The fragmentation within the elite crust took what many would regard as its most frightening turn Friday with the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) declaring at a press conference that the “Arrest of Danjuma or Obasanjo or Gowon for that matter is arrest of ALL Christian leaders in the country”, followed by the assertion that Obasanjo whom they said was an agent of Islamic jihadists each of the two times he was president of Nigeria “now knows better and, in his old age, like those of us in NCEF, wants to make peace with other “passengers” in and outside the departure lounge to eternity”. This is the first time anybody or group would associate Obasanjo with what might look like taking any side of Nigeria’s multiple sides in their endless contest over what Nigeria might mean. He has always insisted on ONE Nigeria and, by implication, uncompromising on united Nigeria.
The NCEF has of recent been very vocal on national affairs but never before has it gone as full blast as this time in detailing evidence of its own contention that the president is up to stealth Jihadism. Not only is this in its claim that even the Vice-President and Minister of Agriculture’s association with specific policies of the government is merely giving a Christian face to Jihadism, it is even more so with NCEF’s agreement with General Obasanjo’s recent alarm that the government of the day is after him as well as the halting of General Yakubu Danjuma from travelling out of the country.
Declaring its discourse as promotional of discussion and debates, the NCEF, however, argues that Nigeria’s problems can be reduced to the least common denomination of Democracy versus Sharia, a binary construct with implications as every other binaries.
Coming from elements who have been the key players in the Nigerian story since 1966, there can be no dismissing this discourse and its many implications for Nigeria’s future. It is, however, still not that clear what is at stake. In particular, why some of the elements being mentioned to be targeted by the regime were also some of the interests that assisted General Buhari to come to power in 2015. Certainly, both Obasanjo and General Danjuma did. Is it possible they didn’t know Buhari enough as to anticipate the scenario they are now talking about? The press conference ended with “God Bless Nigeria”. The implication is that the NCEF is all for Nigeria being one. It would then imply that the defeat of Buhari, who is seen as the ultimate practitioner of stealth Jihadism is the key issue at stake. If that’s correct, what happens to those Muslims who are even more desirous of seeing to Buhari’s back, even more than some Christians? Why is it not possible to frame this battle as those for and those against Buhari which is much easier to handle?
These are probably areas that more reactions from an untypically diverse Nigeria may clarify on this press conference. Many would say that an uneasy calm has descended on Nigeria and at a time when there are few neutral actors with the moral authority to calm a deeply divided society as Nigeria. This is aggravated by the observable narrowness of the social base of the government in power as well as of the ruling party, aggravated by the quality of intellectual filtering in the communication of presidential powers. Above all, The Presidency in Nigeria today is far from anything close to the ideals of ‘The Rhetorical Presidency’ as an intervention in itself. Instead, the Presidency itself is saying the president is set to make history, a very dangerous self-narration since there is no one meaning of history. As one man’s history can be another man’s non-history, such regime self-representations provide its critics perfect evidence for linking the president with fundamentalist reasoning.
In the text of a Press Conference held at the National Christian Centre, Abuja Friday, the NCEF declares its intention to work with those it calls ordinary Nigerians to improve on the country’s political leadership that Democracy is the future for Nigeria. “There should be no violence, but only dialogue, conducted only in truth and reconciliation, without bitterness so that with God’s grace, Nigeria may become one indivisible and united Nation under God”. It, however, offers a strictly religious reading of the President Muhammadu Buhari regime, framing everything about the Buhari regime to be stealth Jihad, making the June 12 revivalism as its entry point. Although the elders said they are joining millions of Nigerians at home and in the Diaspora to congratulate the Moshood Abiola family, the Gani Fawehinmi family and the Yoruba race for the posthumous award of the highest national honors of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR) to Moshood Abiola and the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON) to Gani Fawehinmi, they nevertheless stand by the argument that it fitted into Jihadism even as the Abiola family had said that the June 12, 2018 apology to the family and conferment of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic on the martyr have brought healing to Nigeria.
NCEF’s counter-argument is that if it were not so, Prof Humphrey Nwosu who, as Chair as of the National Electoral Commission, (NEC) that conducted what it calls the freest election in Nigerian history would have been among those recognised on June 12 hail of recognitions. That was not done because, according to the elders, it was staged for Muslims, reinforcing a cycle of the annulment itself as an action carried out by a regime headed by a Muslim and its ‘revalidation’ also an action by a different regime but headed by a Muslim. What this suggests is that the Christian elders made up of military officers who were key players in those days do not reckon much with the historical feud between General Babangida and General Buhari, all of them Muslims.
