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Rev Hayab On Boko Haram: Christians Need Not Abuse Muslims, Muslims Need Not Be Defensive

July 29, 2014

Reverend Joseph Hayab speaks on the manipulation of religion in Nigeria and its effects on the current insurgency.

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Reverend Joseph Hayab speaks on the manipulation of religion in Nigeria and its effects on the current insurgency.

In an interview with SaharaTV’s Omoyele Sowore, peace advocate and pastor Rev Joseph Hayab reflects on the escalation of the insurgency in Nigeria particularly in northern and southern Kaduna. According to the reverend, a lack of understanding of the genesis of the insurgency is one of the main reasons for the escalation. He also says that the problem persists because Christians and Muslims are playing the blame game.  

Rev Joseph stopped by the SaharaTV’s New York studios on in late June  and shared his thoughts on the role of religion in the current Nigerian crisis. “The greatest undo of Nigeria today is the way and manner in which religion is being manipulated in virtually every good thing,” he said. Other things he spoke about include the late Governor Patrick Yakowa and the theories surrounding his death, the relationship between Muslims and Christians in the Kaduna and the missing Chibok girls.



What do you think is responsible for the escalation of the insurgency in Nigeria today; especially in the northeast?

Escalation of insurgency in Nigeria is one of the unfortunate things we are facing. But if you ask me to comment about it, I’ll simply put it that, we all did not understand exactly the challenge we have at hand. The Christian population in Nigeria, when this whole thing started thought that the best way you can address it is to apportion blame. And this apportion blame becomes the game that the insurgents find easy to continue to play. Today they bomb a church, tomorrow they go to this particular denomination and steer up another problem, and they later on move to the mosque.

The other side of it is that the Muslims in Nigeria did not also understand because the two parties were supposed to have played a good game in addressing this but the Christians now want to play the blame game and the Muslims want to play the defense game so when these two parties were busy defending themselves, permit me to say that our government that’s supposed to act as the sole authority that’s supposed to maintain law and order now hides under these debates: “You’re the cause of this, there is a meeting between Muslims you eliminate Christians, No, no, no, these people are not Muslim. Probably they are Christians hiding as Muslims to cause problems.”

So this confusion and government couldn’t do anything because experience has shown that anytime you allow any serious issues to be driven by religious leaders and debated by them, government cannot do anything. Sharia crisis is one of them. Even for the Sharia crisis I think the best the then president could say was that if Sharia was of God it will survive but if it was not of God it will die. But that’s not the issue. It’s only in our country that when people have an issue to address they will use God as a cover.

There are issues that God will address but God has also given us the intellect and the human capacity to address issues that we can address ourselves instead of hiding under God.  This is part of the problem that we have with insurgency and I always say to young men that if we don’t stop the blame game, we will not find solutions to this but the day Christians and Muslims resolve to saying “We want to address this issue, we want to fight this insurgency, we want to stop it,” then we will begin to have results. But everyday Christian leaders want to come out in the public and accuse every Muslim. I used to say if people care to listen that the last thing I don’t want to hear is that every Muslim is part of the conspiracy to eliminate Christians. I don’t understand where you get that theory because there are one hundred and one million Muslims out there that I know that will never associate with anything to do with eliminating Christians. So if you do that you are equally telling Muslims to say that there is also a meeting among Christians to eliminate Muslims. So there is a cycle of blame game and nobody seems to be talking about how to address the issue of insurgency.

This thing started because there were issues whether we like it or not there were issues. Government knows about the issues the people in the society know about the issues but nobody is talking about it.

