US policy shift and CAN’s politics of illogic
On Friday, the 19th of November, 2021, and in furtherance of its self-imposed mandate as the ‘police’ of the whole world, the United States issued a declaration on removing Nigeria from the list of ‘Countries of Particular Concern’, the term it uses to designate nations that severely violate religious freedom. But less than 24 hours after, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in a statement by its President, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, expressed its rejection of the US policy shift. A quick but not necessarily flippant reading of the statement would compel the conclusion that like the leopard that cannot change its spots, CAN appears forever incapable of doing the right thing even by mistake.
In other words, the CAN’s statement, like the ones it has always issued over the years each time religion and religious practices in this country occupy global attention, was premised on, at least, four arguments; arguments that were both visionary and logical except that the part that was visionary was not logical, and quite ironically too, the part that was logical was not visionary.
The first argument on which the Association premised its rebuttal of the US decision is based on the non-availability of data. According to the CAN President, his Association was “at a loss on the data or statistics used by the US government in arriving at delisting Nigeria from the list”. Only a genius such as Reverend Ayokunle with deep knowledge of international relations and an expert in the US global geopolitics would have expected the government of the United States to have shared sensitive data at its disposal with non-state actors like CAN before making its conclusions public. But the tenor and strength in the argument on the non-availability of data upon which the CAN President hinged his dissent actually pales into insignificance when we consider the second argument, namely argument based on the logic in illogicality.
The argument based on the logic in illogicality is clearly entombed in the statement from the CAN’s President that reads: “The US government did not contact us when they were listing Nigeria among the ‘countries of particular concern’ on religious freedom, neither did they seek our opinion before removing Nigeria from the list. If they had done, we would have been able to compare the statistics then and now on the issue of freedom of religion in Nigeria”. In other words, CAN knows that its opinion is inconsequential as far as US decisions on this matter is concerned. But the President of CAN still went ahead to argue that though it would be both jejune and puerile for his Association to request that the US should have sought its opinion, it would still wish that was done! In fact, as if it was his intention to ensure that the illogic in this argument becomes logical, the CAN President concluded by saying: “Once again, we urge the US government to help us by allowing us to know what has changed between the time our country was put in the list of ‘countries of particular concern’ and now”! Is there a better way to dig one’s grave with one’s teeth than this?
The third argument is probably that which is premised on the nation’s vulnerability and insecurity particularly in parts of north-eastern Nigeria. Here the CAN President premised his argument on the killings and violence being perpetrated by “…ISWAP, Boko Haram and other terrorist organisations…” He contended that “Christians had faced and are still facing persecution…” and that “…bandits have joined other militant Islamic groups to be ferociously attacking churches, killing worshippers and kidnapping for ransom….” There is, therefore, no doubt that this statement is weird, mendacious, preposterous and baleful. It is sui generis for the fallacies upon which it premised its arguments and for the solecism in its conclusion. Discerning Nigerians are fully aware that Muslims in the north-east have been the most adversely affected by the egregious activities of the insurgents in the region; the Muslim faithful have suffered more; a countless number of mosques have been lost to the violence than churches. To claim, as the CAN President has done, that Nigerian Christians have “…lost many people and places of worship” to the activities of the herders in the “Northcentral and the Northeast parts of the country” is to indulge in argument ad passiones – an argument based not on facts, but on assumptions, conjectures and suppositions. It is an argument that would have enjoyed some plausibility had it been that Christians constitute the majority in the northeast where Muslims have been killed in their thousands simply because they did not subscribe to the infamous ideology and methodology of Boko Haram.
If CAN’s argument were to be upended, then Christians in Nigeria should be accused of systematically oppressing and carrying out overt and covert Christianization agendas in the country. Or how else might the recent invasion of public secondary schools in Oyo State by Christian missionaries be described? Or how else might the attempt to force young and highly impressionable Muslim students into abandoning Islam other than Christianization agenda? How else do we describe Christian prayer sessions every morning in government offices and the disciplinary actions being meted out to conscious Muslim public servants for their refusal to join in singing and dancing for Jesus Christ?
The fourth argument upon which the CAN President based his statement is the supposed lack of equity by the federal government in funding international organizations to which Nigeria is a signatory such as the OIC. The CAN President says: “Up till today, our government is still funding the membership of Nigeria in all the international Islamic organisations like OIC and its allies without being part of any international Christian organization.” This argument is probably the banalest for it fails to show how Muslims have prevented Nigerian Presidents including Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan from affiliating the nation with international Christian bodies and associations.
Is the CAN President unaware of the immense benefits that OIC membership has brought to Nigeria? Is CAN unaware of the funding that this nation has received from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) that all Nigerians, without prejudice to their tribe or religion, have gained from? Or does the CAN President desire special funding from the US-based on the assumption that the US is “Christian” and should therefore be swayed by fallacies, sophistry and casuistry that portray Christians as sole victims of violence particularly in an atmosphere of general insecurity and vulnerability? If this is not the goal of CAN, what else could it be? Or could it be a manifestation of the deep-seated animus of CAN against President Muhammad Buhari and everything he represents?
Without mincing words, it is clear that victims of the current state of insecurity in our nation cut across religious and cultural divides. Those who want to pin the religious identity on terrorism conveniently ignore the terrorists in their fold. Let religious leaders fear God and be truthful and honest. For if gold rusts, what would iron do? If CAN leaders continue to engage in destructive sophistry, there is no doubt their followers will commit atrocities and seek to cover their tracks by blaming them on others. And as Voltaire said, “those who can make you believe absurdities”, as CAN wants Nigerians to believe, “can make you commit atrocities”
Adedimeji wrote from Ibadan, Oyo State