Opinion: Osinbajo and angry Christians in Northern Nigeria – By TUNJI AJIBADE
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo made a comment recently that had a religious bent to it. I’m hesitant to comment on it because I’m not a preacher. However, almost every statement a VP makes in the public space has national and political implications, direct or indirect. In any case, nothing is purely religious in Nigeria these days since many use religious affiliation as a political campaign platform. In addition, religious issues sometimes threaten this nation’s unity. So, I think it necessary to take this up.
Osinbajo was speaking at a church event aired on NTA News on August 31, 2018. He captured in religious context something that had struck my mind in a randomised manner for over two decades. What Osinbajo says goes thus: If the same people that Jesus Christ died for; if the same people that white missionaries came to our country to seek and die in the process; if the people that many Christian preachers of Nigerian origin spent their lives to reach are now made enemies by Nigerian Christians, then darkness has descended once more. I know Osinbajo must have offered more explanation regarding this in his unscripted address. But what I paraphrased was all that was aired in less than 10 seconds that time. Even when taken out of religious context, we know darkness is undesirable. When the civil war happened in the 1960s and Nigerians killed one another, that was a period of darkness. When people who have lived together in peace start to hate one another, and it stretches into violence in the name of religious and ethnic differences, it is darkness.
In its religious context, Osinbajo must have meant any situation that makes his fellow Christians hate any human being is darkness. If a Christian hates for any reason whatsoever, then who is his father? For his father is Love. That’s one. Two, Osinbajo talks of descent into darkness with regard to people who engage the ‘us versus them’ narrative, using the Christianity tag as their own distinct non-shareable identity in ways that the Bible doesn’t use it. Three, he must have referred to darkness to mean a situation where people who call themselves Christians start to proudly wear the toga as a means of separating themselves from those who have yet to receive the gospel. The VP was reminding such people that the founder of the faith died for all irrespective of ethnic and religious affiliations. Four, Osinbajo refers to the need to see the Christian faith as a means of drawing others with love, no matter the religion or tribe that others belong to. Thus, he condemned every tendency that’s contrary, a descent into darkness. Five, Osinbajo is saying loving others is light because Jesus calls himself the light of the world, and hating others for any reason at all is a descent into darkness. My understanding is that when a VP talks this way, he’s not just talking religion. He’s promoting peace, using a religious view to help build unity among our peoples. Every nation encourages it, every religion does it, and I will clap for whichever religion encourages unity among our peoples. Reason? If there is no peace, no one can practice as he pleases the religion he professes.
Osinbajo didn’t not mention any specific part of the country in the TV clip of the event where he made his remark. I believe he spoke to Christians everywhere. If I refer to northern Christians in this piece, I do for reasons that I shall explain. I’m sure however that the VP spoke in the manner he did because of a trend he must have noticed in our nation. I notice it too; the tendency for some Christians to freely hate, to withdraw, and see the tag Christianity as an exclusive name to identify themselves as a group. Christians of northern origin are increasingly separating themselves unto themselves, shutting others out, failing to spread the gospel especially through their lifestyle (I’ll give examples). Meanwhile, they display the Christian identity in some of their physical battles that often have political, ethno-cultural and economic connotations. In his remarks, Osinbajo must have been saying all of that pursuit isn’t in the mind of the founder of the Christian faith who said his kingdom is not of this world. Yet, most ‘Christians’ and ‘Christian leaders’ in every part of Nigeria today fall into this error. We see them in the media expressing views that are laden with anger, making inflammatory comments about some supposedly ethnic and religion-informed issues to the extent that one wonders if the blueprint of the faith they profess still guides what they say.
Why did I make that last statement? We see the same struggle over limited resources happening among people of the same ethnic background and faith e.g. the Ife-Modakeke and Umuleri-Aguleri conflicts. We don’t call such religious and ethnic conflicts. But once disagreements break out over land use and related issues in the North, Christian leaders, many of whom know nothing about the North preach from their pulpits about Christians who are being killed because they are Christians. People were killed in Zamfara State in large numbers by bandits a few months ago; no one mentioned that Muslims were being killed because they were Muslims. Not long ago, a prominent Pentecostal church pastor condemned how some specialised in continuously pushing the same old pictures of violent attacks sent to his email box back in 2000 to his box at this time. These pictures supposedly showed Christians being killed en mass in the North. He warned his listeners to watch what they push online in order not to help spread hate and the agenda of those who may be selfishly benefitting from it. It’s sad the violence that happens in some parts of the North, but for the origin of some of them to be continuously taken out of their context of struggle over limited resources is condemnable.
I shall state reasons for zeroing in on Christians who are in the north of Nigeria. For the moment however I cite examples of what I see in the North that make me decide that Osinbajo’s remark is more for people of northern origin who are Christians. The examples cover more than two decades, happen in different parts of the North, among people of different ethnic backgrounds, and at different times. Taken together, they made me come to some kind of conclusion long ago, but which Osinbajo lately expressed in religious context. In order to firmly place attention on the core issues rather than get some overly excited to the point of missing them, I shall not mention names, tribes, or locations.
The following lays the foundation for other examples: A few years ago, and as the farmers-herdsmen armed attacks were ongoing, I attended an event in the North where people from Christian-dominated minority ethnic groups of northern origin were in attendance. A titled servant of God addressed the audience. His address had this unmistakable anger and he sent words to those he said thought they could neutralise Christians from the North. He pointed accusing fingers at those who stated that another religion was the heritage of the people of the part of the state where he came from. “Christianity is our heritage”, he passionately asserted before he left the podium. Some must have understood him. I didn’t. I didn’t because there was this corky, anger-filled, hateful mien and expression of his against ‘those’ he spoke against. It was the kind of attitude, unbecoming of a Christian, that I’m sure Osinbajo had in mind when he made his remark.
To the titled servant of God Christianity is the exclusive heritage of his tribe, their inheritance, no one from outside is welcome. From that perspective, it’s better imagined how he and his people view those who are not of the faith. Meanwhile, the blueprint that this servant of God and his tribesmen have, and from which Osinbajo also spoke, states that the gospel is for mankind, not the exclusive identity of anybody. If the idea of a ‘Christian heritage’ that’s owned by a specific tribe is in the mentality of northern Christians, how excited can they be to take the message of the gospel to those against whom they express hate? Punch