Abraham Olatokunbo in this interview with the Reverend Emmanuel Morris, Bishop of Anglican Communion, Nigeria, Maiduguri Diocese, takes the cleric round the state; excerpts…
Can you please shed more light on Anglican Communion as a Church?
Anglican Church as it were is not just an institution that is taking care of only the spiritual live of its people alone, but also an institution that takes care of the people in the entire community or the society. So even Anglican Church from the Church of England, has been relating with the state directly. I was told you people (media) had a cordial relationship with my predecessor, Late Most Reverend Bishop Emmanuel Kana Mani, I assure you that the relationship will not stop, it will continue with me. And it will interest you to know that we have respect for the media, because you are the ones that carry our messages out, particularly in the context of peace and harmony. And to me as an Ambassador of peace, I will work with you more than you expected. The Bishop itself is an institution that has to do with the community, and I promise you that we will continue to work together to ensure peace and progress of our dear state Borno and the country as a whole.
How long have you been in Borno State?
I came into the state last year, precisely on the 22nd October, 2017, but then, I have been seeing a lot of improvement, although I came at a time when there was a relative peace, but the peace has continued to improve. We actually have been seeing a lot of improvement in peace.
So which area do you think the state government needs to improve upon in order to impact positively on the lives of its people, especially the vulnerable groups in the society?
Well, what I want people to understand is that, let everybody be in the direction of peace, let us understand that something has gone wrong, not necessarily condemning one and other or shifting blames, but let us identify where our problem is and solve it. And to the insurgents, we must have a campaign to appeal to them to lay down their arms, because, killings and destruction of properties of innocent citizenry is not the ideal thing to any person, and so we are appealing to the insurgents to drop their arms and join us in the path of peace.
They are our brothers and sisters, and so, as we have been living peacefully together, let us continue to live in peace, that is my candid appeal to everybody, because peace is a necessity. So I repeat, this is my cry and appeal to everybody.
Then my appeal to people that might have been hurt in the course of this insurgency is to open up a kind of forgiveness, let us put behind what has happened and let us forge ahead, because without forgiveness, we can never progress, and so, we need absolute peace.
You said you came into the state last year, you must have visited some places with a message of peace, which places have you been to?
I have been to all important places in the state. I went to see the General Officer Commanding (GOC) 7 Division under the Theatre Command of Operation Lafiya Dole; I have visited the Theatre Commander with the commissioner of police, I have been to Customs, Immigration, Civil Defense, I have also visited the Shehu of Borno where we met with other traditional rulers etc, and it is the same message I have been passing across, the need to be peaceful. In fact, the first message on the Day of my enthronement was titled “Peace is the pillar of live”, and so, that is the most important thing we should do in the society.
When we talk about peace, we are not talking about religion. In Islam they say Asallamalaikum, what does that mean? In Christianity we say “peace be unto you”, what does that mean or suggest to us? And in Judaism they say “Shalom” which is peace, so peace is a concept of life and not that something which is attracted to religion, but a concept of life that has to do with humanity.
And even as a Muslim, if you are to say Assalam alaikum, is not only to your fellow Muslim, is to anybody you see around you that such person should have peace, meaning you are praying for that person to have peace and you want him/her to exist. So the same thing in these religions that I have mentioned earlier, peace is something that is very very important, and honesty, I must tell you that I am really impressed when I came to Borno State and I saw both Muslims and Christians goes to the same fueling stations, recreation centres, markets, we use the same highways, we eat food in the same restaurants, we use the same hotels, banks, we do almost everything together. And so, how can you wake up and tell me that Borno is not peaceful.
This state has been a peaceful state until 2009 or thereabout when the issue of Boko Haram came up, so let us identify that something has gone wrong and let us address it irrespective of religion, ethnic or political inclination, let us see ourselves as our brother’s keepers, you are a Media man, and when we go into history, the first three places of worship that were burnt were Churches, right?, but the last three places that were burnt down were Mosque, you realize that, so this insurgency crisis affected both Muslim and Christians. So it is something that has come to disorganize us, and we should understand that and try to nip it in the bud collectively.
