Gabriel Osu, monsignor and director of communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, speaks to Anthony Akaeze, assistant editor, on a number of issues relating to the Boko Haram insurgency and the costs to the nation. Excerpts:
Newswatch: The Boko Haram insurgency has worsened in the last two years, leaving in its trail, death of innocent Nigerians and destruction of properties. What is your view about the sect’s activities?
Osu: One condemns it so much, because it’s so negative. So far, it’s been killing, killing, bombing, bombing, maiming, maiming, which I don’t think any religion preaches. Apart from that, any normal sane society does not condone that. So, my view is as clear as the clear water. It’s negative and an aberration of the highest order. And we pray and hope, the earlier this trend is arrested, the better for humanity, for us in Nigeria.
Newswatch: Bombing of churches has been one of the tactics of the sect so far. What does it portend for inter-religious relationship?
Osu: Well, it only breaks down, not just law and order, but relationships too. And unfortunately, Nigeria is a cosmopolitan nation, such that, no matter where you are, it’s a mixture of people. Even in some homes, you have a Christian wife and Muslim husband, and vice versa. So, we are so mixed together and interrelated. They say, in unity lies our strength. It’s either we stand together or we fall apart. Instead of religion uniting us, it’s almost turning out to separate us. On religious basis, ethnic basis and cultural basis, the gulf is getting wider and wider. So, when you say what does it portend, that is anarchy. Anarchy, war…The earlier this situation is arrested, the better, because it does not augur well for anybody, and with the religious connotation, it’s terrible. It doesn’t portend anything good but anarchy, danger, problem, hatred.
Newswatch: Do you fear that Nigeria is gradually sliding into religious war?
Osu: If it’s not checked, that is what it may turn out to be. But God forbid. And for God to forbid, it means we must take action. If it’s not checked, that’s what it will turn out to be. You don’t need to be a prophet to foresee that we cannot wait too long with this. Just make an analogy. You are the head of a house. Today, I come in, I kill your wife, they say sorry. Tomorrow, I come in and kill your first son. The next day, I come in and kill your second son. Will you allow him to come and chop off your head? If these actions these people are taking are bad, we want to see the leaders, we want to see people in charge really condemning these actions in words and action, so that the perpetrators will know that these things are not welcome anywhere. That is even one of the warnings of the present Pope. You do not remain silent in the face of danger and destruction, no. You don’t have to be violent to say no, but you have to confront negativism.
Newswatch: I wanted to say that some top Christian leaders have come out to say that Christians have a right to defend themselves in the event of violence.
Osu: Yes. Life is precious. You don’t carelessly lose your life. You don’t create life. Everything must be jealously done to safeguard your life. Christ, yes, said that if they slap you on the right cheek, turn the left cheek. Anyway, the teaching is very clear. All He’s trying to say is that we should, as much as possible, avoid violence. You play the fool. But like I gave you the analogy, you come, you kill my wife, you kill my first son, you kill my second, and third, and you are now gunning for me, and you say I should not defend myself? I must defend myself.
Newswatch: That could escalate the crisis.
Osu: Well…nobody preaches that and I want to chose my words here. Nobody preaches violence. But we all have a right to self defence. Nigeria as a nation cannot remain if people come in from Cotonou and clear our people in Badagry, and you say in the name of diplomacy…no. There must be deterrence and balance of power. You must do everything to protect yourself. Yet, the law of the land is very clear on the issue of crime. Arson, murder, manslaughter, all these things are there, it’s just that nobody is criminally charged. Even to add insult to injury, the people they said they apprehended, is it in Bauchi or Gombe, the prison yard had been broken into and ransacked and everybody ran away. And the authorities are still telling you they are in charge, that they know where they’ve gone, they will fish them out. All the ones before then nobody had been fished out. And you still tell me to go about my normal business that no stone will be left unturned. Forget it brother, they should tell that to the marines. You have right to self defence.
Newswatch: Do you fear that it might get to a point where Christians will be afraid to go to church to worship God?
Osu: As humans, it might happen for some time. But again, if you look at church history, from day one, even during Christ’s time, it has always been like that. What are the hallmarks of the church? The church is one. All over the world, the church is one. Apart from being one, the church is holy. Apart from being holy, it’s apostolic. The Catholic Church, right from Peter to today, we can trace our leaders, up to Benedict xvi. Another one which people don’t like to hear is martyrdom. Persecution has always been part and parcel of the history of the church. Even if heaven will fall…Christ is there to defend the church but martyrdom has always been part of it.
Newswatch: How impressed are you with government’s effort so far to contain the violence?
Osu: From all I’ve said, my answer is clear. I ask you as the journalist, what have they done? They don’t know them, they say, or if they know them, nobody has been caught. Nobody has been sentenced or brought to judgement. They said they caught some people, but how many have been taken to court and brought to justice? Do they even mention those that died, their families? All we just hear is, they are going to dialogue, they are going to dialogue; dialogue is the only answer. Yes, but we’ve never seen any dialogue with any person. You say how impressed am I? I’m not impressed at all, and I believe, many Nigerians, millions too, are not impressed because all they are doing is dancing round the circle.
Newswatch: We’ve seen or heard some people argue that if the government had handled the matter with more seriousness by being more forceful, we won’t be where we are today. Do you share this view?
Osu: I share it, whatever it was, whether force or dialogue. The situation now is like lawlessness at its worst and we are reaping the fruit of it. Anarchy, that’s what we are reaping.
Newswatch: You share the view that poverty led to it?
Osu: It’s one of the things that led to it. Permissiveness also. Things that are not good, things that should be condemned, are condoned. If people are educated on moral ethics, value of life, if their surrounding is good and they eat well, they will value their lives better. But if it’s a sorry case, hopelessness, all it needs is just the slightest provocation and they will begin to chop off people’s heads which is not good at all as it portrays us in a very negative light all over the world.
Newswatch: What about Northern political leaders. Do you think they’ve done enough to arrest the situation?
Osu: No. Even the traditional rulers, who are supposed to be very strong, and the elites of those areas, they appear to be silent. Why, I don’t really know. Maybe it’s fear, so that they are not attacked or bombed. It’s not that they condone whatever is happening, but again, when you have no control, this is what you get.
Newswatch: If you were to offer advice on how to end the cycle of hate and bloodletting, what will it be?
Osu: Ending it won’t be a one day affair, because it’s something that had been planted over 40, 50, 60 years ago. Education matters; when I say education, I mean civic education, ethics, morals.
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