The cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, Nigeria, Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, has warned that Nigeria may be inadvertently preparing grounds for another insurgency with measures against Shiite Islamic group by the Kaduna State government.
The cleric, who described the development as sad, therefore advised government to protect religious freedom and rights of every Nigerian.
The cardinal spoke in Ilorin at the weekend during his visit on invitation of Bishop Ayo Maria Atoyebi for an annual one-week spiritual retreat for priests of Ilorin diocese.
“You see, in continuing in line of advice to government, when you ban a group of people on the basis of religion, they won’t take it. When people feel that their fundamental rights have been encroached upon, they will say no. And when they don’t take it, how will they express this disagreement is no longer under your control.
“It is then that they will do things which the same government will go and interprete as violent reaction and you’ll need to impose more violent remedies. And what you are saying that the story of Boko Haram should have taught us. So, am hoping that my friend, El-Rufai, he used to be my friend in Abuja should get better advisers.
“I think that the presumption is that shiite in Nigeria is a terrorist group that they are lawless. The story that they tell that they block roads and all that. There must be another way of handling that. And may be not all of them are so nervous. And am now hearing there’s a reaction from other states.
“Because if Shiites were few before, they are many now o. And there’s no better way to make a religion grow than to ban it. And am talking as a Catholic who knows the history of Christian church. The christian church grew very much in the Roman empire because the Roman empire banned it.
“By the same token, I will appeal to my friends of the Sunni persuasion to find it in their heart to protect their Shiite brothers. Am sure if the Sunni leadership spoke to El-Rufai, he will change his mind. I say am sure. I think am sure.
“The Shiite affair in my own sincere considered opinion is sad. It’s very sad. Don’t forget that this same group had earlier on last year had been subject of major clash during which we were told hundreds of them were killed and some say massacred and their dead bodies thrown into mass grave.
“Nigerians generally kept quiet. And it’s a shame when this kind of things happen and the only complaint and the only outpouring we are hearing is from people outside like human rights international groups like that. And it’s this same group we’re talking about now that it’s leader is still under police detention in a condition that we’re not even sure of. That’s why I say it’s very sad.
“Now, what advice do I give to government. My advice to government as a religious leader and am a Christian is that in this country there’s freedom of religion/worship. And what I understand by that is any group can profess any religion that they want to practice provided they carry everything out within the ambit of law of this country.
“Shiite, the little I know about Islam is one of the major branches of world Islam. The whole of Iran is largely shiite. I know of course, much of the wars going on now in the middle east in Syria, Iraq these Shiite, Sunni of divides are there.
“My advice to government is that we should first of all respect the fundamental human religious rights of anybody who wants to be Shiite. My understanding is that the majority of Nigerians belong to the Sunni group. And for a long time we didnt know there are groups within Islam.
“The only difference we used to hear about is that of the Ahmadiyya who again suffered a lot of discrimination in this country and we kept quiet. I hope luckily they are beginning to be allowed to raise their heads now. And I believe if the government wants religion to serve positive and peaceful purpose government should protect the religious freedom and rights of every Nigerian which is why I thoroughly disagree with the decision of the Kaduna State government to ban the group.
“How can you ban a religion? I’m worried because, you see the government might decide to ban the Catholic Church in Kaduna. So I’m shouting now so that when they start banning Catholic church at least it will be said that when they banned the shiite I shouted. It’s not right. We have reached a stage in Nigeria when we should be able to accommodate different religions.
“Up till now, we have been talking of Christians/Moslems harmony. We’ve now begun to realise we must also talk of harmony within our religions. In the christian fold it’s only that we’re a little less this thing. We’re not the same. Not only do we have catholic, Anglican protestants, methodist and others, Cherubhim and Aladura are very diffrent. And all these are different from penticostals who have just arrived. Have they just arrived?
“I don’t know. But we’re different. I won’t want any catholic president, if we ever had one, to get up and think that to protect the Catholic church in Nigeria, he’ll ban the pentecostal. If he did, i’ll be the first to shout against that because they have every right to be provided they’re law abiding citizens.
Also speaking on allegation being made by some Christians in the country on plan to islamise Nigeria, the Catholic Archbishop said that anyone who thinks he can make the whole of Nigeria Moslems should have his head examined, “because it’s not possible”.
“If by this you mean somebody is there trying to work towards how I will become an Alhaji, I would say it’s a long long way away. Whenever I hear this kind of accusation from Christian circles I tell my fellow Christians that if anybody Islamists you it’s because you are ready for it. And by the way, am a cardinal archbishop, it’s my job to try my best to make as many Nigerias Christians as I can.
“So, I have an agenda to Christianise the whole of Nigerians. And no one can stop me from having that idea or desire. But am not a fool so and I know that I can try whatever I can, but I have to live with Muslims until I die in this country. And any moslem who thinks that he can even shoot his way to make the whole of Nigeria Muslims should have his head examined because it’s not possible.
“So, why create unnecesary chaos, when there’s no need for it. That’s my own view about it. I know some Christians would say we must fight it. Start the fight let me see it now. Those who say we must fight it out they are the last to suggest how to fight and they’ll be the first to escape and at the end of the day it’s the poor people who’ll be sacrificed”, he said.
On the relationship between the Catholic church and the present leadership of CAN, the man of God said the Catholic Church would not take part in the umbrella body of Christians association until the new leadership of the body go back to what the umbrella body of the religious organisation was.
“We had disagreement in the way CAN was being run. We even had disagreement about the election. We did not participate in the election. But we didn’t withdraw totally from CAN. And we’ve sent a very clear letter to present CAN leadership to know why we’ve kept away in the light of our own understanding of what CAN is supposed to be and we ask that CAN should once again revert to its original form.
“The CAN that we formed because we are founders of CAN. And that when that’s done we’ll not only resume our participation but our leadership position. Our letter is still receiving attention and until we get reply of our letter we are in “siddon dey look”. We’re not participating at national level in CAN activities.
“Because of all this and because we’re not parties to the election, nobody should expect us to be writing letters of congratulations to anybody since we are not part of the election. But we acknowledge the man who is there now. It’s a fait accompli. And we’re doing all we can to save CAN because we know that any CAN left without Catholic church means they are only joking.
“It’s not pride, it’s reality. If I were the new man heading CAN, I would ensure I do my best to make sure that the Catholic church comes back to its rightful place.”