20 years of democracy: It’s been rough, tough – Cardinal Onaiyekan

                           20 years of democracy: It’s been rough, tough – Cardinal Onaiyekan

The Prelate of the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, is angry. His anger stemmed from of the situation of the country, which he said is deteriorating every day. The cleric assessing the country’s 20 years of democracy told Sunday Sun during the 5th anniversary of Catholic Television in Lagos, Lumen Christi, that “it so far, so bad.” He lamented that the dreaded Boko Haram insurgents are making frantic efforts to Islamise Nigeria, thereby supporting former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his recent assertion that Boko Haram has West African Fulanisation and African Islamisation agenda. Excerpts:

What is your comment on the security situation in the country, especially with the killings all over the country?

We cannot pretend that everything is fine, you go around with fear in your heart today in Nigeria. Apart from the Boko Haram senseless insurgency that has been with us for the past 10 years, we’ve had all other forms of terrorist activities. For a long time we did not see the herdsmen as terrorists, but today their activities portend that. Kidnappers are also linked to terrorism, although some kidnappers are simply criminals who capture your loved ones and demand for ransom. They are criminals who stay on the road to rob people, but today they find it easier to capture and kidnap and wait quietly for you to bring the money to them. But like all criminals activities, the government should be able to act and defend the people that’s why there is government, the government should have the institutions, the police, the SSS, to deal with criminals. Every nation has got criminals, but government should not provide the environment for them to foster. I said it not too long that we are practically all at the mercy of these criminals. Now, according to our constitution, the role of the government is to make sure these things don’t happen, but when you have a government where these things are happening, I begin to ask myself if we have government. I am not talking about election or no election, we have to speak the truth to ourselves. Before we have modern government, you know that in our traditional culture, every able bodied man went about with a cutlass, a bow and his arrow to defend himself, now we have disarmed ourselves so that the security agencies will protect us. But if they don’t protect us and the only people carrying arms are criminals, you can see that this doesn’t work, because only rich people and big men in government have security for their protection.

Recently former President Obasanjo spoke on the Islamisation and Fulanisation of Nigeria, the Archbishop of Lagos in his homily spoke on it what is your comment on this?

I agree with the Archbishop of Lagos on the defence he had put for former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the deadly activities of Boko Haram and herdsmen in the country are no longer as a result of lack of education or employment, but now as a result of West African Fulanisation and African Islamisation agenda. I have not read the whole statement by the former president, what is sure is that Boko Haram with the gun forces those who are under their control to become Muslims, so they are Islamizing Nigeria by force of arm. All the girls they had abducted they put hijab on all of them and displayed them to the whole world that they have all became Muslims. So, this is clearly the case, that the group called Boko Haram believes that they have every right and a duty to spread Islam by force of arms. The important thing, however, is this, who are Boko Haram members? Do they represent Nigerian Muslims or are they working for our Nigerian Muslim community, my own understanding and experience is that the majority of Nigerian Muslims don’t agree with Boko Haram. Probably, these Muslims who do not believe in Boko Haram’s agenda could do more to make their disagreement loud and clear, that this people are giving Muslims a bad name, what we need, therefore, is a coalition of all peace loving people in Nigeria, Muslims or Christians, to stop this kind of criminal activities, which is against our constitution. Our constitution says that every Nigerian has the right to follow any religion that he or she likes, the constitution also provides for them the right to practice their religion, to propagate it, and our constitution also says that you have every right to change your religion. So, anywhere you go and you are not allowed to practice or change your religion peacefully and you are not allowed to propagate your religion peacefully, those not allowing you to do so are going against the constitution and when people are going against the constitution, we expect the government to step in and say to such people, no, you cannot do that. You can see where I am going; everything boils down to good governance. If we have good governance, criminal will not have a free hand; religious fanatics who believe they can promote their religion by force will be told that they cannot do that. Now, we have a Muslim government they should be the first people to tell these people that, no, you cannot do that. I know my friend, the Sultan, has said severally that it is not in Islam to force people to become Muslims. He is saying it, but there are many people who are forcing people to become Muslims. But we are not only talking about people forcing people into their religion by force of arms, there are people who are using other means like political influence and power to promote their religion at the expense of others in a way that is thoroughly unjust and this is why Nigerians complain when they look at our security apparatus and they find that somehow, that almost everybody there belong to one religion, as if they are the only one you can trust with the security of the nation. There is no way, government can convince us about having people from only one religion on the security apparatus, because if you say they are the only one you can trust, as president of Nigeria with 50 per cent Christians, it means you have not really understood what you are supposed to do.

