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Islamophobia: Buhari, Nigeria must learn from Gambia, Sierra Leone

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Southern Kaduna carnage
Southern Kaduna carnage

Christians in Nigeria have every reason to get Islamophobic. The fear of extremists seeking to exterminate churches and Christians under the guise of Islamism is real. All over northern Nigeria, Sharia Law has overtaken the national constitution, and Islamic extremists, including Fulani herdsmen, are killing Christians. Yet the Nigerian government is silent about it.

For 22 years, former Gambian ruler, the despotic Yahya Jammeh rode roughshod over his people. He hid behind the veneer of Islam and declared The Gambia an Islamic Republic. But Gambia’s new President Adama Barrow has removed ‘Islamic’ from the official name of his country.

Nigeria, as big brother, helped push out the lawless Jammeh after Gambians voted him out decisively. But Nigeria also has a thing or two to learn from the tiny West African nation with a population of less than two million. Nigeria’s president can learn religious temperance and tolerance from President Barrow of Gambia.

In his first press conference since taking over as leader, Barrow said he would soon be overhauling government institutions to make the administration more effective. “The rule of the law will be the order of the day,” said Barrow, adding that The Gambia, where Muslims constitute 90% of the population, would no longer be an “Islamic Republic” but just “Republic of The Gambia.”

Barrow made this declaration to make The Gambia a secular state even though his religion is Sunni Islam and his country’s population is 90% Muslim. That is exemplary leadership. Whereas in Nigeria, northern governors are falling over themselves to ‘Trump up’ Islam and Sharia as though Nigeria is an Islamic Republic.

Statistics differ on whether or not Christians and Muslims dominate Nigeria’s population in equal numbers. While Pew’s survey found 52% Muslim, 46% Christian, and 1% other, the 2008 Afrobarometer poll found 50% Christian, 49% Muslim, and 1% other. So by no stretch of anyone’s imagination can Nigeria be called an Islamic nation.

President Buhari is a Fulani Sunni Muslim from Daura in Katsina state. He has been accused of being too ethnic and religious and therefore unable to arrest the spate of ethnic and religious killings that have always bedeviled the north and has slowly seeped into southeast Nigeria. However, here is another lesson he must learn from his outgoing counterpart in Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Eight years ago as a media consultant, I flew down to Freetown, Sierra Leone to interview Dr. Bai Koroma who was running for president against an incumbent regime. It was a Friday and he was expecting me at his party headquarters. But between Lungi Airport and getting a helicopter flight into Freetown, I lost sometime. By 12.30pm, Koroma told me we had only 30 minutes to chat. He was going to attend the Jumat service at the Central Mosque.

Obviously surprised, I asked him: “But sir, you are a Christian. So what are you going to do in the mosque?”

He gave me a knowing smile and replied, “It is only in Nigeria people kill themselves over religion. Here in Sierra Leone, voters wouldn’t even take you serious if you seek any major political office as a Christian and you don’t worship with them in the mosque or as a Muslim you don’t worship with us in the church. Here, religion doesn’t divide us.”

In Nigeria, religion still divides us despite highly successful inter-marriages between Christians and Muslims.

Muslim leaders in politics are surreptitiously trying to foist Sharia Law on the rest of Nigeria. Worse still, President Muhammadu Buhari seems guilty of turning away his eyes and ears from the acts and noise of ethnic and religious killings. Enter Fulani herdsmen… They are killing southern Kaduna residents who are mostly Christians. They have attacked over 20 hamlets and communities.

Islamophobia – the fear of Islamic extremists and extremism – is taking its toll on The Church in Nigeria. Mega ministers of the Gospel like Bishop David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel, Cannanland in Ota, Ogun State (2015) and more recently, Apostle Johnson Suleiman of Omega Fire Ministries in Auchi, Delta State (who was recently summoned by the Department of State Security, DSS, over his hate speeches) have been inciting their members retaliate and kill all suspected assailants.

Both Oyedepo and the much younger Suleiman appear in videos ordering their church members to kill every extremist they see, even decapitate them. The videos were recorded right inside their churches – by their own members – during their sermons. These kill-at-sight orders by these ‘men of God’ turned ‘gods of men’ are not mere hate speeches; they are executioners’ orders.

Christians need not become bestial like the extremists they have identified as enemies of Nigeria’s unity. They should exploit all legal and political means of ending the carnage.

In the sacked and ravaged communities, many claim that the Fulani herdsmen who descend upon these hamlets in the dead of night shooting and butchering residents are actually Boko Haram terrorists masquerading as herdsmen. They claim that Federal Government plans to grant them grazing reserves for their cattle would only give them legal backing to commit genocide and further occupy other people’s lands thus disinheriting them.

Islamophobia shouldn’t be found in our country. Buhari must issue an executive order to nip it all in the bud. This he can copy from President Donald Trump (USA) and the whole world will hail him.

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