Only external bodies like UN and US can stop killing of Christians in Nigeria –Mamza, Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese – Punch Newspapers
In this interview with Hindi Livinus, the Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese, Most Reverend Stephen Dami Mamza, talks about killings in the Middle-belt and what to do to stop them
President Muhammadu Buhari visited Plateau State recently over the killings in that state, how do you see the visit?
I would say that the visit was for political reasons. I didn’t also see anything to show seriousness on his own part to end the killings, which is the concern of all Nigerians. Because he said during the visit that people should not blame him for the killings, but then, who should we blame? Who is in charge of the security of the country? The security is in his hands, he appointed the security chiefs. So if there is any security issue anywhere, the President should be blamed because the buck stops at his desk. Nobody expects him to take a gun to defend the people, because he has his lieutenants; those he appointed in charge of security, to secure the people who I must say have failed to do that. So we have every reason to blame the President. And this is not just about blaming the President for the insecurity only, but blaming him over what we are seeing now, which is a clear case of ethnic cleansing.
I think the minority tribes in the North, the Middle-belt and the North East are under threat of extermination. Because it seems there’s a deliberate plan to completely eliminate the minority tribes and unfortunately again for us Christians, most of the minority tribes are Christians. So indirectly, it is Christians that are being eliminated. Christians are the ones that are being killed. So all those killed in Plateau are 100 per cent Christians, and we are talking about more than a hundred people being killed.
What is important is not the number of people that have been killed but the fact that human beings were killed. Even if it is one person that had been killed, the life of that person means a lot to the family, to the community and also to Nigeria as a whole.
What are your fears given that the killings have been unrelenting, and likely to disempower the people because they are displaced from their lands?
My fear now is that the livelihood of Christians is completely being taken over, their lands are being occupied and even the few that are spared cannot go out to their farms for fear of being attacked.
Definitely, there’s going to be hunger in the future, and majority that will be affected will be Christians. And as a matter of fact, these killings that are taking place are worst than Boko Haram. Unfortunately, it is not that the killers are not known. The unknown gunmen are now known and it is very clear they are the Fulani herdsmen. After all, Miyetti-Allah has already claimed responsibility and they explained the reasons for this attack. Why can’t government go after Miyetti-Allah officials?
So, these killers are known. In Plateau, in Barkin-Ladi one of those young men who lost his wife and children and also his parents, he was shown on television, calling the names of the attackers, whom he said were Fulani living close to them. So it is not a question of unknown gunmen, but armed Fulani herdsmen who are known by the communities
So if they say they are setting up a committee to go and investigate, investigate for what? They are known already and if they are known, then if the government is serious, the government should go after them.
Do you have reason to feel that certain powerful forces are pushing to stoke up a religious war, perhaps to create instability?
In a situation whereby more than 90 per cent of your security chiefs are of the same religion, something is wrong. It is religious because they are from the same religious faith. The Chief of Army staff is a Muslim, the Police IG is a Muslim, the Chief of Air staff is a Muslim, the head of the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corp is a Muslim, Immigration, Customs apart from the Navy are all Muslims. Where does a Christian go to, we feel we are not being protected. If my life is in danger and all those who are sent to come and protect me are Muslims, would I have confidence in them? Would I trust them, with what is happening now? A situation whereby more than 90 per cent of security chiefs are Muslims. Then something must be wrong. They must have an agenda to implement and carry out. They have a plan.
If the killings of Christians continue, unhindered, is a religious war inevitable with the reprisals we are witnessing?
Already, there is war in the land. But the worst war that could ever happen in a country is religious war which we don’t pray for because nobody will actually benefit from that kind of a thing. We just hope that the killings will stop and not worsen. But again, if the government does not take its responsibility seriously, it can lead to worst war. And the worst war will be the religious war. And the way things are going on, there are clear indications that people are feeling that they are not being protected and they are not being secured. And we have many instances whereby impending attacks are known and even 24 hours prior to such attacks, you call on the security agencies and they would not come immediately. They would only come when the havoc has already been committed. It is really very unfortunate the way things are going on.
The general elections are just few months away, what do you think the atmosphere of insecurity is likely to be on the preparations towards 2019 elections?
I doubt if we are going to have peaceful elections in 2019. I doubt this very much. It is very clear from the violence that is taking place now. I wonder if we will have a free, fair and peaceful election. Because there are so many indications, unless something serious happens. I think we really need the intervention of international communities, to intervene in what is happening in the country now. The UN needs to intervene and tell the government and those in government that they should do the right thing. Because it is their failure to do the right things that is responsible for the blood-letting where human beings are being killed in high numbers in the country.
Are you saying only the international community can halt the killings in the country?
Yes, I think the saving grace for Christians at the moment should be the international community. The UN and the US and other countries that really respect human lives. I think they need to intervene. Not only to protect Christians but also to protect every life in Nigeria. The lives to be protected at the end of the day will not only be those of Christians but the lives of other Nigerians. I think we need to hear them speak before it gets too late. Because that is how it started in Rwanda and we don’t want the experience of Rwanda to take place in Nigeria.
