Insecurity: Buhari should go beyond sympathy messages to rapid response —Akanji, CAN leader
Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), North-Central zone, Reverend Israel Adelani Akanji, is an expert in conflict resolution, having written his doctoral thesis on “Towards a Theology of Conflict Transformation: A Study of Religious Conflict in Contemporary Nigerian Society.” Aside being senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Garki, Abuja, Akanji, who grew up in Plateau State, is the immediate-past chairman of CAN in the Federal Capital Territory. In this interview, he speaks on the worsening security situation in the country with SANYA ADEJOKUN.
HOW would you describe the security situation in the country right now?
We are in a terribly sad period of national history with the kind of things that are happening. I believe that it is quite a complicated situation. There are various ways of trying to analyse it and a lot of times, people’s analyses are circumscribed. They are not encompassing enough. One of the things that Christians have tried to say, by our recent protests, is that Christians are being persecuted in Nigeria and that there is direct targeting of Christians. I know that what is happening in the country is bigger than that, as there are other truths to be considered. In the first place, we must understand that there is a major breakdown in the security system in the country.
If you get to know what is happening in Nigeria, you will know that there is gruesome killing and kidnapping of people all over the country. In that wise, both Christians and Muslims are being killed.
Kidnappers also kidnap both Christians and Muslims, that is also a fact. So, when we are analysing, we have to be critical enough to know what we are describing. You read of people being killed in several places that are Muslims, you read of several people being killed that are Christians. We must first agree that that is a reality.We must now go beyond that reality, because when people say Christians are being persecuted, it is another reality within the context of the general one. Just this year, we have heard of what happened to the Good Shepherd Seminary. A seminary is a holy ground where people are being prepared for the work of the ministry. If you go and attack a seminary, you are certainly looking for Christians. You are looking for Christian leaders. So, Christians have a right to say that they are being persecuted. That does not mean we are saying that other people are not being killed. Yes, others are killed, but we have the right to also say that there is direct attack on Christians.
As a body, what is the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) doing to protect its members and the church in general?
CAN is believing in national political leaders. There are times when they tell us that they have subdued the terrorists and that we can now live freely and then, we relax. CAN could only gather people to pray and make supplications to God, because ultimately, God is the one who secures life. CAN can pray, it can also reinforce its security within the limits that it can go, inform the police and other law-enforcement agencies. CAN does not encourage people to carry arms. We do not tell Christians to carry arms. We do not encourage churches to carry arms. Each of the times when these evil acts are done, perpetrators claim that they do them in the name of their religion, that they are Muslims.
Aside prayers and relying on law-enforcement agencies, why is CAN not encouraging churches to deploy technology against attacks?
If you go round our churches now, security awareness is far beyond what it used to be. We have CCTV cameras. We have engaged more security personnel, we have committed more funds to security gadgets that can help us detect metal objects and explosives. All churches are doing that. We have put barricades on the roads to our churches so that those approaching can be slowed down. We don’t allow people to park close to our churches anymore so that nobody is able to detonate bombs. There are a lot of security measures we have put in place as Christians, but you certainly know that no one is authorised to carry arms, which are the things that these people are carrying. They carry them to kidnap. Let me also tell you that some of these evils being perpetrated are not done during church services. Imagine a seminary where people were attacked and kidnapped and imagine the case of Reverend Lawan Andimi whose place was overrun and he was kidnapped. In that kind of situation, we depend on government for security to be provided for Nigerians, whether they are Christians or Muslims, they deserve to be protected by his country. This is what our leaders swore to do: To take care of everybody. Our demand of our leaders, therefore, is that we should be protected and we are not even saying that they should protect Christians alone.
We are saying that they should protect everybody. But the narrative that wants to deny the fact that Christians are being persecuted is the one that CAN finds abhorring. We agree that everybody is under attack, but we also know that beyond everybody being under attack, Christians are targeted and they are being killed. The third one is that most of the times, with the Chibok as example, where they targeted school children, 97 per cent of those children were Christian children.
Chibok is where we have many Christians and they were the ones targeted. Look at what happened in Dapchi. They took all the girls away but later released them and kept Leah Sharibu on the grounds of her faith. How can we have the case of Leah, how can we have the case of Chibok, how can we have the case of Andimi, how can we have the case of the seminarians and not say that Christians are being targeted for persecution? It will be unfair for us not to say the truth. The least that we who are alive can do is to say the truth of what is happening. But some people don’t want to hear this. We are not saying that other people are not being attacked, but we are saying that Christians are being targeted for attacks.
The National Assembly recently asked the president to replace service chiefs. What is your attitude to this demand?
There are various ways of perceiving things. Some people feel that solution to heightened insecurity situation is to change the service chiefs or sack them. I don’t want to agree that that is the solution to the problem. I believe that service chiefs are also answerable to powers beyond them and I believe that even if you change them – which I am not opposed to – if you feel that it is the solution. I believe that the solution is beyond changing service chiefs. Whoever is there takes instructions from his commander-in-chief. The service chief is not an all-powerful person. He is told what to do and he has to do what he is instructed to. I have confidence in the Nigerian security system. I believe that we have some of the best apparatus.
