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Loophole in the Church

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By Francis Damina

The recent press statement by Dr. Bolaji Akinyemi, BOT Chairman PVC-NAIJA and Initiator, Concerned Nigerians for Security, Unity and Sovereignty, titled “On The Recent Release of Bandits in Parts of Southern Kaduna”, which went viral both in the print and social media, came to me as a rude shock. In the statement, Akinyemi raised an alarm that bandits responsible for various crimes including their alleged involvement in the burning of Saint Raphael’s Catholic Church Fadan Kamanton, leading to the death of Na’aman Danlami, a seminarian, had been released and back in the Ikulu community of Southern Kaduna.

In parts, the statement says: “These same criminals are known to be responsible for why Southern Kaduna, particularly Ikulu land, has become a theatre of death, a cluster for kidnappers, and a harmful colony to both its people and would-be investors”.

“It was the operations of these murderers, and later, their acolytes, that led to the murder of a former Director- General of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Dr. Yakubu Sankey; Ardo Saleh Umar who was slaughtered like ram, and a retired Airforce Officer, Master Warrant Hamza Musa, among many others sent to their early graves “. Their release, which this essayist later confirmed to be true, “was marked by both celebration and mourning. Celebration by their families and friends, and mourning by the rest of society. In fact, in the last few days, particularly in Ikulu land, there have been impromptu migrations for fear of the obvious “, the statement concluded.

As a student of religion and society familiar with the gamut of literature on the Church’s investment on humanity – particularly on the defense of human life and dignity, I am shocked that it now takes an Akinyemi from Lagos to speak in defense of the vulnerable children of God in Southern Kaduna. This is in a perilous time when the angel of death manifesting in these miscreants, has now become our guest. A time when human life has become nasty, brutish and short. A time when even men in cassock get sacrificed in fires set by venal men.

A time when priests seek asylum outside the house of God. A time of real famine owing to the inability of ordinary people to access their farms. All because of the activities of the few who have vowed to make our earthly paradise a hell.

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My argument is that, the silence of the Church, especially in Southern Kaduna, seriously indicates a loophole. Literature on Church and State relations shows clearly that the Church is a partner with Government on matters of humanity and not a spectator. I cannot therefore understand the culpable silence of the Church in the face of these evil epiphanies.

That the Church in Southern Kaduna appears more concerned about preaching heaven and seemingly undisturbed about the sufferings of the people of God hic et nunc, is unacceptable. Our Christ came that we may have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10).

From the time of the Apostles, the Church is known for its consistent insistence for the establishment of a society where justice and peace are the major attributes. Or, is our Holy Book not replete with stories of confrontations between prophets and the rulers of their time much of which was on how society was to be governed for the realisation of the common good aimed at maximising opportunities to ensure the greatest good for the greatest number?
Even in contemporary time, there are many clerics who abandoned the comfort of their Presbyteries to identify with, and to speak in defence of the common good. In the 1970s, we heard of Bishop Juan Gardi of Guatemala who was an outspoken critic of military rule.

In the Philippines, the role Cardinal Sin played in ensuring local and international pressure in forcing Ferdinand Marcos to eventually flee the country needs no repeating.

The most obvious example of the role of the clergy in bringing about a just society is probably that of Desmond Tutu during apartheid in South Africa. In recognition of the role he played, Tutu was, in 1984, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and during the presidency of Nelson Mandela, made the Chairman of the famous South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Here at home, there are names such as Cardinal Okogie, Bishop Matthew Kukah, Bishop Joseph Bagobiri, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Sunday Mbang, etc, who are known for speaking truth to power irrespective of whose ox is gored. Ofcourse, we know the price they have paid and still.

In our present circumstance, I have watched how life has seemingly lost its dignity. I have particularly watched how my siblings, friends and neighbors got killed. How my house was rather unsuccessfully visited the first time; and my mother kidnapped on the anniversary of the first visit. I cannot forget the times they called and we negotiated for her quick release in view of the December cold that was at its peak. I cannot forget when granted the privilege to speak with her on the phone and she asked me not to again call her mother saying that I did not do enough to bring her back. Can I forget when me and my brother, in company of several others, went into the bush in search for our mother; and how he broke down in tears babbling and asking: ‘Is this Mom that we are looking for?’

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Many cassocks have been stained with blood. Many have lost their lives. Others today are either with one leg or one hand. All because of the few venal men. Only recently in my clime, like an apocryphal story, these miscreants kept ringing a victim they had released. They claimed that he owed them #300,000. Yes #300,000 because his family was only able to pay #700,000 out of the #1m they were asked to produce. But thank God he has now settled them. How did it happen? A couple of weeks back, they re-kidnapped him in his farm claiming that though he was yet to settle them, he went about buying bags of fertilizer in preparation for the next farming season. Same bags of fertilizer were sold to settle the debt. These stories are many and frightening!

Is it the case in some communities here where these murderers, at their beck and call, often tax the people in cash or in kind? Here in Fansil Ikulu, they had sent a message asking the people to contribute money – house after house – so they can get them a prescribed tramadol worth #300,000. They were told where to get the prescription; and to keep it safe until when the masters needed it. And so it came to pass.

The story of the gruesome murder of a former Director- General of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Jos, Dr. Yakubu Sankey, needs no repeating. I was actually on my way to Portharcourt when at dawn, my mother called to tell me. And since I was on my way to attend Bishop Kukah’s Book launch in Portharcourt, and knowing how he often called the revered academic “my brother”, and also familiar with his relationship with Mrs Elizabeth Pam – the late widow of the famous Major Yakubu Pam and mother in-law to Dr. Sankey, I quickly rang the Bishop. But he will ask me to shut up arguing that the story was too cruel to be true. But that was how we lost the revered academic with no words from Government about his unambiguous killers.

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Amidst these evil, the Church cannot afford to act like a spectator if it must live true to its mission. At the moment, it is the hope of our vulnerable people. First, it must make sure that those who perpetrate evil in our society get punished. Because of the compromises that have over the years characterized the breweries of justice in our society – the courts and the law enforcement agencies, it should never be presumed that justice is already assured or automated. Infact, these miscreants, their families and sympathisers believe that with money, they have nothing to worry about.

Therefore, I suggest that, one, the Church, through its attorneys,(or is CAN still there?) immediately takes on a monitoring role to ensure, among other things, that all culpable men and women, especially those who put an axe to the tree of human life are punished accordingly. And that, though no amount of material thing can be equated to human life, government takes an inventory of victims of all kinds for compensation and rehabilitation. A lot of families are yet to heal.

Two, we must teach our people the freedom that accompanies democracy. Apart from prayer, It is the social responsibility of the Church to teach them how to protest against evil. Yes, they must learn how to aggressively and reflexly take to the streets in protest, and to bang on doors when they perceive injustice or a threat to their lives. And this is what distinguishes democracy from dictatorships from these men

Finally, though “He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day”, we do not want this fight to linger; we must face it here and now – fearlessly and squarely too. May God protect His people from these men of the underworld.

Damina, a student of religion and society, wrote from Kaduna and can be reached via francisdamina@gmail.com

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