“Come and join me in singing Halleluyah, Jehovah Jireh has done me well…come and join me in singing Halleluyah, Jehovah Jireh has done me well…”
With members of his family and well wishers in tow, the congregation in a frenzy and the choir bleating out the song he had specifically requested, there was no doubt that Brother Cyprian was a very happy man as he jumped up and down while dancing to the altar. Of course, many people in the Church, who had been given a sneak preview of the “testimony” that led to the thanksgiving, had also concluded the “miracle” could only have come from God. Given the microphone to speak for two minutes, Brother Cyprian shouted: “Praiseeeeeeeeeee the Looooooooooooord!”
“Halleluyah!” the congregation chorused again and again as Brother Cyprian repeated the chant. And then, he spoke: “I don’t know how many of you have ever come face-to-face with death before but I prophesy to the life of everyone in this church that just as it happened in my case, whoever wants to take your life will replace you.”
There was a thunderous shout of “Amen!” from the congregation before Brother Cyprian continued: “To cut a long story short; last week in Kaduna, in the course of my work, I wrestled with a man who was holding a gun in his hands and was more powerful than me. But as we fought, the gun exploded with a loud bang and the man who was fighting me took the bullet and died. Can there be anything more miraculous than that?”
“No!”, shouted the congregation as the choir belted another song which Brother Cyprian had also requested ahead of his testimony: “We are serving a God of miracle, I know, yes, I know; we are serving a God of miracle, I know, yes, I know…”
If Emeka Okeke Cyprian who led the gang that killed Col. Samaila Inusa, the late Chief Instructor at the Nigeria Army School of Infantry in Jaji, Kaduna State, had not been caught, that is the kind of “testimony” he probably would have given, considering the way he has been telling his stories. But fortunately, he is now in detention awaiting trial for murder along with four other accomplices.
Apparently because they feel proud about the investigation that led to the arrest of the suspects, the Police authorities have allowed journalists free access to the detained members of the gang (Chijioke Ugwuanyi, Abdulahi Adamu, Ibrahim Kabiru, Ebere Precious and Emeka Okeke Cyprian) that allegedly abducted and later killed Col. Inusa in Kaduna. And in all his interviews, Cyprian, who admitted to personally shooting the Colonel, never forgot to mention God, in a narrative that portrays him almost as a victim who survived by some divine intervention.
So “generous” in spirit was Cyprian that he even admitted lecturing the man he was dispossessing of his property that he (the late Colonel) was too big to agonise over a car since he could always buy another one if he stayed alive. But things did not exactly go the way Cyprian planned it. “I told the man to lie down in the bush. He asked for water, but when I was about to give him the water, he dived at my gun and tried to remove the magazine. I was shocked. He gave me a head butt and beat me so much. But I held tightly to the rifle and we struggled on the floor. I don’t know what he touched but the trigger could not fire. If not for God, the man would have killed me. Luckily for me, the trigger fired and I shot the man. I didn’t know that the man was an army officer at the time. He was very strong,” said Cyprian.
From that account, it is easy to see the way Nigerians have so made God in their own image that they would use His name to justify and rationalize anything, including the most heinous of crimes. And because of that, it is also easy to understand the rot within our society in virtually all sectors. But before I come to the real essence of my intervention, it is noteworthy that the confession of the suspects has helped to dispel two theories. First, it is now clear that those who jumped to the dangerous conclusion that the Colonel was killed by the Shiites in “retaliation” for what the military did to their leader and members last December in Zaria were way off the mark. Second, the account of Cyprian shows clearly that our military officers are very courageous, contrary to the image painted of them as a result of the mismanagement of the Boko Haram insurgency.
It is even all the more remarkable that the revelation came at a period another Colonel in the Nigerian Army, Charles Nengite, beat 380 other postgraduate students to the top position at the United States War College (USAWC), Carlisle, Pennsylvania–a performance adjudged the best by any foreigner in the last 38 years.
In his own case, the late Col. Inusa did not struggle with the criminals before he was led away apparently to protect his wife who was allowed to disembark from the vehicle. But once on neutral ground, he fought and his death looked somehow accidental because he did not know there was still a bullet left inside the gun panel, according to the account of Cyprian in one of his interviews. Therefore, a combination of Nengite’s brilliance and Inusa’s bravery indicate that we still have a respectable military institution.