You were watching at a distance the Boko Haram scenario as it unfolded in the past, now that you are in Borno, how would you describe the efforts of the government particularly with regard to taking care of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)?
Let us put politics aside and analyze things as they were. When I came on board, I discovered that the governor, Kashim Shettima and the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Ibn Garbai Elkanemi are doing their best. Regrettably, when you are outside Borno State, you will be thinking that the state is a No-Go-Area, but when I came here, I discovered that shops and business places remained open from 6am to 10pm every day and night. I really want to commend the efforts of the governor because I have always been seeing the street lights are on from 6pm to 6am daily, keeping everywhere bright to the extent that even if you are driving in the night in Maiduguri metropolis and Jere Local Government Area, you will not bother to switch on your headlight as everywhere is bright, and that is also part of the security itself, because, if something is happening, you will see everywhere, so I really commend the government of the day for doing that.
Even though, they should not relent in their efforts, they must find some new ideologies also to calm the situation absolutely with assistance from our gallant troops and other security agencies.
This is because, as I speak, there are still some bombings and soft target attacks on the outskirt of the metropolis which is not good to all of us, more especially places like Gwoza, Bama, Abadam Local Government Areas still experience these soft target attacks. Therefore government and our security forces should do the needful to ensure that all our villages and communities are safe for IDPs return.
Are you aware that the state government has started rebuilding all the communities hitherto destroyed by insurgents for IDPs to return home?
Yes, I am quite aware that not only individuals houses, but Churches were built and rebuilt, so also some Mosques that were destroyed during the heat of the crisis. So it is a good thing in the right direction that will help the people to recover their normal lives, and that is what democracy is all about.
But ordinarily, is the Government supposed to be involved in building Churches or Mosques as places of worship?
Who told you? Government is supposed to be involved directly. Churches and Mosques are public buildings. This is what we call government building, school is a public building, Church or Mosque is a public building, and if government has the resources should assist in rebuilding places of worship that were destroyed.
It is a right thing in the right direction with what government is doing in its rebuilding process, because number one, the people don’t have the resources as their economy has been destroyed, their homes have been destroyed and they don’t have anywhere to live and worship, and so, it is good thing that the governor, Kashim Shettima is doing as government in the rebuilding processes.
The people are also and always praying for the progress and development of the state, just like the government itself, so you cannot say that the people whose places of worship have been destroyed should not have them rebuilt by a responsible government.
What is your take on the issue of Herdsmen and Farmers clashes in some parts of this country?
Let me say something about the herdsmen thing, you know I have mixed feelings when they say herdsmen. When we are to talk about herdsmen, please let us define what is herdsmen in the Nigerian context. Do we really know that those people are actually herdsmen or they are something else.
Herdsmen in the early Nigerian context are Fulani people that carry sticks and follow their cows and control them, not even to touch the cows or any person with the sticks.
But in this case, when you saw a so called herdsman carrying AK47 rifles and you call them herdsmen, is it because you see them rearing cows that you qualified them to be herdsmen?
Well you may be right to call them herdsmen when you see them with cows around, but what will you call them again when you see them carrying AK47, So we must define that to really know how we talk about these people as herdsmen and so on or so forth, I am not saying that those people perpetrating such evils were herdsmen or not, but let us define them in the Nigerian context.
So are you trying to say the issue of herdsmen has no any religious connotation, and what do you want the government to do about it?
You see when some people talk about herdsmen and relate it to religion, this is very unfortunate. I don’t think the issue of herdsmen has anything to do with religion or politics. Because I was been told realiably that the local herdsmen that have been existing before can even go to other herdsmen, carries their cows and add to their own and move away with it, and remember, all of them are in the same religion. So we cannot typically say it is a religious issue. Although, some people will manufacture it to mean something else, but we are talking critically about what is happening nowadays.
