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Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), recently held a breakfast meeting with the Christian Press Association of Nigeria (CPAN) tagged ‘Christian Response to Global Persecution’ in Lagos. He fielded questions from journalists. SEYI JOHN SALAU was there. Excerpts:
CAN’s recent visit to the President on election victory generated some controversy among Nigerians; what is your reaction to that?
I led CAN executives to Aso Rock because we do not know where government will fall, and constitutionally when INEC has declared someone winner, that person remains winner until the court rules otherwise, and we cannot wait until that time and open our eyes to allow things get worse and worse. We went to see the President and I told him – since INEC declared you winner we have to accept that, but as you are coming back do things 100 times better than you did before. If you said you have worked on security, we want you to work better 100 times – I think that speaks volume. Number two: we told him to make deliberate effort to reduce unemployment; if you don’t reduce unemployment, kidnapping will not cease. Other violent activities will not cease, because an idle person is a ready tool for violence in Nigeria. If you put the issue of employment top priority and youth can be gainfully employed, you will stop violence. We told the president that you must pay attention to the issue of social welfare, infrastructure must be improved, roads must be repaired; unlimited power to manufacturers: how can you develop? How can investors come when they know that it will cost them extra money to operate in our country than anywhere else?
There have been allegations that CAN as presently constituted has been compromised by politicians. How would you react to this?
Any government knows that CAN will never sell its integrity for a morsel of bread. When I took over, the wall around the ecumenical centre in Abuja had fallen off and there was no money in the coffers. We needed around N23million to put the wall back. Salvation Ministry of Pastor Ibiyeomiye gave us N10million; Redeemed Christian Church of God gave us N8million and the Baptist Convention gave us N10million. We used N23million to put the wall back and put the remaining in the coffers of CAN.
There was a land allocated to us more than 25 years ago at Abuja City Gate. They call it convention ground. The allocation was done when Pope came to Nigeria. One side of the land was given to the Muslims and the other given to Christians. The Muslims developed their own to become hajj camp and that of the Christians was not developed. After sometime, the Muslims encroached on the land belonging to us. They began building a property there. Somebody gave me a hint on this and I moved into action immediately. We wrote to government and we have been assured that action will be taken.
But we got to a stage that the FCT made us to know that we could not recover the land again; that it had been re-allocated. But, they have decided to allocate another place to us, which will be prime and larger than the first one. By the grace of God, the minister of the FCT should by now as I speak sign the land for another portion. I was not the president when it was allocated. But because of our carelessness we lost what belonged to us.
The church and Christians are being persecuted, especially in the North; what is CAN’s position on the persecution of Christians and Nigeria’s membership of OIC?
I was in Washington DC to present our position on the state of persecution of the church in Nigeria. If somebody says we are not being persecuted; why will the government allow a negotiation that will free other Muslim girls and keep the only Christian girl in the group with the Boko Haram abductors? If Boko Haram is not out to exterminate Christians, why did Shekau say he will ensure that Sharia is implemented through the country? They see those of us who are fighting for fairness in the scheme of things as enemies. Those of you who have followed my activities will know that I have been against the membership of Nigeria of OIC. I went to see President Buhari over it and he told me Nigeria’s membership could be challenged. The Christian lawyers who are to provide the briefs have been foot-dragging. They tell me they are still gathering data. I can’t go to the court on my own because I am not a lawyer. In the North, churches can’t get Certificate of Occupancy. When we speak to our people they tell us it is for the state government to act. The problem is that our people in government place political advantage above the spiritual. Christians are not able to defend the faith because they will like to please their principal and retain their job. Our people are more political than the politicians and we know that politics can blind fold. The persecutions from fellow Christians have been relentless. Some even go ahead to say I am a jihadist. What informed this allegation? A church broke into two in my area in Ibadan. They hold their services in the same premises. Every Sunday they would end up with the police because they were always having fracas. As responsible church leaders we had to close down the church until they were able to settle their differences. That is what made some of them go to the media to call me a jihadist. I want to urge you, money is not everything. Your conscience is above any money people can dangle before you. We have few years to spend here on earth. We shall give account of our sojourn here. Have you not seen the son of kings becoming beggars? Many of us were not born with silver spoon. We were born in villages and never thought we would be where we are today. Please be bold enough to say no to any misleading publication. People wrote blackmail against me and sent it to the other faith. The people had to call me and said to me: why do your people behave like this?
Finally, why do most Christians shy away from partisan politics?
The bible says the children of this world are wiser than the children of light. By our background, by our knowledge of the world, we put first the kingdom of God and the affairs of this world appear to be dead to us. Because there is a seeming naivety on un-embracing knowledge that we are supposed to have or our seeming pattern of the things of this world. Number two is doctrinal; the church has been teaching about separation of church and state. The church is apart, the state is the world and you should have nothing to do with the affairs of this world. By that doctrinal background you don’t find many Christians in politics. And the ones you find there are not backed up by the church neither are they sponsored by the church. So, once they get there they didn’t see themselves as representatives of the church. They went as lone rangers that even their own families have rejected, living the part of being separated from the world back to the world. Politics is dirty you must not be there: instead of seeing it as dirty because we have left it for dirty people; we clean people must go there and clean it up. The third aspect is related to the second: the church has failed in discipleship– to prepare people for leadership. When we talk about leadership, we don’t talk about leaders in the world. The time has now come as part of resolution to take the bull by the horns and prepare people for leadership in the world. We have been the architect of our problem that we are experiencing now: I and the CAN Chairman, Oyo State met with the present Oyo State governor. About two weeks to the election; he came to my office in Ibadan and I said the CAN Chairman should follow him. I wanted the CAN Chairman to follow him because I wouldn’t want anybody to misquote me– somebody must be able to say ‘yes I was there, this was what he said’. When he came, I looked him in the face and I told him; those of us you see here, myself and the Chairman, we look for nothing personal from you; what we demand from you is that if the government is taken away from a Muslim who have been here and given to you, you must make us proud. You must be better ten times like Daniel was better ten times than his contemporaries. If you are better ten times, why do we need to be complaining about you, but if you are going to move Oyo State people backward then it’s better for the Muslim to continue; that was what we told him. Number two: we told him, be ready to listen to the church, your constituency, your family; if you don’t listen, that may be the beginning of the end for you. Do not make yourself incommunicado to the church leaders; we must be able to reach you and be reachable to the people you want to govern. Then be accountable by being an accountable governor – you are being given a rear opportunity out of the many qualified people that can even be in this position and perform better.