be allowed to go unrequited. Where lies are allowed to thrive, the value of truth is denigrated.
The catalogue of unsubstantiated claims, misrepresentations, untruths and misnomers deployed by JNI gives cause for concern at several levels, the most worrisome of which is its self-denial. Where an organization with the responsibilities (and expected gravitas) of JNI so abjectly turns its face from the truth and seeks instead to manufacture facts, the level of desperation such an act masks is a real and present danger no less disturbing than the unrestrained violence that underlies the malaise.
The JNI called for investigations into “several reported cases of Christians who disguise as Muslims to burn churches.” Ordinarily, such an outrageous statement would not deserve to be dignified with a response; we cannot however by our silence be seen to be condoning such a barefaced lie. The reported cases referred to are clearly of limited circulation; we, like most Nigerians – Christians, Muslims and animists, are hearing of them for the first time. It is despicable and condemnable that such a dishonourable front be opened in the prevailing national struggle against terrorism. Surely in the fight against unprovoked violence, this genre of disinformation is not merely retrogressive but in fact intended to undermine? Suffice it to ask of those that concocted this: have you neither integrity nor shame?
The offensive communiqué then proceeds to lay charges at the door of the President of CAN, accusing him of choosing “the path of insinuation and therefore heating the polity”. Clearly a vivid and unrestrained imagination is at work. We can confirm that the CAN president has not insinuated but rather stated in clear language that the activities of Boko Haram and its apologists are taking our nation to the edge of an abyss we would do better to avoid. Such a position is unarguable as a reflection of where we are headed and our need to turn back from that direction. If anything, his comments would be more accurately characterised as seeking to head off a dangerous boiling over prompted by mindless and indiscriminate violence.
The JNI’s call on the Federal Government to call the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to order is both irresponsible and short-sighted. The laws of the land are more than adequate to deal with any infractions committed by anyone. In calling for particular intervention in this cavalier manner, they fashion a rod for our collective backs which, in time, would surely be abused. We would suggest that it is the JNI that is untutored and unguarded in its comments.
We do not presume to comment on whether “convincing answers to many of the grievances of Muslims in Nigeria” have been given by “concerned authorities” or not. We do know however that allotting blame where there is none to be found cannot be a panacea for the fundamental ills that beset various parts of our country. A problem properly defined is a problem partially solved.
Whether or not a supposedly “Christian dominated southern media have always demonstrated bias against Islam and Muslims” is a view so subjective in nature that the foundations of such an assertion must be properly laid before being placed on a national pedestal. We are not ourselves aware of “demonstrated bias” of this kind; on the contrary, unlike in other parts of the world where religious violence has taken root, the media in Nigeria has meticulously trod a balanced path, characterising the activities of Boko Haram as speaking to and of its perpetrators rather than Nigerian Muslims generally. Nigerian journalists have largely been balanced in their reporting, whether Muslim or Christians.
We align ourselves with JNI’s call to the government “to pay serious attention to the development of education as no society can progress without giving education its priority”. Given the underlying cause of the distemper at hand (Boko Haram – no to western education), we assume that their call is an attempt to distance themselves from poisonous fellowship with that body. While a more forthright disavowal might have been preferable, it is not for us to craft communiqués for JNI.
As for the disoriented language which JNI adopted in saying: “We want to remind all Christian zealots in Nigeria, that our love for peace must not be mistaken as a licence to make us second class citizens in a country where we constitute a majority”, we can only reply on behalf of the Christian community that regardless of our zeal, we believe there is and can only be one class of citizen in Nigeria: the Nigerian. As JNI expressly objected to the inclusion of a “Religion” category in the last two censuses conducted in Nigeria, it does not behove it to speak of a Muslim majority. We shall not engage further on this issue as JNI’s position on those two occasions has denied the nation accurate information.
We too believe that in tackling the menace of Boko Haram, our security forces must be mindful of not trampling on the human rights of ALL Nigerians, in the conflict areas and in all parts of the country.
Let us conclude by stating unequivocally that that the overwhelming majority of Christians in Nigeria remain peace-loving and committed to a nation in which all men are free to pursue their religious convictions without fear for life or limb. We shall continue to be in the vanguard of truth, justice and fair play.