So these people are different types of people which have some motives that we have to sit down and look at it in another dimension. But definitely, I strongly condemn whatever has to do with killings, Church cannot support that with all ramification, so the killings that are going on, whether the farmers are killing the herdsmen, or the herdsmen are the ones killing the farmers, it is unacceptable, because killing is barbaric, it is evil, it is not only wrong, but it is a sin, and it is not supposed to be. As it is written in the Bible clearly in Exodus 20: That “Thou shall not kill, so I condemn that in totality.
What is your advice to the government of Nigeria as regards these killings?
Well, it depends, but I want to advise government at all levels to live up to their responsibilities in protecting lives and property of its citizenry, let them come up to do what they are expected to do. The duty of very government in every country or state is to protect lives and property of its citizens. So let the government wake up from its slumber and find a way of protecting its people to see that the farmers are adequately protected from the herdsmen attacks or the herdsmen in terms of retaliation. Government must be in between and stop this madness.
What is your take on the government’s decision to have cattle colonies?
Well, if I may ask, how have we been living before? We have been living with herdsmen in peace before; let us go back to the traditional way of living. We have been living with Fulani and herdsmen every day or every time. You see, let us say the realistic thing here, we need the cattles too, you understand, these farmers also eat meat, is that not true? And the herdsmen also eat food. So the issue is that, it is just a matter of understanding. Is it the first time we are seeing a herdsman, we have been living together as I said. Herdsmen have been in Nigeria for ages and we have been living together, so let us go back to the old tradition, where you see people are farming and the herdsmen are busy, also controlling and grazing their animals in the same environment without chaos.
Coming back to Borno State, how can you describe the relationship between the government and the Christian Communities in particular?
It is very very cordial. We don’t have any problem with the present governor. Honestly, since I came on board, I have been looking for the opportunity to meet with the governor and commend his foresight and doggedness. We as a Church and people have not seen anything in the governor discriminating. I have the believe that I will one day meet with the governor and commend him indeed, especially the roles he played during the burial of my late predecessor, Bishop Kana Mani.
You said you want to meet with the governor, which area do you want the governor to partner with you whenever you see him?
I will help the governor particularly in the area of peace. I am an ambassador of peace and I have the duty to preach and advocate for peace, I can also continue to talk to the Muslim and Christian Communities the need to live in peace. I am a leader, and I am not here only for Christians, my position as a Bishop is an Institution that has influence on the society.
Many people come into this Bishop’s court, both Muslims and Christians put together, they use to come here and we talk, so we can help the governor or the government by promoting peace and religions harmony within the society we operate. The government can also help us in terms of keeping to their promises.
You know it is another thing for the Bishop to tell the people that the governor will do this for you, and when the governor did not do it. It becomes something else, do you understand?
And so, the government has to also look at the plights of the people, not just Muslims or Christians, but people who are existing, government should also assist us by giving everybody the opportunity to practice his/her religion without hindrance or policies that can affect one religion or the other.
The issue of saying that people should not go to Mosque or Church because of insecurity should not arise, because the people are always praying for peace and the government to succeed.
So in another sense, when we are in the Mosque or Church, we pray and things happen differently, so my appeal to government is to always provide security to its people be it in Mosques or Churches, or any other place of worship.
Though you said you have not met with the governor officially since you came on board, how can you describe the Governor in terms of his person?
The governor I know with my little knowledge and understanding is very gentle and a humble leader. I don’t want to go into politics, but he has been assisting us as a Church, you know that nobody is perfect, because as a leader when you do some aspects, there shall be some other aspects that people would say you have done nothing, so my advice is that as a leader, the governor should try and touch all aspects or human lives in his policies and programmes, as government is a process, let the governed also give their maximum support and cooperation with their leaders.
How can you describe the people of Borno?
The people of Borno from all indications are peaceful people, the State has been a peaceful state, but like I told you the other time, until 2009 when the issue of insurgency came up, But thank God now the state is now witnessing relative peace, may be all the people misunderstood what is Boko Haram, but now that they have understood what Boko Haram is all about, it is good for all and sundry to take the right decision for peace to reign. And for doing that, all of us suppose to denounce what is insurgency or terrorism which are evil.