But permit me to also correct that the challenge in Southern Kaduna is a little bit different from that of the northeast. The simple reason is that for the Southern Kaduna people we’ve been living in peace with the Fulanis and Muslims in Southern Kaduna for a very long time. Yeah, we’ve had pockets of crises like the 1987 crisis in College of Education, (4:13)  and a few other crises but these crises did not escalate to the extent that we are facing today. What happened? After the elections of 2011, some group of people felt that the elections were decided on a basis of religion and wanted to react. Now there were some attacks in some parts of Kaduna and some parts of the north and the Southern Kaduna community alleged that they saw a moving vehicle passing through their community with guns and they reacted to it. But because there’s already tension in Kaduna, there is tension in other parts of the north, the concentration wasn’t on them alone. Everywhere there is tension, they capitalized on that and started killing themselves, Muslims killing Christians and Christians killing Muslims. But immediately after that, a few Muslims living among Christians in Southern Kaduna run away. Especially the Fulani nomads. When they left Southern Kaduna, some of them moved to (5:12) others moved to Jos and other parts of the north. Now, these groups of people have been instigated by other groups to believe that since we’ve been living in peace with these people and just over night they stand up and hold up daggers against us, let’s go back to their communities and cause mayhem and make them feel the pain we felt during the post election violence. Nobody has sat down to understand that this crisis did not actually start in Southern Kaduna.

The fact is that, I was in Southern Kaduna then. I know exactly that the night before the presidential elections there was a bomb explosion Kabala West of Kaduna. It was not in Katchia neither was it in Kafatchia (6:02)[A5] . And the next day there were rumors that the small minority Christians that live in Kabala West were being attacked so the challenge now is Christians thinking about how can we get our brothers in Kabala West out. Rumors started spreading that everybody had been killed. And the truth is that no one at that time had died. And you know how rumor flies in Nigeria. Sadly for us, GSM is meant to be a means of communication but GSM has become a channel for propaganda, spreading of falsehood and spreading what is not. When this kind of rumor went to Southern Kaduna, it was just an easy thing for people to react and say okay, they’ve killed our brothers already we are also defending just like it was already going on in Zaria and other parts of the North including Gombi, Kano (6:45).

In the northern part of Kaduna what was actually happening was young men were going from house to house burning and destroying houses and vehicles of any that they perceived to have identified with PDP. This was what happened. That confusion led to the killing and it was all over the state but the insurgency turned out to be retaliation, as today they want to call it. The insurgency is mostly in Southern Kaduna because of other issues I’ve explained. A few Fulanis that run away now regrouped in certain places and once in a while they will sit down, study the area and say “this man and that man were the ones that killed my mother and father, okay lets just come in the night, cause mayhem in their community and run away.” That’s why up till today no one has been able to hold any one person responsible for the attack in Southern Kaduna. That’s why security comes in - if security will do her work. That’s why I always say the biggest challenge for Nigerian security is poor intelligence. Our security lack intelligence. In fact our security group is supposed to be more like an enforcement group rather than an intelligence group. They don’t gather information; they celebrate more arrests and more public embarrassments than doing.

I sometimes see what happens in our government and other places. Young men who are supposed to be doing fantastic work are busy following leaders, during occasions you will see how they are posing, maltreating everybody, over zealousness, and that’s not the work. I don’t think they were recruited to do that job. They were primarily recruited to gather intelligence for the country. We rather get young men who prefer to parade themselves as soldiers politicking powerful men in public. I’m not sure if even the powerful people in government are happy with it. Unless we do something about it, these kinds of challenges will keep coming because there is no intelligence gathering so you don’t even know what is going to happen. Also people will come and attack. When they attack the cycle appraisal comes again. This will hit someone who is not part of that group, he will also go and regroup with another group.

Recently our group met with Christian young men and Muslim young men from Southern Kaduna and we said to them, we must find a way of stopping this thing so lets talk to ourselves frankly. I’m actually a peace advocate and a peace practitioner but one thing I’ve tried to see differ from many groups these days is I don’t like this peace work that’s more of a conference thing. Have you really called the people to talk? Let them talk and tell you what their problem is and how they want to solve it. These are some of the things we feel that if addressed we will be able to get over this insurgency, or these attacks that are going on in Southern Kaduna and many parts of Northern Nigeria.

Religion has played a major part in the crisis in Nigeria. Christians accuse Muslims who also find a need to defend their faith. This has sent Nigeria to the brink. How do we pull back?