The NCEF press conference text was signed by Solomon Asemota, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN) as the Chairman but also includes Prof. Joseph Otubu, Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro (rtd), Archbishop Magnus Atilade, Dr. (Mrs) Kate Okpareke, Dr. Ayo Abifarin, Gen. Zamani Lekwot (rtd), Elder Moses Ihonde, Elder Nat Okoro, Gen. T. Y. Danjuma, Elder Matthew Owojaiye, Kalajine Anigbogu (rtd), Elder Shyngle Wigwe, DIG P. L. Dabup, Sir John W. Bagu, Dr. Saleh Hussaini, Elder Mike Orobator, Justice James Ogebe, JSC (rtd), Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chief Debo Omotosho, Dame Priscilla Kuye, Dr. S. D. Gani, Mrs. Osaretin Demuren, Prof. Yussuf Turaki, Pastor Bosun Emmanuel (Secretary)
In its view, the awards did not fully comply with the provisions of the law as has been argued by Hon. Justice Alfa Belgore, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria. “Those of us that rejoice at this award hope and pray that this gesture is not another form of stealth jihad, a repetition of the events of June 12, 1993 when the election was annulled”, said the elders who are bickering that the Muslim identity of all those granted the 2018 National Honors, including Baba Gana Kingibe, not only put Muslims in Nigeria in the forefront of championing democracy in the country but a confirmation of President Buhari’s religious insensitivity and discrimination in a multicultural and multi-religious society. It expresses discomfort with such impression on the ground that Sunni Muslims in Nigeria have not hidden their preference for Sharia, alleging that President Buhari is their leader in the demand for Sharia on account of having said previously that Sharia, not democracy, is mandatory for Muslims in Nigeria.
Canvassing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for total healing instead, it held the sentencing to 14 years imprisonment for corruption and money laundering of Joshua Dariye, the former governor of Plateau State on June 12, 2018, as selective prosecution, framing it to June 12, 2018 as a day for honouring Muslims but a day for throwing a Christian to jail. Similarly, it does not see the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) as an impartial crime fighter but a prosecuting arm of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI). Still citing Dariye’s case to prove its standpoint, the NCEF is wondering why a named Muslim governor with the same charge sheet has not been prosecuted earlier or at the same speed with Dariye, extending similar analysis to the case of Alex Badeh and Abdullahi Dikko, former Christian and Muslim heads of the armed forces and Nigeria Customs respectively.
It takes apart the Muslim/Muslim framing of the Abiola/Kingibe ticket in the fateful 1993 contest in favour of South (Abiola), North (Kingibe) construct, speculating how June 12 did not materialise mainly because Abiola, though a Muslim, was not of the Sunni sect, but of the sect that accepts Democracy and Sharia in parts.
NCEF is drawing attention to what it says is an unbridled desire of Islamists to remain in power in Nigeria primarily to promote Sharia, warning against attempt by anyone to forestall a change in group hold on power via a strategy such as staging a coup in the aftermath of its belief that the current regime is a failure “on all parameters of governance” and cannot scale through a free and fair Democratic process. “Democracy must triumph in Nigeria”, it insists, a clarion call it says has two sides: Those who are prepared to confront and resist evil versus those who are prepared to appease and profit from evil.
According to the text, the elders in the Christian Elders Forum, individually and collectively decided to come together to find out the reasons for the sudden and drastic polarization of the country along several divides. “With the benefit of hindsight, the NCEF can now affirm without any fear of contradiction, that the 1975 coup (and other preceding coups), were jihad, promoted for the Islamization of Nigeria for Sharia to replace democracy by the Islamists who now see elections (not democracy) as a means of transferring power to the Islamists”, said the NCEF which is arguing that Islamists cannot go beyond participating in election on the ground that the legislature is unacceptable to them.
Distancing itself or its frameworks from hate speeches but what it says are embodied in Quran, the NCEF is arguing that Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen are conducting jihad against non-Islamists – Christians, traditional worshippers and non-Islamists Muslims in Nigeria, citing Imam Abubakar Shekarau’s statement that Boko Haram was “at war with Christians” and hence the readiness of its fighters to continue to kill and be killed as martyrs as an evidence. It emphasises the correctness of previous statements by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, former president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); General T.Y. Danjuma repetition of same five years later as the correctness of its own interpretation of the insecurity scenario in contemporary Nigeria as ethnic cleansing against Christians. NCEF points at Professor Wole Soyinka’s May st1, 2018 proposal to President Buhari on how to stop Nigeria from sinking by giving “a marching order to all land usurpers across the country who are occupying forcefully acquired land, 48 hours to vacate the land” which it said the government has ignored.