It is highly regrettable that the controversial Christian clergyman, Johnson Suleiman, of the Omega Fire Ministries International used a sermon at his church at a Sunday service to practically incite violence against Fulani Herdsmen. It was a tit-for-tat statement, not the stuff of Christian preacher. He knew what he was doing, but his remarks might fail the “Brandenburg Test” making them speech offences. In a nation were at least half of the 170 million citizens are very angry but also very helpless about the Fulani Herdsmen problem, the question is how much blame can we ascribe to Suleiman for his unfortunate sermon?
Suleiman’s anger is not new, though. Delta State Assemblyman, Hon Evan Ivwurie, became a hero to many Deltans when he went searching vehemently and unarmed for marauding Fulani herdsmen troubling residents in the bush in Abraka, Delta State last year. Governor Ayo Fayose’s notoriety turned popularity instantly when declared zero-tolerance towards Fulani herdsmen entering his state for grazing due to their mischief. Such heroes are not rare and have emerged because of the extreme complacency of the government headed by, President Muhammadu Buhari, a Fulani towards the problem.
When the massacres of Christians [men, women, children and the disabled] in Southern Kaduna, Benue State and elsewhere in Nigeria by Muslim Fulani Herdsmen began in early 2014, there were many calls by victims and their sympathisers for help. The first to be called upon was Nigeria’s super pastors and mega evangelists, their general response can be summarised as either total avoidance of the issue, a short prayer or promises to tell the President [Goodluck Jonathan] about it. Over 1000 were brutally slaughtered, and the killings were almost daily going on for months. There was no mainstream media outcry. It did not trend on social media. [#fulaniherdsmen did trend for a while on social media, but it was as specific or useful as #themchopourmoney for corruption]. No principal evangelist or church trumpeted the problem. Even the venerable Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) were silent.
CAN principals were making a serious fortune from the government as ever in the form of spiritual consultancy fees, one-off mega tithes, heaven guaranteeing charitable donations and national peace money. CAN principals were keen recipients of Nigeria’s “national cake”, yes stolen federal funds. We must not forget that the general elections were less than a year away at the time of the Southern Kaduna Massacres, the time Nigerian politicians are incomparably most generous with religious clerics of any religion and native doctors. Such manoeuvres, according to two insiders, bought the silence of the CAN principals.
However, a Southern Kaduna activist also claimed with email receipts of contact to prove it had contacted many media houses to publish stories about the massacre but to no avail. He suspected that certain government officials and influential Fulanis had “bought” the story, meaning that they were giving financial incentives to media houses not to publish the story. It remains astounding that a major media house could receive the emails in question with attachments of photos of the gruesome massacres and not report them as news. The government was missing in action concerning the killings even though there were numerous report to police stations.
December 2016 arrive, and just another regular massacre happens to make the news by mistake. As a reaction, in January 2017, Pastor Suleiman, angered by persistent killings and the accompanying impunity for the perpetrators, gives a tit-for-tat sermon and it makes more important news that the Southern Kaduna Massacres and all the other massacres themselves. Suleiman as wrong as he spoke up for countless millions of angry Nigerians, which does not make it right. Sign of the times? Pastors have come out to condemn him advocating prayer and “turn the other cheek” philosophies. The government has taken action against him [as he is now a security threat to the nation], the mainstream media is brimming with his story, and his singular act is trending on social media. What an irony!
If CAN principals had forgotten “the World”, they decidedly crave but preach against and looked to the plight of their Christian brothers and sister in Southern Kaduna and any other place Christians are being slaughtered within the country. It stands to reason that the massacres might be stopped altogether in 2014 or would have been reduced to a rarity. The Catholic Church complained about the murderous Fulani herdsmen to South Eastern Governors in late 2016 but only after they had kidnapped Rev Fr Emmanuel Dim and shot both Rev Frs Jude Chukwuneke and Jude Ezeokana in Enugu State. Naturally, that got some mainstream media attention.
Pastor Suleiman has had to carry the can for CAN. Suleiman’s sermon no matter how regrettable has elevated the massacres of Christians by Fulani herdsmen to a national priority. The sad thing is that other CAN principals will continue to make a fortune off the silence towards the slaughter of their brethren. At the same time, Suleiman will have to suffer the consequences of his recent notoriety if there are any.
It is well… is it?