Nigeria has gone to help in ECOMOG and delivered Liberia and delivered Sierra Leone from all their crises. Nigeria, in the past, went to Congo. The Nigerian security people are known to be some of the best in the world. We have a war college in Nigeria where people are trained. I believe we have the best hands. I also believe that we have a president in Nigeria that no country can defeat in Africa. No country can rise against Nigeria and defeat us under the president we have. I just believe that the president has to see this security issues beyond the words of sympathy that we always hear from him, although we are happy about that. He seems to be doing his best. They appear to be adding more security hardware, but I feel that in a country where terrorists are not being brought to book, not being paraded on national television for us to see those who are perpetrating violence against humanity and for security agencies to tell Nigerians what actions are being taken against them, Nigeria’s political leadership must take stronger steps concerning terrorism. A lot of times, when terrorists strike, they announce that they are Muslim groups. By my age and experience, I know that Muslims in Nigeria don’t kill Christians. I know that we have been living together as brothers and sisters, but I also know that there are bad elements in the society who now come to claim that they are Muslims.
When they claim that they are Muslims, there is what is called impression and perception. What you impress is what will be perceived.
If the groups that are doing this keep pledging loyalty to Islam, then, what will be perceived by the society is that the people doing things like these are Muslims and that is why it now appears that there is over generalisation and criticising of Muslims, which is also not right. We cannot criticise all Muslims, but what we are saying that most of the groups that do these claim that they are doing it in the name is Islam. It could be their own perception of Islam, ignorance of Islam, lack of understanding of what Islam is, but the point is at the end of the day, they paint the picture of Muslims attacking Christians. That picture is what people are seeing.
An American Christian journal quoted President Muhammadu Buhari to have said that 90 per cent of terrorists’ victims in Nigeria are Muslims. What is your view?
As Nigerians, we must agree that there are general, indiscriminate killings of Nigerians. The name of the journal is Christianity Today.
It is a Christian journal. The contention, however, is the percentage that President Buhari was alleged to have put to the ratio of killings. I feel that in the overall killings that have been taking place in Nigeria, both Christians and Muslims have been affected. The percentage is my problem. I don’t know if it was said by the president and I don’t know what percentage of Christians that have been killed. There is need for a research to be carried out before we begin to bandy percentages.
Secondly, Catholics in the South-West of Nigeria came out to endorse Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN) codenamed Operation Amotekun. Do you support Operation Amotekun?
It is my belief that government cannot always provide all that its citizens need without collaboration with the private sector. I happen to have studied abroad wherein in my university, during graduation, you would see a lot of people giving awards. They are people who are donors to the university. They support the university from the private sector. Even though the university is government owned, they contribute a lot to be able to make the university stand. If you come to Nigeria, in the medical system, we have general hospitals built by government, but they are not enough. And in many places, you have private hospitals coming to provide support. Sometimes, they make referrals from public to private hospitals or vice versa. My own feeling, therefore, is that in security issues too, there must be collaboration. Even right now, vigilance groups in small communities help those communities to be protected. They are vigilance groups, they are doing well, and I know that in some parts of the country, because of insurgency, we have Civilian JTF and others. They are doing so well in complementing efforts of government’s security apparatus. I just feel that proper steps should be taken. Even in almost every area, government should be assisted and it should be seen as collaboration and not opposition.
Is CAN in support of Operation Amotekun?
CAN is a national group. What we are saying is that government security needs assistance and this can come in various forms. The name may be Amotekun, it may be another thing. We are not an Amotekun group, but we are out to say government security architecture needs to be assisted, no matter how such assistance is described in particular areas. That is why I used the name vigilante. Those ones are already in place and they could be strengthened to do their vigilante better.
So, if you give them a name, whatever you call it, CAN is in support of that. Government security should be assisted.
In December 2019, CAN supported the United States of America in placing Nigeria on special watch list of countries where religious persecution is widespread. If you meet President Buhari today, what would you tell him?
We have been meeting with the president. We have been saying these same things. We have been requesting that persecution should stop. We have been requesting inclusiveness of people in governance and in the national security outfit to spread round. Yes, we know that in the main security network, Christians are there, but if you look at some of the paramilitary agencies, we are saying let there be some flavour to make them look like national outfit. We have Christians all over this nation. We have Muslims all over this nation and they should all be included. As for speaking to the president, we have gone to the president many times. You have seen it in the newspapers and we have even responded through press statements after speaking with the president.
So, going to the president is not a new thing. These things we are saying are the things we have been saying. It is just that the dimension of things like beheading of Reverend Andimi never happened in the times we were seeing the president. We were just saying killings should stop generally. I’m glad that the president himself condemned the beheading of Reverend Andimi. But what we are saying is that it should go beyond condemnation. There should be rapid response when people are kidnapped and in such situations. I believe that technologically, there is so much advancement that somebody cannot be desperately calling for help without you being able to trace where that call is coming from.
These are some of the things that government has to put in place. We know the government is trying, but it has to do much more. That is what CAN is saying: Protect all lives. We are not saying just protect Christians, but all lives should be protected.
About the prayer walk/protest, is it a one-off thing or will there be more?
The prayer walk was a kind of protest, but a spiritual one, a protest that was carried on in prayer. We were not chanting war songs. We were not making hate speeches. We were praying and asking God that this should stop. Our prayer is that it should be a one-off event. We pray that should be the last of it. We pray that there will be responsiveness on the part of our leaders so as to make us not to have to do that again so that we can concentrate our time on praying on other things.