In this interview with GODWIN ISENYO, the Vice-Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria in northern states and Chairman, Kaduna State chapter of the association, Reverend John Hayab, faults the removal of Nigeria from the list of countries violating religious freedom by the US
Recall that the United States of America has removed Nigeria from the list of countries violating religious freedom. What’s your reaction to the development?
I am a Nigerian. I don’t belong to the US. What the US has done is something that we need to know about. All I know is that when I read that statement, two things came into mind. It’s likely that the US Secretary of State wanted to make a statement that would water down whatever tension that existed before his arrival in the country because that thing was not said until a day or two to his arrival. That’s one. Number two. I was among the few Nigerians – five of us—that were selected to meet him for private discussions. I told him that this action was like a patient that has been sent to the hospital for treatment and the patient has not yet recovered but because the doctor does not care about the patient; whether he survives or dies, he just asks the patient to go home and that he had been discharged. Nigeria at this moment cannot be said to have got out of that but because those who are keeping this record as far as I’m concerned, don’t even care whether we live or die; they can take that decision even without doing a proper research into what exactly is happening. I told the Secretary of State that just a day before I met him, I got a video in the night how bandits that kidnapped the 66 worshippers at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Kakau Daji in the Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State killed some Christians. I told him that they took five young men between the ages of 15 to 24 out of those kidnapped(as if they were bringing them to release them) and when they came near home, they opened fire and two of them died instantly. Another died later and we buried them. They forced those who are with them in the bush to make a video. Listen to the words of the video. They are clearly saying they are attacking Christians and that Christians are going to suffer in their hands. How could a country where such a thing is happening and no tangible efforts from government(s) to stop these evil people from tormenting Christians be removed from that list? But as I said earlier, it is simply a case of a medical practitioner who does not really care about you. So, you are the one thinking that he is supposed to care. But as far as he is concerned, you are probably blocking a bed space in his hospital and he wants you to be discharged so that he can admit others. That’s the way I view this decision because the decision is wrong. The decision has no basic facts. And you know sometimes when we talk about this, there is a misconception among Nigerians as if it is Muslims versus Christians. I see what happens to the ‘Shi’ites’ as religious persecution. So, nobody should make it look like Christians versus Muslims because when you meet a non-Christian and he looks at it as if ‘we versus them’. No sir! We are talking about something that’s going on in our country that is wrong; that could affect Muslims, Christians and everybody. We believe that Nigeria should be watched until everybody in Nigeria has the freedom to decide how he practises his faith without molestation.
In other words, the removal of the Nigeria’s name from the list is not justifiable?
It is not justifiable. The situation at the moment does not warrant that. And I have said to you that one of the key mix-ups I find when this matter came up was the lack of understanding even among large percentage of Nigerians as if it was an issue of Christians versus Muslims. No sir! And like I cited example earlier, what happened to ‘Shi’ites’ was religious persecution and there are many religious groups in Nigeria who are being persecuted. Why I can explain that(persecution) of Christians is because I am a Christian and I know what’s happening and when I speak about Christian religious persecution, I’m not speaking from any religious sentiment. I am saying it because I want a country where a Christian in Borno, Kano, Sokoto, Jigawa and Zamfara states, will be respected as a citizen of Nigeria without anybody treating him as just ‘tolerating him’. In fact, I am a bona fide Nigerian.
Today in some parts of the north, if a Christian goes to buy land, they will write on the paper of for the land that ‘you are not to build either a hotel or a church’. Isn’t it an insult for someone to equate my buying of land to building a hotel or a church? What else do you call religious persecution? In Northern Nigeria, Christian children seeking admission into federal universities with good scores(grades), will not be given good courses to study. They will be given courses that are irrelevant. If you like study, if you don’t like go away. Whereas those who have lower scores than them are studying medicine, law. The sin of the other people is not that they don’t pass exam or not qualify but because of their names and faith. I have shared this before because it affected me. My biological child who scored 265 in UTME was not given admission in a federal university in northern Nigeria. Why should my children suffer because I am a Christian? So, this and many others are happening in Nigeria. But you see, the politics of government is something that ours is to take our issues ourselves and fight it. That’s why I keep telling people that I will not be intimidated by anybody in this country because I believe that this country belongs to us and we must not allow some people to believe that we are second fiddle in this country. We must fight to get what rightfully belongs to us. We must fight to show that in this country there’s respect. I will be the last person you accuse of bigotry because if I belong to an institution, they must give Muslim a place to build their mosque.. I could remember, there was time in Kaduna North Local Government where my wife was born and brought up (she doesn’t know any other place than Kaduna North). A lady who from her names and faith, came all the way from Borno State but working in the Kaduna North LGA was to just give my wife who was born and brought up in Ungwan Kudu, Kaduna North, a ‘certificate of indigene’, that lady wrote that she’s a settler but the lady herself came all the way from Borno to live in Kaduna. So, why are people being treated like that?
But we need specific instances of some of these violations in Northern Nigeria
No, I want to speak about my own. What is a violation more than a student who’s grade ‘A’ student in school, who got the best science awards, had the best scores and could not be given admission because of his or her faith. Which other example do you want? I gave another example that I was born and brought up here and somebody who came all the way from Borno to live in Kaduna North is issuing me ‘settlers certificate’. Tell me which example that you want that’s more than that. And I am not talking about other people who told me stories. I am talking about personal experiences.
In the past, in some states of the North, Christians were allegedly denied Certificate of Occupancy to build churches. What’s the situation at the moment?
Nothing has changed. In fact, you will even use your money and buy the land, the day you lay the foundation, it becomes a problem. Let me give you another example. There is a church in the Malali Low Cost in Kaduna.
That church has been in existence for a long time, then, some people came and behaved as if they came there to relax around there but before you knew what was happening, they started building a mosque there. But because of the tension we used to have here, we went to government, we wrote series of letters; we went to the Kaduna State Housing and Development Properties.
Confusion is everywhere. It is glaring that the land does not belong to them but as long as it is a mosque, you dare not touch it. So, these are the kinds of things we face everyday.
How do you think Nigerians can coexist bearing in mind the religious differences in the country?
We can coexist. Our leaders are just deliberately exploiting this thing to suppress fellow citizens. How do we coexist? Every human being has fundamental rights – the rights of the Muslims and those of the Christians are the same right. Give to John what rightfully belongs to John just as you have been giving to Abdullahi what rightly belongs to him. There is a state in this country that will insist that the commissioner of police must never be of another religion. Why should it be so? If an Abdulllahi can be a police commissioner in Delta State, for example, then a James should a commissioner of Police in Kano and anywhere?
What’s your general advice to federal and state governments, especially Northern Governors regarding religious tolerance?
Until we start treating our citizens without looking at religious sentiment; until we start treating our citizens with respect as citizens not because they belong to one faith, our problem will not be solved. I want to challenge Nigerians that if a leader comes and wants to divide us and treat other people as if they don’t belong just because of their faith, we should be able to raise our voices. When ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo came into power and appointed some Christian Middle- belters as Service Chiefs, the complaint all over the North was that they were not”.