The President, Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Olasupo Ayokunle, has said he is disappointed by the response of the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, to America’s categorisation of Nigeria as a country where Christians were severely persecuted.
While aligning with America’s position, Ayokunle said religious intolerance was an incontrovertible reality in Nigeria.
The Sultan, who is the head of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam and President-General, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, had earlier criticised CAN’s response to the categorisation as unacceptable.
But in an interview with journalists in Ibadan on Friday, Ayokunle said, “When has the Sultan become the spokesman for the Federal Government? He should have allowed the Federal Government to react to the US since the categorisation was not directed at him.” However, describing the Sultan as a friend, the CAN President added, “I shall tell it to his face that his response to the issue was disappointing because we didn’t direct our statement to him. Why was he defending the government?”
“I read of the positions of the church and the Islamic group and the position of America and came to a conclusion that anybody who is a participant in what has been happening in Nigeria should know that Christians have been at the receiving end, and insecurity has led to the death of so many people in Christian-dominated areas like Benue, Taraba, which is more than 90 per cent Christians; Southern Kaduna with more than 80 per cent Christians; Plateau State, more than 90 per cent Christians, and northern part of Adamawa, Muibi and so many others.
“If we cannot take the bull by the horns, we will not be able to face the truth, we will not be objective. Maybe the last song we will hear is: ‘To your tents, O Israel!’
“America did not direct their categorisation to the Muslim group; they directed it to the Nigerian government. So, it was not to Sultan at all. Our own response was not to Sultan or Muslims. So, people who can put one and two together will say what is the concern of Sultan about the American statement and the Christian statement? None was directed to him. The government said they didn’t accept the categorisation. I wouldn’t expect them to say less because they will like to defend themselves. You know, God is a God of the truth; while it was being denied by the Muslim group, the insurgents came up again and said during this Christmas season, ‘We have slaughtered 11 Christians.’
“I was in Maduguri on the 27th and 28th of December, I met one-on-one with the Chairman of CAN in Borno State; he was devastated. There were killings of Christians that were not reported by newspapers. People were coming from Benue, Yobe and some other places to join their families to celebrate Christmas, these people (insurgents) stopped their vehicles as if they were soldiers, they separated the Muslims on one side and the Christians on another side. They told the Muslims to continue with their journey and there and then, slaughtered eight Christians.
“In Gwoza, one lady was going to church, she fell into the hands of these people, they pulled that lady out and just slaughtered her. Her picture is on my phone. These are not fables. A Deeper Life pastor was coming from the Konduga area for Deeper Life retreat from Maiduguri and they demanded a ransome of N100m. There was no way by which CAN could get that. They employed a human rights organisation worker, one Alimat, who negotiated with Boko Haram and they slashed it down to N20m. CAN couldn’t get it but they had to find a means of paying at all cost before the pastor could be released.
“So, what is the statistics for somebody to say Muslims were more killed? Is it because we have more Muslims in Benue or we have more Muslims in Taraba or because we have more Muslims in Plateau or because we have more Muslims in Southern Kaduna? Not at all; It is very painful to be denying the obvious,” he said.
On the hope of having unity in the country, the CAN president, who said God had good reasons for keeping the country as one, cautioned politicians to be careful about with their actions in the interest of all.
Meanwhile, the CAN president called on the Federal Government to halt its plan to withdraw troops from some places experiencing security challenges in the country.
Speaking in Yola during the inauguration of the N115m Adamawa CAN secretariat on Sunday, Ayokunle said, “I want to urge the FG to drop the idea of withdrawing troops from some restive regions and troubled places in Nigeria. The action is premature and I see it as a policy somersault.”