The admission by the federal government that Nigeria has joined the Saudi Arabia backed Islamic anti-terror force is already raising tension in the country. In this piece MIKE ODIAKOSE writes on the imperative of the federal government nipping in the bud a potential source of new strive in the country.
The recent declaration by the presidency that Nigeria has formally joined the 34 countries coalition of Muslim/Arab nations code-named G-34 that will fight ISIS is raising concern that Nigeria has been dragged into the Islamic world as a fully fledged Islamic nation in breach of the nation’s constitution.
This development is coming few weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari said Nigeria would not be joining a Saudi Arabia-led coalition against terrorism and rejected the request by his host and ruler of Saudi Arabia, King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, to join the coalition.
President Buhari had during his recent a week-long visit to Saudi Arabia and Qata pledged Nigeria’s support for the coalition even if it would not be part of it. After congratulating the Saudi Kingdom on the formation of the coalition, Buhari said: “I must thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the recent creation of a coalition to address the menace of international terrorism.
“Nigeria will support your efforts in keeping peace and stopping the spread of terror in your region. This is in consonance with our own commitment and on-going efforts in seeking to stamp out Boko Haram terrorists from the West African sub-region and Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC).”
“Even if we are not a part of it, we support you”, Buhari was quoted in part as telling the Saudi King, Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz.
The news about Nigerian’s participation in the Saudi Arabi-led force was broken by the Nigerian leader himself during an interview with Aljazeera.
When asked whether Nigeria was part of the coalition, Buhari said: “We are part of it because we’ve got terrorists in Nigeria that everybody knows which claim that they are Islamic”.
“So, if there’s an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism, Nigeria will be part of it because we are casualties of Islamic terrorism”, he added.
On whether Nigeria became a member of the coalition during his meeting with King Abdul-Aziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia recently, Buhari answered in the affirmative.
When pressed further during the interview for details of how such coalition would work for Nigeria, the president declined.
But he said: “Well, that we mentioned under Lake Chad Basin Commission, our regional grouping compromising Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin and we dedicated a certain number of troops to be deployed in our own sub-region and I don’t think we have to tell the press the details of that”.
On whether joining the Islamic coalition will serve Nigerian security interest, he said: “Certainly. I’ve just told you it is the Boko Haram itself that declared loyalty to ISIS.
“ISIS is basically based in Islamic countries. Now, if there’s a coalition to fight Islamic terrorism, why can’t Nigeria be part of it, while those that are fighting in Nigeria as Boko Haram claim to be Muslims.”
The Nigerian leader, however, gave assurance that he was trying to change the religious identity of the country, saying: “How can I change the religious identity of Nigeria?
“No religion advocates hurting the innocent and just because the Muslims are the ones that claim to be Boko Haram and they are killing innocent people whether in the church, in the bus or in the market place, then I will just sit and look at them because I too am a Muslim? Islam is against injustice in any form”.
In spite of President Buhari’s assurance that he is not changing the identity of the country into an Ismanic State, the apprehension among the citizens was not allayed as they took to the media to raise alarm over alleged plot to Islamize the country.
Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose spoke the mind of millions of Nigerians in his reaction to report of Nigeria joining the Islamic anti-terror force.
Speaking at the inter–denominational thanksgiving held in Port-Harcourt to celebrate the victory of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike after the supreme court ruling Fayose alleged that: “They have started subtle moves to make Nigeria an Islamic nation, but God will stop them. This was done in 1984, it failed, it would fail again.”
Buttressing his claim, Fayose quipped: “Why did five of them (state governors) go to Saudi Arabia to wait for our man there (referring to President Buhari) if they don’t have agenda?
“The agenda is coming small small, but we will resist it. Nigeria is a free nation where we proclaim the name of Jesus Christ freely, and we believe in Allah for those who are Muslims. This nation will not be taken for an Islamic nation,” Fayose said.
Before this development the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, had earlier kicked against alleged subtle attempt by the Buhari adminstration to join the Muslim/Arab nations to fight the Ismic States, ISIS.
In a statement by its General Secretary, Rev. Musa Asake, on Wednesday night, the Nigerian Christians umbrella body said: “This singular gesture of the Buhari government betrays so much, and tends to confirm our fears that underneath everything this government is doing, there is an agenda with strong Islamic undertones, aimed at undermining Nigeria’s pluralistic character and neutrality regarding government’s affiliation to any one religion”.
CAN admitted there was a need to fight the terror group but was quick to condemn an attempt to brand Nigeria as a Muslim country.
“While joining hands with other countries to fight ISIS is something good, our country must not be tagged as a Muslim or Arab nation. Christians must make a public statement showing their discontent on this development which portends great danger to national unity and integration.”
The concern of Nigerians over alleged Islamization agenda of the Buhari administration prompted the Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyama, to grant an interview with State House correspondents and described terrorism as a global phenomenon, saying Nigeria was ready to support any move to tackle it.
He blamed the media for the anxiety in the country over the way they reported the report of Nigeria’s membership of the Saudi Arabi-sponsored anti-terror force.
He stated: “What I say first of all is that you guys in the media have to be more responsible in the way you present news. First and foremost, get your facts right. It has nothing to do with religion as far as Nigeria is concerned. We’ve to look at what the objective is. We face terror challenges and it’s a global phenomenon.
“Unfortunately, the problem we’ve today is that some of the terrorists groups are claiming some of the things they are doing is in the name of a particular religion and it is clear to everybody that this is not the case which is obviously a concern to people of Islamic faith and Islamic countries that their religion should be so abused.
“So, there is naturally a tendency to show that this has nothing to do with Islam. Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. Islamic countries, Islamic people want to be seen as being in the forefront of the battle against these terrorists to show also that it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. That’s what this is all about. So, we’re supporting every move to achieve this to disabuse people’s minds that some of these terrorists are speaking in the name of Islam or are Islamic or that there’s anything about Islamic teaching that somehow condones these barbaric actions.
“I think it is something we should all get together and we should all support whoever is working towards it. And that is what this coalition is for; to show too that we’re a Muslim country, we’re Muslims and these people do not speak for Islam and have nothing to do with Islam. Most of the victims of these people are Muslims if you look at it. So, that’s what it is. It has nothing to do with Nigeria, Christianity, Islam. I think the media should really get the main message across.”
Political observers are of the view that rather than allaying the apprehension of Nigerians, the Foreign Affairs Minister only compounded the situation by saying that “we’re a Muslim country.” The constitution depicts Nigeria as a secular state and not as a Christian or Muslim country. The country is already facing crisis and challenges on many fronts and the government will do well by not doing anything that will tend to exacerbate the tension in the country.