Northeast rehabilitation: We are playing our roles, say Christian groups
The emergence of Boko Haram insurgency and its activities in the north has led to loss of thousands of lives and destruction of communities, farmlands and worship places. The increasing number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who are being sheltered in different camps across the country, prompted the intervention of government, groups and well-meaning Nigerians, who have been donating sundry items to cushion the negative effects on the victims.
Some churches have also been contributing their quotas in this regard, by paying visits to the IDP camps, donating items and delivering messages of hope.
Recently, however, the Director, Disaster Management, Christian Rural and Urban Association of Nigeria (CRUDAN), Mr. Joseph Gyandi, said only the Catholic Church and Church of the Brethren in Nigeria have made any meaningful contribution to the cause.
Gyandi, who spoke with The Guardian in his office in Yola, pointed out that only the Catholic Church and Church of the Brethren in Nigeria demonstrated the true spirit of Jesus Christ, which enjoins all to ‘be their brothers’ keepers.’
He said: “The Catholic Church and Church of the Brethren in Nigeria have well organised camps that hosted thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). And the two churches were also taking medicines and food to those IDPs that have returned to their ancestral homes. I am not saying that few other churches did not also contribute, but their contributions were not commensurate with the capacity of their churches. You cannot cheat God. If every church is compelled to declare their monthly tithe, you will understand why I said they did not help the IDPs in the Northeast region.”
“I would want to believe that because of the distance between the northeast and southern parts of the country, many church leaders did not witness and feel the pains the IDPs were going through, which probably affected their participation in assisting the victims.”
Gyandi noted that CRUDAN designed many projects to assist IDPs in different fields, to enable them become self-reliant, as well as overcome the psychological trauma caused by Boko Haram.
“Church leaders are more concerned about members paying tithe, but the tithe is not being used for humanitarian services,” he lamented. “Even the members who are paying the tithe are suffering. Our church leaders are flying the gospel with only one wing, meaning they are only preaching spirituality, but what happens to the physical lives of the public is not part of their duties. A true church leader must merge declaration with demonstration, which means preaching spirituality and showing practical love to those that need help.”
He urged church leaders to abide by the words of Christ, pointing out that any church leader that fails to give assistance to the needy is not serving God, but himself.
He also called on the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to collaborate with CRUDAN to enable it access international funds for humanitarian services in the country.
The director disclosed that between 2015 and 2017, the organisation spent over 1.8m euros and 50, 000 pounds providing humanitarian services in the northeast zone.
Following this development, The Guardian sought the views of some religious leaders on the issue. Is Gyandi correct to say that most churches have not risen to the IDPs challenges?
Responding, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Rev. Dr. Samson Supo Ayokunle said: “I do not think that Mr. Joseph Gyandi did his research before speaking out, which is totally unfortunate.”
He explained that assisting people does not require broadcasting or making noise about it, as such should be done quietly without attracting public attention.
“Giving relief is not about calling television stations to cover the materials or donations you are making available to either IDP Camps or elsewhere, but ensuring that each church compiles lists of its members who were affected by the insurgency or Fulani herdsmen attack. This, various churches are doing, especially the Nigerian Baptist Convention that I know very well. We have gathered the victims of insurgency together in Jos, Yola, Kaduna and other places and distributed relief materials to them. We have also created alternative secondary school for students of Baptist High School in Mubi, Yola, when it was closed down because of terrorist activities there, so that the education of the pupils might not be truncated.
“On May 4 and 5, Christian Association of Nigeria distributed relief materials to victims of herdsmen attack in Southern Kaduna and Makurdi. That of Enugu will be done at a later date. These are just to mention a few out of what the churches are doing within their limited financial capacity. We need to see governments at various levels becoming more involved in providing relief materials to victims of insurgency more than ever, because they hold the entire nation’s resources. Companies making huge amount of money in the country should also help in providing relief materials to the internally displaced people.”
While thanking the American government for assisting in providing relief materials to those in need, Ayokunle also urged government agencies handling such funds in Nigeria to be judicious and honest in getting the relief materials to the victims, as “God will hold them accountable sooner or later for their stewardship.”
On his part, president of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Rev. Dr. Felix Omobude, said: “I wouldn’t say we’ve done enough, but I’m aware of efforts by various church groups to help both in the Northeast and those that are down in the South here. I think it’s ongoing, as I’m aware that CAN has donated to Adamawa, Borno, Edo and Kafanchan. I also know that CAN made some donations, including individual churches, such as The Redeemed Christian Church of God. Our own church has done something in our own little way. For instance, as we speak, some members are sponsoring some children.