What then will be your call to Mr. President?
My call to Mr. President is simple and this is the call people have been making since last year. His service chiefs are incompetent; therefore, he should sack them and appoint competent people. And he should put aside religious and tribal sentiments in his appointment of those to manage the security of this country.
Since you have called for the sacking of the service chiefs, do you also think the state is complicit since the insecurity and killings have continued for too long?
I think everybody is talking about restructuring now, I heard the President saying in the media that those calling for restructuring have personal agenda or something personal to gain from restructuring. Well, if he calls it personal gain, if it is something that is going to be for the good of the country, then every Nigerian would gain from it. Why should it not be done? Why should everybody be calling for restructuring and only him is saying no to restructuring?
Everybody is saying that restructuring is the best solution for this country. It is the best thing that can happen to this country, so that all these injustices that are taking place will not happen. But Mr. President is against it. I think Nigerians should continue to pile pressure on him for restructuring to take place. And if restructuring takes place, I am sure what we are experiencing will not be experienced. The issue of injustice will not be as much as we are experiencing now. Because a call for restructuring is a call for justice to be done in this country. At the moment, there are people that are always gaining something from what is happening in this country. In this country, what is happening now is just like “monkey de work baboon de chop.” Now, we want both monkey and baboon to work and chop at the same time.
On the call for restructuring, are you calling for state policing or for the states to be in control of state security?
Yes, the issue of state police that people are talking about, it has its advantages and disadvantages. But one has to weigh which one is stronger. We know that if we have state police, some state governors might take advantage and misuse it. But again which one is better, which is lesser, if it is the issue of taking advantage and misusing it, I think that is not enough reason to say that restructuring should not take place. If you call any governor when there’s crisis, the governor has no command over the military or the police. So he cannot quell the crisis, except the police or the military gets command from Abuja, or from the zonal headquarters of the security outfit. But in a situation where there’s restructuring, a governor can give command and action can be taken. As a result, many governors are complaining that they are just mere chief security officers in their states but they don’t have power to command, either the police or the military.
In your state here in Adamawa, you have been at the forefront of clamour for continuous voter registration exercise to be carried out in the insurgency hit areas like Michika and Madagali, how is the exercise proceeding?
I think at the moment, I understand that they have actually started the voter registration exercise there. They have gone to some wards in Michika L.G.A. But there are still some wards that they have not gone to up till now. There are thousands of people who are yet to be registered, because a lot of the people as a result of the insurgency lost their voter cards. So there is need for INEC to send more machines in order to register people, so that they would be able to get their voter cards. INEC really needs to double up its efforts in order to ensure more people are registered for the 2019 elections.
Adamawa also has not been spared in the farmers-herders conflict, what is your assessment of the security situation in Adamawa?
Southern Adamawa has been under pressure especially Numan and Demsa. A few days ago, half of Bare community was completely destroyed and razed to rubbles by the Fulani people. The sad thing about the attacks is that every day, before the attacks, the people kept on telling security agencies that these people, their attackers were coming. And a few days ago, the invaders came and they called the security, but nobody went there. Security only reached there after everything had been burnt and destroyed; when the Fulani people had already left. I also learnt that some youths who were arrested by the military were caught setting Fulani settlements on fire. But those that came to destroy Mbula and Bachama lands are nowhere to be found.
What did they find on the youths? Only machete and cutlasses. On the issue of insecurity in this country, the issue of taking side is very clear when it comes to protection of lives and property in Southern Adamawa. There are those that if something happens to them, you will see quick response from the security. But the larger community, the locals, are the ones that people from outside come to attack. And when the security agencies come after the havoc has been done, they still arrest the locals and take them away. The thing is, is it that the security is overwhelmed? But I don’t think so, they are not overwhelmed because this crisis is only affecting one part of the state. Even at the national level, we have not heard much being said about what is happening in Numan, Demsa and Lamurde. We only heard what happened to Jos, now, but Adamawa is completely left out.
But just three days ago, last week, 21 people were killed in Demsa and yesterday again, some people were also killed. We have not heard any statement from the state government and there are no efforts from the Federal Government to make sure that this killings stop. The people of Southern Adamawa went and demonstrated in Abuja, the other time. I thought that the government must have got the signal. But up till now, government is giving a deaf ear, and looking the other way, instead of facing the reality and solving the crisis in Adamawa, particularly in Southern Adamawa.
The Southern Adamawa crisis you mentioned involving Numan, Demsa and Lamurde, is it a case of security intimidation?
Yes, the other time, the military said that if they catch anybody even with a cutlass, they would shoot the person. The other time the military went into a particular village and disarmed the people. Less than two hours after, armed Fulani herdsmen invaded the village and killed many people and also burned the village. It is very difficult to put aside the fact that security agents are not taking sides in the clashes going on in the country.
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