Prelate Sunday Ola Makinde, a retired Methodist clergy, says the Boko Haram insurgency ravaging parts of the North is the end result of the failure of the northern oligarchy to give the people education. He condemns the activities of the group as unislamic and says any dialogue with the sect should centre on education for the members. Makinde speaks with Funke Olaode. Excerpts:
What is your view on Christians in politics?
People often say that politics is a dirty game. Yes, if it is a dirty game somebody must clean it. If it is dirty, let Christians go and show light. The Bible says we are the salt of the world. The reason why we are suffering in Nigeria today is that we have uncommitted Christians in politics and we have uncommitted Moslems in politics as well. If we carry our religions and integrate into politics, Nigeria will be a better place. I am a student of Comparative Religion. Take your Bible and place it side-by-side with Quran, they both teach the same thing: holiness. But who are the rogues? When you read out the names of corrupt people in Nigeria today, they bear both Moslem and Christian names. Where is their fruit? Where is their religion? By their fruit we shall know them. Christianity and politics go together and that is why we created church and state. And don’t forget that the definition of democracy is “The government of the people by the people, for the people.” Without the people there cannot be state. Without people there cannot be church. And when the government is bad both the people and church suffer.
What is the implication of Boko Haram for Nigeria’s unity?
It is a threat to Nigeria’s unity. And don’t forget that Boko Haram is the product of neglect of education by the northern oligarchy. The late Obafemi Awolowo introduced free education in the South-west to broaden people’s horizon, and today, it has paid off. And see the destruction going on all in the name of religion. Surprisingly, Boko Haram is being compared with Niger Delta militancy. No. Everybody knows what the militants were fighting for then: economic emancipation and not religion. How can you kill people all in the name of religion and say you will go to heaven? It is even unislamic. To me, it is a product of illiteracy. Government had spent a whole lot of money on normadic education. So, what exactly does the Boko Haram want? Everything revolves around illiteracy. And whether we like it or not the aftermath of Boko Haram will be the beginning of a new north and new Nigeria. For instance, if we dialogue now, it will centre on education for the members of Boko Haram. When you educate them they will understand, and sift the raw material being handed over to them.
What is your recommendation on how to free the girls kidnapped over two months ago by Boko Haram at Chibok, in Borno State?
I am beginning to change my style because I was rigid before. Here, precious future lives are involved and because of this we can dialogue. I think we can dialogue. I am a parent. Recently, America swapped its citizen for Afghans. So, if it comes to that let us have the courage and be sensitive because of those innocent girls. Let us bring them back by all means. This is my suggestion, but not amnesty. Some ignorant Nigerians are quoting militancy in Niger Delta as a case study. No. They are two different things. I am a former leader of Methodist Church Nigeria and toured Ogoni Land. I toured the Niger Delta, Ogoni Land, and Bayelsa and so on. We all saw the problem in the land and the environment. And that is why the militants drew the attention of the federal government to their plight. They have not been burning churches; they have not been throwing bombs into the market places, motor parks and so on. But the Boko Haram insurgents are naturally destructive, using the name of religion to do what they are doing. How can you say Western education is bad and still be using the same technology to cause havoc? What an irony. They should have used their native intelligence or their horses or cows to fight. So let’s call and dialogue with them for the sake of these innocent girls in captivity.
Are you not worried that the Boko Haram insurgency may escalate into a religious crisis that could involve the whole country?
I think we should all change our perceptions. Personally, my perception when they first started was that it was purely a religious matter, that they were against Christians. Right now, they are waging a war with Nigeria because I have seen that they have destroyed mosques. And when they bombed markets both Moslems and Christians were not isolated. They are just killing everybody. Recently, an emir was caught in the cross fire. Good and committed Moslem clerics and Moslems in Nigeria have said it is unIslamic. Even some clerics who came from Saudi Arabia said the same thing. An inter-state religious conference was held in Lagos recently, organised by the Lagos State government. It was a gathering of highly educated people. Everybody condemned their activities. What I know we cannot afford in Nigeria so far is religious war. And if they try it, let me tell you, when it gets to Ilorin in Kwara State it will die because from Ilorin down to the South-west, there is no home or family that doesn’t have both Christians and Moslems. For instance, I have both Alhajas and Alhajis in my family. Why should we be killing ourselves in the name of religion? Recently, I lost an uncle and we had to shift the burial because of the forthcoming Ramadan. You know in Yoruba land if you are celebrating something during Ramadan nobody will come and eat with you. We did this because we wanted our Moslem brothers and sisters to come and celebrate with us. And during lent period the other religion, too, observes it. So we are interwoven the way we practise religion in the South-west, South-east and so on.
Do you think the federal government is doing enough in the fight against these insurgents?
It is a pity that some die hard individuals believe that a particular set of people should not rule them in Nigeria. I pity Mr. President. The confusion is too much. As you know, it is not easy to lead, especially Nigerians. I pity the man and I doubt if he sleeps for two hours in a day when others are snoring. I doubt if the problems at hand give him enough time to think on how Nigeria will progress.
What is your view on the ongoing national conference?
It is the best thing that has ever happened to Nigeria. I am an apostle of Nigeria confab. Look at what they are suggesting there. If at the end of the day all the suggestions are not subjected to referendum, they have explored all the areas of our problems. That is why I am happy about it. For instance, the issue of churches paying tax came up. But people rose against it that churches cannot pay tax because of their usefulness to society. Those who are calling on the church to pay tax are looking for the wraught of God. I think the best is to bring back God to our educational sector.