The General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Musa Asake, tells ALLWELL OKPI that it is insensitive to ask the Federal Government to grant Boko Haram amnesty
The Christian Association of Nigeria opposed the call for amnesty for Boko Haram by the Sultan of Sokoto. What informed CAN’s position on this?
Our position is very clear. We don’t support amnesty for Boko Haram. You don’t give amnesty to people you don’t know. If those people who are calling for the amnesty know these people called Boko Haram, and they are seeking peace, let them come out and tell us why they are killing people. Their targets are Christians and they have been going after Christians and they have been saying it without mincing words. They have been saying that the Nigerian Constitution should be removed from the North and be replaced with the Sharia, if not, the violence will go on. For somebody to come out and say there should be amnesty for people like that, without considering the people that have been made widows and orphans, without considering the places of worship and schools that have been burnt down, is insensitive. In calling for amnesty, they never mentioned those widows, those orphans; they never mentioned the grave injustice that has been done to Christians. This leaves me with a very big question mark. What is the motive behind the call? There was a time that some Muslims denied that Boko Haram members were Muslims. But none of the Muslims is ready to support our position. We want to know them. What are they fighting for?
Don’t you think granting Boko Haram amnesty could bring the crisis in the North to an end?
Do you have a guarantee for that? We can’t play games when people’s lives are being wasted daily. Their leader, Ibrahim Shekau, came out recently and said they were fighting the cause of Allah. He never talked about injustice. He never said they were looking for justice. I really don’t understand. And there are some people, who are just trying to attract attention by comparing them with the Niger Delta militants. What happened in Niger Delta was completely different. There was a cause that they were fighting for. But the goal of this people is to destroy churches and kill Christians. When you say there is no justice, I ask: who needs justice; is it the person who is killing others or the person who is being killed? We as Nigerians need to be very sincere with ourselves. Nobody is saying anything about the people who have lost their loved ones and their places of worship destroyed. All we are hearing is that Boko Haram, faceless people, who are fighting no just cause, should be granted amnesty. I’m from the North. And I can tell you that the North has been shattered by the activities of Boko Haram members. So, it bothers me to hear someone calling for amnesty for these people.
This issue seems to have become a subject of argument between Christians and Muslims. Is there a political dimension to this or is it strictly religious?
I don’t think these people (Boko Haram members) have at anytime convinced anybody about their mission. Right from the onset, they declared that Christians are enemies of Allah, so they are out to get rid of Christians. And look at their activities. It’s only Christians they go after. They have burnt down several churches, and they killed so many Christians. So, this is not an issue that somebody should begin to scratch his head over who their target is. If you listen to all they have said, they have never minced words about eliminating Christians.
So, you don’t believe poverty has a hand in this.
If you are poor, do you begin to fight and kill others? Is that the way to get rich? Can the firearms they are using, the AK 47 they are using in their numbers, be purchased by poor people? Does it make sense to say you are poor and you are holding AK 47? We are more than this kind of argument. Let’s talk of the real thing. Let’s call black black and white white. Let’s be honest with ourselves. This has nothing to do with poverty.
Some Muslim leaders have accused President Goodluck Jonathan of acting out CAN’s script. Do you think CAN influenced his decision on this matter?
No, that is wrong. How many times has President Jonathan taken decision in line with CAN’s position? Is it because he decided to take a position that happens to tally with CAN? In fact CAN has been unhappy with the President for keeping silent when Muslims were burning down our places of worship. Did we say anything? He is the President of the whole Nigeria and he has obligations towards everybody in the country. So, he has been careful not to favour any set of people against others. And this time round, he has taken a decision that is in the interest of all Nigerians, and they have turned around to say he was influenced by CAN. The President is right. Boko Haram members are faceless and brutal killers. As far as I’m concerned they don’t deserve amnesty.
Does CAN also support calls for Boko Haram to be labelled terrorists?
Yes. If we do anything short of that, we are not helping ourselves. Let them be labelled a terrorist group, their sponsors would be fished out, their finances would be curtailed. Nothing short of that would help us. It is a terrorist group and it has to be called that.
But labelling Boko Haram a terrorist organisation would invariably attract foreign military intervention. Wouldn’t this be to the detriment of even innocent Nigerians both in and outside the country?
I don’t think so. The crimes that Nigerians commit in different parts of the world, has it harmed other Nigerians who have nothing to do with it. If you are not a criminal, it will never harm you. Even, when you are travelling, if you have your papers, you won’t have a problem, but if you want to do it through the back door, then they would stop you. Yes, Nigerians would be subjected to scrutiny. It’s okay. They would only delay you for a while and then you would go your own way.
An Islamic scholar has suggested that, as a form of justice, the victims of Boko Haram attacks, should be compensated and the places of worship rebuilt by the Federal Government, who he blamed for the crisis.
I think we are reducing this matter to a child’s play. It is a very serious matter. I don’t know why he is blaming the Federal Government. If he is calling for compensation, fine, I support him. But he cannot accuse the Federal Government of negligence. The Federal Government has been trying. The JTF that is in Maiduguri that they want removed, was it not the Federal Government that put them there? I would have loved a situation where such a scholar would be calling for a ceasefire and compensation for victims. I’ve not been hearing that. I’ve not been hearing them talking before this issue of amnesty came up. I support the idea of compensation, but not the idea of negligence on the part of the Federal Government.
Does CAN also oppose dialogue?
Who are they? Let them come out. You can only dialogue with people you can see, not with faceless people. As long as they remain in hiding, there should be no dialogue.
Do you think the federal forces can completely overcome Boko Haram?
They would by God’s grace. But for now, these people are well-armed. Somebody is giving them arms, somebody is sponsoring them. If they are declared terrorists, their arms sources would be closed down and they would be crippled.