How can you help us to understand the real situation in your country, that go beyond simplistic common reductive reports by the media?
Many people prefer very quick answers to understand this context and when trying to explain the situation in Nigeria. After Nigerian independence, the military did not allow the politicians to govern and establish democratic life in the country. The other big issue for Nigeria is the presence of rich oilfields, creating huge conflicts among the people who want to control these resources and profit from them.
The news often presents the Nigerian situation as a religious conflict. What is your opinion on this?
This is a very important point to understand: the problems of Nigeria, the terrible violence above all, has nothing to do with religion. The problems here arise from the mismanagement of the country’s resources and from the inability of the government to control the situation. Every crisis in Nigeria is immediately linked to religions, but we have never had a religious crisis or any crisis at all arising from either Christians or Muslims fighting over religious issues. The real reason behind the current crisis is political and economic and it is not right to present today’s problems as a conflict between religions.
When did this violent situation begin? What was it triggered off by?
It is a mistake to think that this is something that started only two or so years ago. What we are witnessing is the manifestation of the corruption of the Nigerian state. Before Boko Haram, we had violence of a similar nature in the Niger-Delta And before that we had the same sort of violence in the South –West and this has been with us for the last twenty years or so. It is just that the kind of violence and the context keep changing. After all, we lived under the military for a long time and consequently we must take this violence along with the history of corruption in Nigeria. And my belief is that if things do not change and if the government and civil servants continue with the mismanagement of state resources, they will have no moral authority to punish criminals. You could stop this situation today and tomorrow it will appear in a different place. So, in the end the difference will only be a question of time and geographical location!
Boko Haram seems to be a new dangerous factor in the life of Nigeria. What do you think of this phenomenon?
Boko Haram is a new and foreign phenomenon. It has nothing to do with religion, with Christians or Muslims. The fact that they attack churches with extraordinary violence makes the media come to the conclusion that they are against Christians, but this is not true. They kill Christians, but they also kill Muslim women and children as well. They are criminals who attack churches, media houses, police stations, markets… They make no distinction at all…
It is up to the government to control it and to stop its violence. We need strong intervention to stop these terrorists.
In their programme though, Boko Haram uses a religious language which seems to be connected in some way with Islam, even if a violent and extreme interpretation of Islam…
There is no denying that Boko Haram has made these claims and that it is making use of religious language. However, the mere use of this language does not make their criminality religious in any sense. What is more important, they have attacked Muslims leaders and institutions and they have killed thousands of Muslims, indeed, a far greater number than the Christians that they have killed if we can use that expression. In almost all instances when churches have been attacked, many Muslims and ordinary citizens have died. What is important for us is to understand that religious extremism, whether it be in Christianity or Islam, claims its first victims internally before its excesses spread outside.
Is this violent action creating a division in society? A mutual desire for revenge?
What is creating the division is the slow pace of government reaction and the inability of the security agencies to conclude investigations and bring people to trial. This is what is creating a feeling of helplessness and leading people to a culture of self defence as an option. If the government acted decisively, people would learn a lesson.
Is there anybody who is gaining from this crisis?
Absolutely. The local sponsors and those who are manipulating the process are getting huge sums of money from abroad and some Arab countries. It is important to stress that since the early 60s, Arab Muslims have funded conversion efforts by Muslims, under the Dawah project. Ghaddafi was a big funder and the illusion is that somehow Nigeria is the best strategic place for the consolidation of the domination of Islam in Africa. At the level of the security agencies in Nigeria, they are getting fat from this. This has been the case since the Niger-Delta crisis which again was resolved with a great amount of money. In this year’s budget alone, the federal government has budgeted one trillion naira for security! This is about the same amount as the national budget some two years ago. So, yes, this crisis has become a meal ticket and that is quite dangerous for us.
Is there a way out? And what is it?
Some times, an exit is not the best option if the alternatives are not weighed properly. In the short term, I think that the federal government should drop the idea of a military solution by starting and setting a target for the withdrawal of the military from our streets. The political class must be encouraged to find a solution to what is clearly a political problem and not a religious one. Community leaders (not necessarily religious leaders) must be encouraged to take charge by embarking on initiatives that aim at bringing communities together. If this happens, public confidence can be built up because there will never be a military solution as their presence as it merely glorifies violence. Gradually, they are becoming an army of occupation and their influence will gradually wane. Finally, the federal government must embark on a programme for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of destroyed communities. This will create confidence and reduce the amount of frustration and bitterness among ordinary people.
How does the everyday life of your diocese and your faithful continue in such a violent context?
Sokoto, strange as it may sound, is quite peaceful. We have not had a single incident here. I have encouraged our people to remain alert but we have decided not to change our lifestyle, that is, changing times for mass and prayers due to fear. I have told my people that fear is not in the vocabulary of any true Christian. So, we have continued to carry out our normal duties and pursuits.
Do you feel as if your life is in danger?
I have never felt a sense of fear because I believe that any day or anywhere is a good enough day or place to die. No part of this world is so insulated from threats to life. For us here, it may be the violence of Boko Haram, for some parts of the United States it is the hurricanes, for some parts of the world it is a tsunami and so on. So, our lives are in the hands of God, not in human security.
The bishop Kaigama denounced the absence of the state in this situation, the lack of military protection for the people and the villages systematically attacked by violent groups. Do you agree?
His Excellency is right, but as I have said, perhaps in some situations there is too much presence on the part of the state with its instruments of violence. This makes people anxious, but on the whole, he is right.
Who is the truly responsible for the current situation?
If I or anyone else knew, we would not be here.
Stay up to date: sign up for our newsletter
For insights and analysis subscribe to our biannual journal