“I don’t know the person who is saying that churches have not done something to assist those in need. I don’t know the association he is representing and I don’t think it’s true for him to have said that. I’m aware Catholic Church has given and has continued to give, but aside Catholic Church, other organisations have done similar thing. The fact that they didn’t go through Gyandi’s organisation does not mean they did not do anything there. PFN’s donation runs into tens of millions of Naira, and that is the truth.”
Another man of God, who is sure that churches have done well in this area, is the immediate past president of Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), Most Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Udofia, who is also the Primate of The African Church. He did not agree with the assertion that only the Catholic and Church of the Brethren in Nigeria have done something meaningful for those in need in the Northeast.
He said: “It is not true, because by God’s grace, I am the immediate past president of Christian Council of Nigeria, and aside what our own church (The African Church) has done to alleviate the people’s suffering, the CCN has also done something to reach those in need in the Northeast. Aside what CCN has done, other denominations have also done something not only for Christians alone, but for non-Christians as well. Individual denominations have been so wonderful, too. I am an insider, so I know what I am saying. And please let us note this: it is not all the time that you do some things and you invite television stations, radio, or newspapers to cover them. At times you do that, but some other time, it is not needful. I am not condemning those who do so, and it might be that is what the director in question expected to see. But because it was not reported and carried in the newspapers, he, therefore, concluded that churches have not done something to help those in need.
Although I don’t know the man, but I know what we have done as a church and CCN. Our welfare department visited those people and donated things that cost us millions of naira by God’s grace. We don’t make noise about it. It is true that Catholic Church did something, just like other denominations are also doing. The fact that we are not on TV or newspaper pages does not mean churches have not done enough. The churches are trying by the grace of God with the little resources at our disposal.
“I can defend what I have just told you anywhere. It is really not true, and I think the director should go back and check properly.” Stating why his church has not gone to the Northeast, the Prelate of the Methodist Church Nigeria, His Eminence Dr. Samuel Kanu Uche, explained: “We have not been going to the Northeast because of the volatile nature of the place. But we have been rendering help to those in Edo, and we have been doing a lot for those in Kaduna area. However, I know there are churches that have assisted a lot. For example, my own church has done a lot, but we are planning to visit them now that there is peace in the area. We have helped in many ways. For instance, those people that ran to Kafanchan, the church rehabilitated them and took care of their children’s school fees. It is not only when you go to Sambisa or Chibok that you have done something. There are those who ran away from some of these places. I know that Methodist Church spent so much money in Cameroon. There were people from the Northeast that ran to Cameroon and I know that our church and those in Diaspora played a major role in that area.
“People were afraid to go there then because of insecurity, but now that there is relative peace, effort would be made for people to go there. Our help was mainly directed to IDPs in Edo, Kaduna and Abuja areas, but more help would be given now to those people that returned to Adamawa, Yobe, and Borno. There are so many things to be done and churches are gearing up for that.
“The director is not sure. I think he doesn’t have the correct statistics. You don’t have to go through him before you assist people in need. If by tomorrow we’re ready to do more, we will just go directly to the people concerned, as we don’t trust government functionaries. We don’t want to get involved in all that politics. We don’t trust those in government that they will do what they are supposed to do.”
The cleric said when he visited victims in Southern Kaduna, the state governor was aware and he provided security for him. “When I visited the Kafanchan victims in Southern Kaduna to deliver some relief materials, I didn’t go through anybody, even though the governor of the state provided me with security,” he explained. “I went directly to the people affected and gave them what I brought for them.”
Also reacting to Gyandi’s statement, the Adamawa State chairman of CAN, Bishop Mike Moses, described CRUDAN’s position as a blackmail, and that the claims were the author’s fabrications.
“In my house alone, there were 50 IDPs that I feed for over one year, apart from giving assistance to various IDPs in different locations of the state. So, how can someone accuse us of not participating in assisting IDPs?”
The Bishop, who was visibly angry, said the Catholic Church and the Brethren Church of Nigeria set up IDPs camps because majority of the victims were their church members.
“In the northeast, there is no church that has membership like the Catholic Church, which is followed by Brethren Church of Nigeria. So, it is only natural for the leadership of those churches to be more proactive because of their members. The camps were not only hosting their members, but the two churches know they must act fast in the interest of their members. Like the Catholic Church, there is an organisation for the poor, called St. Vincent de Paul, which the church uses to channel monies meant for displaced persons. So, it is a normal culture for the Catholic Church to assist the poor,” he stated.
Bishop Moses, who advised CRUDAN to refrain from statements that are capable of injuring other organisations or individuals, pointed out that it is not compulsory for churches to give the same kind of assistance the Catholic and EYN churches are giving to victims of IDPs.
“Our fingers are good example that human beings are not all equal, but all have important roles to play,” he said.