However, we must come back to the subtext of Cyprian’s narrative which is about how religion has become not only a tool for manipulation but also for exploitation in our country today. That explains why, when I see a public official (whether Christian or Muslim) making noise about his/her faith in the conduct of government business, I am always very suspicious of such people. But the politicians I fear the most are those who would mix religion with policies because they are dangerous to the health of our society.
It is within this context that I want to place my column of last week. Incidentally, because I was slightly indisposed between Monday and Wednesday, I had to cancel my editorial meeting and initially decided I was not going to write. But when I eventually did, I highlighted, in a lighter mood, some of the issues in the public domain without much elaboration. One of those issues I touched is the crisis of Hijab as part of uniform for Muslim female students in Osun State public schools. Although I dismissed the issue in just four paragraphs, that was enough to earn me a call from Governor Rauf Aregbesola who spent more than 15 minutes expressing his displeasure on how I was “unfair” to him in my summation.
In explaining the history of Hijab which he said has nothing to do with the state government and predated his coming to office, Aregbesola said: “A Judge, who happens to be a Christian, ruled against wearing Hijab in Lagos public schools and the media applauded the judgment. The Muslim group that lost did not take the law into their own hands, they went on appeal while the state government moved in to get a political solution. But now here is the problem: Another Judge, who happens to be a Muslim, delivers a judgment in Osun affirming the use of Hijab and rather than those who lost to go on appeal while we try and find a solution through dialogue, as it was done in Lagos, all hell was let loose with the media accusing me of what I didn’t do. Is that fair?”
According to Aregbesola, at no time did he introduce Hijab wearing into Osun schools. “Segun, let me tell you something that you may find interesting: I have one wife and she hardly wears Hijab; the same with my daughter. So if I cannot enforce wearing Hijab in my own home, how would I enforce such policy in a whole state?” asked the Governor who reminded me that I had, on three different occasions, taken jibes at him in my column (I remember only two) on his governance style in Osun State.
Before I continue, I must place it on record that my brief intervention last week was not because I share the position of those manipulating their children to be rebellious to authority by cladding them in some ridiculous robes to school in Osun State but rather because, as I said earlier, I abhor religious politics. And while I had on two previous occasions expressed misgivings about some of the choices made by Aregbesola, they were about critical issues of development in Osun State and not religion. But as I also assured the governor in the course of our telephone conversation last weekend, I have nothing personal against him even as I feel reassured by his explanation on the Hijab crisis. I therefore hope that the Christian leaders in Osun State will be true to their calling by embracing dialogue while seeking to resolve whatever differences they have with the authorities on the issue.
However, we must come back to Cyprian because he helps us with a better understanding of our country and some of the problems we now grapple with. It is evident that the average Nigerian has a special God of his/her own invention that is different from the One we know from the Bible and Quran: It is one that demands no accountability from worshippers. For instance, in September 2014, four armed robbery suspects (three men and one woman–two Christians and two Muslims) were paraded in Lagos. Asked whether they ever used charms, one of them replied: “We don’t use charms but what we do before any operation is serious prayers to God. During such a prayer sessions, we usually ask God to protect us and ensure that the only people we rob are sinners.”
Praying before committing a serious crime? Only in Nigeria! Yet, it is that sort of mindset that explains why, despite the fact that no government business is ever conducted in our country without supplication to God to “take control”, personal gains as opposed to public good still drive most outcomes. Interestingly, notwithstanding the mutual antagonism by adherents of the two foremost religions, when it comes to looting public treasuries, there is usually collaboration between and among public officials of both faiths. As an aside, even in the membership of the Cyprian-led criminal gang that allegedly killed Col. Inusa, the two religions are also fairly represented: three Christians and two Muslims!
To the extent that religion plays a crucial part in forming identity and values, the fact that many Nigerians profess God and Godliness is ordinarily a good thing. The challenge is that this profession is not reflected in either the personal character of the ordinary citizen or in our national character as a country. That perhaps explains why my favourite passage in the Bible remains James Chapter Two, Verse 18: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”
Incidentally, one regret I have (though with my long-time friend, Laolu Akande, as spokesman to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, I can still rectify) is that I don’t even know how Aso Rock chapel looks like from inside despite working at the Villa for three years. Since I had my own place of worship where I also had responsibilities, I never had the opportunity to attend any Sunday service at the Villa Chapel even with all the entreaties from Chief Mike Oghiadome. Rather interestingly, from the moment Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became acting President in February 2010, I was bombarded with requests from politicians and businessmen who sought my help in getting them to worship at the Villa!