We have many problems in Nigeria and we need to address them but let me look at this from the religious point of view. The greatest undo of Nigeria today is the way and manner in which religion is being manipulated in virtually every good thing. If you come out today in Nigeria and you want to openly speak your mind nobody is going to judge you because you are speaking the truth or speaking what is right. People will first want to know, “are you a Christian or a Muslim?” Here you are speaking what is true and what is right but they are not interested in it. They are interested in your faith. Your faith should not be the deciding factor. The fact is that there are one million and one good Muslims in Nigeria and there are also one million and one god Christians in Nigeria. These two groups of people must stop manipulating every issue and turning every sensible issue into a religious issue.

We use religion in our voting, we use religion in the policies of our government. If government is not performing and you challenge it, someone will say you are challenging it because it is not your faith. If government has performed and you support it they will say you are supporting it because it is your faith. I’m not sure that’s the right thing. Religious leaders must also help themselves. I believe in being Nigerian and then being called to be a pastor. I should use my faith as a Christian and my calling as a pastor to improve my country, to better the activities of my nation and to promote the unity and development of Nigeria. But if I use my calling as a pastor and my faith as a Christian to destroy every good thing called Nigeria or to destroy every person just because he is not my faith…

I have examples of so many good people that have been given offices in Nigeria if they are performing to the best of their ability someone will just sit somewhere and say they are victimizing Christians or Muslims and you look at the issue on the ground and there is nothing like Christian or Muslim. The man who steals our money, steals our money. If the man in charge of monitoring policy in Nigeria realizes that someone is stealing our money and wants him to be arrested, all of us in Nigeria should want him to be arrest and prosecute that person. But the moment you start bringing religion, you tighten his hand. It will take a courageous man to pursue such an agenda. And now this person who has stolen our money will sit hiding under religion and there is no development in Nigeria. Because I’m not sure that there’s a place in the Bible that says steal public money and come and serve God. No. The Bible never said so. And neither is there a place in the Koran that says steal public funds and come and be the imam. No. The Koran and Bible from the best of my knowledge simply says that you have to be fair and just to your fellow human being. Don’t take what belongs to Steven. Don’t take what belongs to Abdulai. Let Abdulai and Steven also have what rightfully belongs to them in the country.

If we want to make headway in Nigeria, our leaders must stop manipulating religion and our religious leaders must stop playing into the hands of selfish politicians who manipulate religion. We are almost at the verge of going into another election year my prayer and message for Nigeria is nobody should campaign and promote a candidate on the basis of religion. He will never do you any good. The fact about it is that if you ever vote for anybody on the basis of religion, that is another step towards our final burial. We must vote for credible Nigerians. Competent Nigerians who will deliver the good and we go on.

Are you saying that the trend in Nigeria where Christians exercise immense influence in the polity of the country should not go on?

I recently went to a function and I saw the national president of CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) 14:15 being escorted by a military man in uniform. I felt embarrassed. I knew that something is wrong with my country. There’s no reason for that. I might not join others in calling him a de facto minister but if the leader of Nigeria today feels that he cannot lead Nigeria without the president of CAN making a mistake, we don’t need the president of CAN to lead Nigeria but as a believer, he should accord the president of CAN a minister and the respect he deserves but to to worship him and turn him to a part of his cabinet?

His job as a pastor and the president of CAN is among the Christians 1) to mobilize Christians to support programs that will bring about Nigerian development, 2) to sensitize Christians on how they can participate in every civic responsibility 3) to improve the spirituality of Christians in the country or educate them on other issues that may be of help but once he becomes de facto minister then something is wrong with the system. I think that’s not only for Christians. Muslims also have this challenge that sometimes the leaders of Nigeria feels that if he has not listened to a prominent Islamic cleric it is not true. Some of them don’t even have understanding of what governance is all about.

I am a pastor and I want to separate our understanding of governance and our understanding of church governance. Church governance and national governance are sometimes quite different things when political leaders misunderstand the role of religious leaders and assume that they must go and seek clearance from them. If not, then they are missing the mark. Sometimes we tell them things that are not supposed to be. Our primary job is to pray for them, to give our support but if we turn the whole thing to be our own then something is wrong. Even the president of our country sees the serving president of CAN as a de facto minister then something is wrong with that system and i strongly advice that that should stop.