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Do you believe that Nigerians can still live together as one?

It is my conviction that it is God’s will that Nigeria be a nation of Christians and Muslims and by and large we are living very well together. The vast majority of Christians want to live in peace with the vast majority of Muslims and I believe that most people will agree with me that that is the best way, that it is better to live in peace than to be suspecting one another and be killing one another all the time. The constitution is clear on freedom of religion and I think we should continue to insist on that. That we have agreed that we should be in a country where there is freedom of religion, freedom to follow the religion of your choice, freedom to express and propagate your faith. It is the constitution that provides that right, it is a constitutional right, which means, if my nephew says he’s tired of the Catholic Church, that he wants tp become a Muslim, I can only advise him and beg him, I cannot take him to the police station because of that, I cannot fight him because of that. Freedom to propagate our faith must be handled very carefully, we must learn to propagate our faith legally, justly and fairly, not by force of any kind. No physical force like the Boko Haram is doing. Above all, no moral or political force is allowed to cow anybody into any religion. When those in political power use their power at the expense of others, they are going against our constitution, because they are infringing on religious freedom of the citizens. The only way of propagating our faith that is constitutionally acceptable in Nigeria is by peaceful persuasion. For as long as you obey the rules, I have no problems with anybody trying to Islamize Nigeria, but they must know that I too want to Christianize Nigeria, and we must be allow to play on the same level. We must let them know that we too are very anxious to Christianize Nigeria and we will do it by persuasion and by the very way laid down by Jesus Christ. This is where the state comes in, whether the state is run by a Christian of a Muslim, the state has a responsibility to ensure that every citizen is protected. Because if they don’t there can be no peace, and if there is no peace, there can be no harmony and there can be no prosperity. Therefore, if the government takes action that goes the wrong way, they are just doing us a lot of havoc, because they cannot lead us to peace, only to confusion. So, all Nigerian Christians and Muslims, since we know each other very well, we should do our best to ensure that this freedom of religion is available for all and together save our nation from religious bigots and terrorists. We cannot close our eyes and pretend that everything is okay

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In few days’ time, Nigeria’s democracy will be 20 years, how will you assess Nigeria under democracy during this period?

It is like what they say, so far, so bad, we have not landed, I do not know about you, but I, I am not proud by the level of democracy that we have now in this country, starting from elections. You can see what is happening in the states and local governments do we have local government anywhere in Nigeria. We still have a long way to go, how we shall get there, I do not know, but I think what is important is that we do not give up and say this is the best we can have, no, I disagree, this is not the best we can have in terms of democratic governance. Our young people are disgusted with the country; many of them are finding their ways out, if they can. Not only our young people, our best brains are also leaving the country. The other day we heard that 2,000 Nigerian doctors are going to Saudi Arabia for employment. If 2,000 doctors leave Nigeria, what is the hope of the rural dwellers and it is not right to allow 2,000 Nigerian doctors to leave the country to work in other countries when their services are needed here.

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Recently, suicide by young people has been on the increase; what could be the cause of this?

It is about the same thing we are saying, young people are disgusted the way things are done. Suicide happens when life does not matter anymore. But suicide does not only happen as a result of poverty, rich people also commit suicide, because you do not see any meaning to life. But as you know in our tradition, suicide is an abomination.

Today, we have so many churches in Nigeria, but corruption still thrives?

It is unfortunate that is the situation in Nigeria, everybody is a worshipper and a believer of God, yet corruption thrives , criminals are all over the place in the country, it is a sad situation.

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