By Sylvanus Viashima. Jalingo
Bishop Charles Hammawa is the Catholic Bishop of Jalingo Diocese. In this interview, he warns of a looming religious war in the country and called on the authorities to step up actions to avert it. He lamented on the poor party primaries and expresses fear for 2023 general elections due to a deteriorating security situation in the country.
What do you make of the recent upsurge in attacks on the Faith and allegations of a Jihad in the country?
Obviously, it is a very sad development, it is shameful, annoying and very upsetting and disturbing. It raises so many questions. There is a debate ongoing; some think all these are not religious at all, and others think there is religion and persecution, particularly of Christians. Others also think there is an agenda, a jihad. From the happenings, I won’t blame those who view it as such and I will subscribe to it because these attacks are not sporadic. It is seemingly systematic, well planned and executed and so it is very hard to predict and going by what we hear from the clerics, it’s like they are calling their people to that.
Sometimes when we are supposed to look at issues from economic point of view, they bring in religion there. The recent Taraba issue after the primaries where there is propaganda that ‘we are the majority, so we should have our own’ typically comes to mind. So, you cannot help but think there is a religious undertone to it.
And the attack in Owo, it’s not an individual targeted or a community, they went straight to a church to do that. Why will someone not think there is a religious persecution? And I don’t understand why religion should be a cause for fighting among people. If we are truly serving God, it should not reach this extent no matter what.
Another dimension to this, as far as I am concerned is, if we go by the argument that they are not religiously motivated, religion is still being used because religion is an important aspect of human life. And whoever is inclined to that belief in God and wants to serve God will want to defend his faith. So, when you appeal to people on those grounds, they will do anything. And that is why I hold the view that some politicians who are not religious but know what religious cause can bring, bring in religious element to achieve their ambition, and that is also very sad.
So the picture is very gloomy, shameful and regrettable that we have come to this path in this country. All I can say is that we should be sincere in whatever we do, whether it is politics or religious affair. Every religion has an obligation to promote its religion to preach his religion but not by violence
There is a video by some Islamic clerics threatening religious war and establishment of Sharia law in Taraba. What do you make of this?
If we remember history very well, it was when Sharia law came into some parts of the country that these things became exaggerated. Of what use has it been even to those who are calling for it. Why do you continue doing something that divided people if there is no ulterior motive behind it? In a place like Nigeria, it is rather divisive and anybody with a mind and interest in unity and peace will not look for such. When you look at the comportment and language of those calling for this, there is nothing peaceful about it. The Taraba we are talking about, can they give any example of any court here that has been passing verdicts based on Christian law? No, it’s the constitution. And if anything, a Sharia court, there is none for Christians, customary court is not for Christians, it is for everybody so you can’t equate a Sharia court with a customary court, meaning a Sharia court is for Muslims and the customary court for Christians. That arithmetic doesn’t work and if anybody pursues that line of action, there is something wrong about it.
They can set up such a law within themselves but not to be funded by government. In Catholic church, we have our tribunals where we judge our cases but it only concerns our members and it is not at the expense of government. So, when you set up a Sharia law, it should be strictly for the internal operations of your adherents and should not affect the generality of the people.
When it started in Zamfara, it was not restricted to the Muslims, you catch a Christian, you want to judge him by Sharia, that is not fair. I think it is one of those sad developments that such people use to perpetuate our animosity against one another. It is uncalled for.
Do you see the possibility of these attacks leading to a religious war?
I don’t wish for that to happen but unless God intervenes, it may end up that way. We have seen these things all over the world not just in Nigeria; let us live with this idea of plurality. If you want to convince me to buy your ideology, talk to me, convince me and let me willingly join you but you can’t force it on me. If you force it on me, I won’t bring anything that will make the religion better. I will be a hypocrite there and I won’t help any cause, that’s simple logic.
With the continued insecurity, what in your opinion is the possibility of having peaceful elections in 2023?
Now, that is a general fear entertained by everybody. I think many have also expressed the same view that this is probably a tactics of making it impossible for elections to hold so that the present government can continue. This has happened before though it was not postponed for long. We could be treading the same line. They make it such that it is going to be a perfect excuse not to hold elections.
What is your take on the call for a Muslim-Muslim/Christian-Christian ticket for the Presidency?
Let’s be honest, this is like adding fuel to the fire, we are already divided along these lines, why continue to toe the same line. It will serve no purpose to do such, it is an epitome of being insensitive to the danger we are already facing.
If all was going well, I don’t mind, so long as we have people who won’t govern us on religious lines, whether at the federal or state levels, if they will govern us fairly, I don’t mind the ticket. But if the aim is to get a smooth ride and overrun this country then, no. So the skeptics will have reason to complain. It is not good for us. Let’s strike a balance. The fight about marginalisation is about power being in the hands of certain group and by doing this, you are making it worst. And when others want to bring in their own, state laws are being used to incarcerate them.
We just witnessed primaries of various political parties at both state and national levels. What is your assessment of the primaries and what do they say of the general elections come 2023?
As a person, I am terribly disappointed with what has happened during the primaries and to be blunt, it doesn’t give us any hope for what is to come.
This is where the litmus test will be; if we are going to have peaceful elections, devoid of any fraud, violence, election buying, this is the test and it hasn’t passed at all. It is a terrible disappointment and if they should continue like this in the forthcoming general elections, we are going to end up with unsatisfactory results and at the end of the day, even if winners are declared, litigations will set in.
But it is a disappointment and again, I am wondering, isn’t it against the electoral law some of the things we see happen especially during the primaries? And if we allow that to go, isn’t it going to continue to the general elections? Just like we saw in Ekiti, people showing money in their bags and again, INEC has said nothing. Is it the job of the EFCC alone?
They are not leaving us with any reason but again we have to keep hope alive and I hope INEC will stand up and really be independent and put in place a machinery that will make it difficult to have an election fraud. If that happens, what happened in the primaries will not continue because I am hopeful that Nigerians have learnt quite a lot now. Some are even receiving these monies with the mentality that it is their money after all, so if INEC puts in place a good system, they will be surprised at the outcome. And that is where journalists must come on board, write features and articles that will educate people on the right thing to do?
Given the high cost of forms, does the ordinary man with passion, zeal, capacity and capability without the money bags have hope to ever run this country or the leadership of the country is now in the hands of the rich?
It was good news to hear that the President had signed into law the Not-too young-to-run Bill. But having put that as a law and coming up with this simply means the elite are determined to control the country and deny the ordinary Nigerian the right to rule. Tell me how many of the youth can afford this money. So, it’s a contradiction of the law; it is a ploy to keep the brigade going.
Who among these candidates having spent this big sum of money, that if they win won’t recoup that money; and if that is the case, when will the corruption end. It’s just a vicious circle. So, they should put their acts together and convince us, but they have already edged out many capable people by this exorbitant form fees.