But I’ve had discussions with many clerics in Nigeria and I can tell you that there are many prominent clerics in Nigeria that will not with this kind of idea you are talking about. As far as they are concerned that policy is wrong. Church people, our job is to pray, our job is to teach people about God, to encourage people to serve their nation faithfully but when we dabble beyond that then we are going into something else.

As a peace advocate, what do you think can be done to resolve the Boko Haram issue, since obviously the military tactic on the ground is not working?

Let me look at it from a peace practitioner point of view. Why do you we have conflict? We have conflict because people refuse to sit on a round table to dialogue. When people refuse to sit on a round table to dialogue, they go to war. But sadly after the killings, after the destruction, they will still need to come back to the round table to dialogue. Permit me to say that we have leaders in some countries today that are beginning to say, “wait a minute can we continue this military confrontation and have a solution?” Yes, we will protect our sovereignty, we will protect our political integrity but there are other ways you do in talking.

When Abacha was president in Nigeria despite the fact that the American government did not like Abacha, the American government still appointed an envoy who was having a kind of conversation with Abacha towards the issue of Liberia and others. So what we are saying is that there must be a way that we can reach out to the people.  And stories coming out from the media today shows that there are prominent Nigerians who have access to the people. Why don’t we capitalize on that? Do we love Nigeria more than we love them? Are we thinking that they don’t care about Nigeria? If we capitalize on that as the Military does its own, if it does anything at all, I don’t want to conclude, then we do the other one.

If the negotiations and dialogue gives us results, we just ask the military, no more funds for your guns so we’ve gotten other results. But if we say we cannot find other means of solving our problem and we think military alone, military in the first place will not tell us exactly what happened because the confusion we have today about the Chibok girls is the poor information we received. Today, they’ve gotten the girls, tomorrow, they were been misinformed. People get confused. So if we have that system I think the C&C (18:59) should know that then we must use another carrot. From my tribe we have an adage that says, “you don’t know the stick that will kill a witch.” In conflict management you don’t use one thing and say you will solve the problem. There are other processes for solving the problem. Why is the national security advisor there? So he will use his networks and work with other people to see if there’s another way we can find out what they want. Someone can work with them gradually. America that actually prides herself that she will not exchange her soldiers for terrorists did that recently. That means there are other options that we can find to bring lasting solutions.

You happen to be close to the late Gov. Patrick Yakowa. One of the conspiracy theories was that his helicopter was bombed. What do you know about that?

When we talk about the death of Patrick Yakowa we have two angles to it. As a faith man I have the angle of saying God is the ultimate. He knows everything. But secondly I also have the angle of saying wait a minute, a helicopter crashed. Have we investigated what happened? You see we have not investigated the crash of the helicopter to create problems for anybody but it will also help us.

We won’t stop using helicopter you know, we won’t stop flying you know. So an investigation will help us understand the kind of helicopters we use in our communities so in the future leaders will be careful when they have that kind of offer to join it. But we have a situation where this man died and there are so many unraveled issues about his death and there is no proper investigation. I said this and I want to repeat it in this medium that during the death of Yakowa I know the Nigerian governors forum came in their numbers, I was part of those who received them and made certain promises that they were going to investigate this but they immediately forgot this immediately Yakowa was buried. This is just one of the problems we have in Nigeria where leaders make lip service to issues and cannot follow it.

The truth about it is that the government of Nigeria needs to investigate what happened to the aircraft and in ten to twenty years to come one should go back to an archive and remove the documents and see within so and so a time there was a plane crash which involved a governor in Kaduna state and this is what the investigation found out. It helps in informing people so in the future people will correct. But where this kind of investigation is not done I come back to my first option as a religious man and say God is the ultimate and so we leave everything to God. But I don’t think it’s the right thing for a country that wants to develop. A country that wants to develop and is refusing to investigate issues and things that are happening around her, it can turn round and happen to another person tomorrow so where do you go?