Head of Service, el-Rufai’s deputy, and the pastors

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*Oyo-Ita

‘Tunji Ajibade

Nigeria’s Head of Service, Winifred Eyo-Ita, was in Rwanda last week. I watched her each day she was out there proud of the dignified manner she conducted herself as she represented us in that Central African country. She took a post-conflict tour of Rwanda and learnt how 800,000 people were killed due to the propagation of hate among different ethnic groups. It’s reported that the trip was an emotional one for Eyo-Ita and members of her delegation. It must be because she laid wreath at one memorial arcade where 250,000 victims of the Rwandan genocide were buried. I suppose that, like the Deputy Governor of Kaduna State, Barnabas Bala Bantex, did recently, Eyo-Ita would have words for those who express hate for whatever reason against ethnic groups other than theirs in Nigeria.

A few days before Eyo-Ita travelled out, Bantex said some things about the spread of hate as they affected his state. For me, what he said was an affirmation of my views on this page on October 12 and 19, 2018 (“Osinbajo and angry Christians in Northern Nigeria”). If a reader thinks I take that position because I hate Christians, then he can check Bantex’s address to his fellow Christians in northern Nigeria as presented here. One would know a Christian, not churchgoer, when he meets one. I sat and interviewed Bantex in 2014 for more than an hour, and I had other short discussions with him in early 2015. I reached my conclusion regarding his kind of Christianity on those occasions, including when we sat and discussed in the heartland of his part of the state, Kafanchan, Southern Kaduna. Soft-spoken Bantex exuded a calm, humane and humble disposition, someone who walked in the consciousness of what his Bible teaches. He never had a hateful word for anyone. He couldn’t have had. He had won election as the APC state chairman through the votes of both Christians and Muslims across Kaduna State, the post he occupied at the time Mallam Nasir el-Rufai selected him as his running mate for the 2015 governorship election.

Against the backdrop of the violence that erupted in Kajuru LGA of Kaduna State lately, and which nearly engulfed the entire state, Bantex and his fellow Christians in government released a statement condemning the negative roles of some pastors. He noted that pastors were fanning embers of hate, further dividing the people along ethnic and religious lines in his state. Recall that for years, hate speech by Islamic preachers has been condemned by Muslim leaders in the North. The Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs has pursued a policy of ensuring that clerics don’t use their positions to incite followers to hate and violence. Both the federal and state governments had appealed to the SCIA to assist in doing this. But each time some of us posit that what a Christian servant of God is saying won’t portend good for our nation, their excited followers send insults, warning against saying anything against a servant of God.

We’re all stakeholders in the well-being of this nation. As such, no one should hide behind being a servant of God to say things that can set Nigerians against one another and expect us to keep quiet. Servants of God once preached hate freely in Rwanda; thereafter, almost a million people lost their lives. Being a servant of God demands the highest level of responsibility. If there’re issues, there’re avenues to discuss and peacefully resolve them on behalf of the followers. I’ve seen servants of God who would take no nonsense from followers who disrespect them address a state governor rashly, calling him names on the pages of newspapers. If servants of God now make people hate rather than love, every Nigerian has the responsibility to speak up. It was what Bantex and a few other sincere Christians in Kaduna State did lately.

According to Daily Post of November 2, 2018, Bantex states thus: “We are appalled by the role of certain pastors in spreading hate, encouraging violence and undermining the security efforts in Kaduna State. These apostles of hatred do not speak for us, and we condemn the attempt to reduce our religion into a vehicle or a convenient mask for the bloodthirsty to practise their trade of division, violence and destruction.” He further notes how he and his fellow Christians are “shocked that pastors have desecrated the altar of faith to spew lies about the situation in Kaduna State. It has saddened and shocked us to watch videos of pastors preaching fiction and needlessly inciting people.”

He said he condemned without hesitation the irresponsible utterances and conduct of persons who disgrace the very notion of priesthood. He states that Christianity obligates the faithful to the finest standards of conduct, propelled by their faith in God and His abiding grace. He went on to state the same thing Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said lately and to which I had anchored my October 12 write-up. According to Bantex, Christians are enjoined by their faith to strive to live up to the standards of compassion and tolerance to which they are commanded by Christ’s example in the Sermon on the Mount. As such, “ignorant commentary on government policy is as rascally and repugnant as weaving false narratives to create the impression of victimhood.”

My view has always been that some servants of God don’t ever see anything good in any administration in Kaduna State and it’s alarming. I was aware of the accusations levelled against the immediate past governor, Ramalan Yero, regarding the state of insecurity in Southern Kaduna spurred by the herdsmen-farmer crises. Hardly did el-Rufai arrive power before he too was equally categorised. Nothing that he and the governors before him did to stop the violence in the affected parts of the state earned them a word of thanks. Can every governor be that bad? Bantex condemned this disposition by noting that the attempt to paint the Kaduna State Government and its leadership in religious garbs must stop. He said this is a government within which he and other Christians proudly serve, and which makes its decisions guided only by the oath of office to which they have all sworn as well as by the constitution. He said enough is enough of the reckless misuse of the apostolic mandate. “Pastors have a mission to promote peace, bring people together, and motivate them to better follow the example of Jesus Christ. The reckless rhetoric from some pastors reminds decent people of the unfortunate involvement of pastors in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda,” he added.

Equally, the deputy governor has a word for all Christian leaders, urging them to urgently address the matter of the constituency of pastors who are never seen to encourage what is good and noble, but who seem to find their voice whenever an opportunity to widen cracks appears. As Christians, he said he and his fellow faithful would not allow anyone to use their faith to justify any crime, to engage in reckless incitement and divide a state many of whose residents admirably demonstrated respect for a common humanity during the latest crisis.

Like I asserted on October 12, Bantex too has something to say to those who use Christianity as a tool to pursue other objectives rather than being the tool to spread Christian love themselves: “We do not view our faith as a bargaining chip or as an instrument for seeking advantage. Our Christian faith is a precious resource, a personal matter of relating to God, seeking to be better with God’s grace and working to ensure our personal conduct reflects the discipline of our faith. We reject in totality any effort to politicise Christianity.”

What else should I add to what Bantex says to his fellow Christians? I can only remind those who are adamant that their current course of action is justified of one thing: Hate and reprisal by Christian communities against ‘enemies’ won’t allow them to ever experience peace. The manner an entire Christian community has had to flee following an investigation into the murder of Major-General I.M. Alkali (retd.) is a case in point. Only those who live in their comfort zones far from such trouble spots would encourage otherwise.

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