Boko Haram: What Borno Christians faced under Sheriff, Shettima – CAN Chairman
Bishop Naga Williams Mohammed is Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Borno State and also Secretary of Northern Bishops Incorporated. The Christian leader, who hails from Gwoza, a place once occupied by Boko Haram as Caliphate, spoke on responses of successive Muslim-dominated government to insurgency, among other issues. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: It is rather surprising to see that your surname is ‘Mohammed’. How did that happen?
In Southern Borno generally, it is common to see a family mixed with both Muslims and Christians. My father was a Muslim and my mother was a dedicated Christian. We were living in the same house, eating the same food and sharing the same culture. When it is Christmas, my mum would give money to my dad to buy whatever animal for us to slaughter. The same thing when it was time for Sallah, he would buy a ram for us to slaughter.
DT: As a Bishop, some persons would probably expect you to have dropped the ‘Mohammed’ in your surname…
Someone cannot replace either of his biological parents. Mohammed is my father’s name, he was a Muslim and I cannot replace or change my father, and I am his son.
DT: You talked about religious harmony in your family. How does that experience compare with instances of intolerance all over Nigeria?
In the past, there was absolute tolerance to the extent that you don’t care what the next man’s faith is. In fact, in my mum’s house, she had a kettle which is called ‘Buta’ in Hausa. Muslims use it in performing ablution. While growing up, I was raised to see Muslims from a positive light. All I knew was that Muslims were doing what they were supposed to do, and we Christians were doing what we were supposed to do in terms of worship and coexistence in our communities.
In Southern Borno where most of the Christians in Borno State hail from, most of our families are comprised of Muslims and Christians. I used to know of a family where the father and his six children were Christians, while his three wives were Muslims. And they lived peacefully.
DT: Christians make up a sizeable part of the population in Borno State, but they still constitute a minority. How have state governments been responding to challenges of insurgency faced by Christians in the state?
If you go back to fairly recent history, our first major problem was in February 2006, when a Danish man whom I learnt was not even a Christian, drew a caricature of Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, there was protest here in Maiduguri and Christians received the repercussions. A total of 56 churches were razed down in Borno, and many shops belonging to Christians were destroyed. What struck me most is that there was no compensation from the then government.
Except promises made by then Governor Ali Modu Sheriff. He promised to compensate for all those properties destroyed but to no avail. I was among the Administrative Committee as representative of the Christian community constituted by the then governor. I think only N150,000 was given to each pastor whose entire church was destroyed. At a point, we compiled all the destroyed properties including churches and submitted the report to the state government.
But thank God, in the history of Borno State, there is no governor who has been fair to the Christian community in this State as much as Governor Kashim Shettima. I am saying this in the presence of God Almighty and this is nothing but the truth. I am speaking boldly without fear or favour because as CAN Chairman I do not receive salary or kobo from government or any institution, but the facts need to be told.
For example, when Gwoza people were driven from their ancestral homes, they fled to Maiduguri, and Shettima personally came to CAN Centre in Jerusalem Ward twice. He gave N10 million for their upkeep at first instance, by then the victims were not many. By the end of October 2014, the IDPs from Gwoza increased to 42,000 in that camp alone. He came again and gave another N10 million. He also gave additional N5 million for Christians from Borno who fled to Cameroon to be returned home. He gave another N5 million for non-indigenes who fled to Cameron to come back to Nigeria. He even directed the Borno State Emergency Management Agency to be supplying food directly to the IDPs under the Christian leadership.
DT: Earlier, you said Governor Ali Modu Sheriff didn’t pay any compensation to Christians after the 2006 crisis. Churches and Mosques were destroyed by Boko Haram from 2011 to date under Governor Kashim Shettima. Have any of these churches been rebuilt?
We had a meeting with Governor Shettima on how his administration can come in to assist in rebuilding some of these churches. Last year when he visited Gwoza, Askira-Uba and Chibok Local Government areas for on-the-spot assessment post-destruction. He saw how some of these churches were burnt down to ashes. Some churches were not only razed down, but pulled down completely as if they never existed.
During Shettima’s visit to these areas, he released N100 million for the rebuilding of some of these churches. A committee was set up for that purpose, I am a member of the committee headed by a permanent secretary, Mr. Justus Zare as Chairman, and I am happy to inform you that presently we have used that money to rebuild 11 key churches which our people are now using. I am surprised to hear some people saying why don’t we rebuild all the churches. We cannot do that because there are many places that are still unsafe.
You cannot expect us to go to the Christian communities on the fringes of Sambisa Forest to start rebuilding their destroyed churches.
After the initial N100m, Shettima graciously approved another N105 million for the second phase of rebuilding destroyed churches. This was made possible when CAN officials led by my humble self had a meeting with him on Thursday March 30, 2017 at the Government House. So far, the governor has released N210 million for reconstruction of our burnt churches. He also approved the sponsorship of all our local pastors to participate in the 2017 Jerusalem Pilgrimage.
Shettima’s government has given us the opportunity to run a collective programme on television and radio. We work with the Jama’atul Nasril Islam to sensitize our people on peaceful coexistence. They trust us, we trust them. In fact, it may interest you to know that there was a time I was asked to lead in a Christian prayer at a gathering where we were only three Christians in the midst of many Muslims. This government is bringing harmony between religious leaders through fairness.