Indeed, throughout the tenure of President Jonathan, access to the Villa Chapel was almost like getting your name into the Biblical Book of Life. I understand the same thing now happens at the Villa Mosque that was not so popular under my late boss because, when his health was good, he worshiped at the Central Mosque every Friday and when it became bad, he performed his prayers within the Residence.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari observes his Jumaat prayers at the Aso Rock Mosque, I won’t be surprised if politicians who profess Christianity now also perform ablution while lobbying to pray with him every Friday, given the crowd that I hear now throngs the place these days. Obviously, for such people, the object of their worship cannot be the God in heaven. Yet, it is not only a sad story but one that has devoured the very foundations of values across all spheres of our personal lives and our collective destiny as a nation.
All said, I suspect that the politicians who throw up religious controversy periodically are not so naive. They understand that faith holds a deeper grip on the average Nigerian than loyalty to nation or state. To that extent, these periodic crises are deliberately orchestrated diversions to take the attention of the public away from clear and present matters of bad governance: inability to fulfill basic obligations, refusal to render accountability in the use of public resources, lack of capacity to ornate creative solutions to pressing public concerns etc.
The tragedy really is that, as things stand today, if only a tenth of the number of fanatical adherents of the various religious sects who populate our public space stay true to their preachments, Nigeria will not be a better country. Therefore, until we separate the worship of God from the hypocrisy of our leaders, they will continue to impose their greed, incompetence, hate-mongering and bigotry on whatever public space they occupy in the country as the “Will of God” while they divide and conquer us in pursuit of their personal agenda.
800 Days Without Chibok Girls
When on Wednesday, 30th April, 2014, Waziri Adio (current NEITI Executive Secretary) and I left THISDAY editorial Board meeting to join some public-spirited Nigerians to march in the rains over the abduction of the Chibok Girls, we never imagined we would still be on this same issue more than two years after. Unfortunately, yesterday marked exactly 800 days that the girls have been in captivity and despite the Change of government in Abuja, nothing really has changed regarding the fate of those girls.
Yesterday at the Unity Fountain, I joined the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) coalition to mark the day with Mrs Oby Ezekwesili reading a statement she co-signed with Mrs Aisha Yesufu where they raised salient questions. In her remark at the session, Mrs Edith Yassin reminded those present that many people, including those with whom they started BBOG, had moved on. It was very telling indeed that only 26 members were present yesterday.
However, it was Mrs. Aisha Yesufu who has never failed to show up at the Unity Fountain come rain come shine, who spoke in a manner that roused those present. “We have stayed here for more than two years and only one of our girls has been found yet it seems as if the world has moved on. One can conclude that the Nigerian authorities have definitely moved on. But we cannot move on for as long as those girls remain in captivity”, Mrs Yesufu said before she added: “I am sure if it was one of those elite schools in Abuja that was attacked by Boko Haram with the children carried away, the Nigerian government would have moved with all its might to rescue them. But because the Chibok girls come from poor parents, even though they are hardworking Nigerians, we have failed them in their time of distress.”
Mrs. Yesufu said what the handling by the authorities of the abduction of the Chibok girls has demonstrated is that some Nigerians are more important than the others “yet those we actually count important are mostly people who should hide their heads in shame”. She also narrated some of the experiences of Chibok parents that had visited their sit-out. “In this same place, we heard a Chibok father who said his daughter was home because of N300 for which he had to work hard before sending her back to school only to hear the next day that she had been abducted. He expressed his guilt for sending his daughter to school, as if he did the wrong thing. I also remember one of the Chibok mothers who told us here that her daughter would always come back from school to say with her education, she would one day wipe away her tears not knowing that it was that same education she was seeking that would give her (the mother) tears,” said Mrs Yesufu.
Notwithstanding the solemnity of the occasion, if there was one thing I took away from yesterday’s session of the BBOG in Abuja, it is that until the Nigerian authorities can successfully account for each of those remaining 218 Chibok girls, the tragedy will remain an open sore for our country. But we must nonetheless thank God for the tenacity of the BBOG members who keep sacrificing their time and energy on a very noble cause. They remind us every day that Nigerians are neither lacking in humanity and compassion nor is our country as divided as we are often made to believe.