Thursday, 14 July 2016

Justice for slain Abuja female evangelist

THE gruesome killing of a female evangelist, Eunice Elisha, in Abuja on Saturday is the latest episode in an ongoing escalation of sectarian hatred in Nigeria. It raises real fears that Islamist fanatics and their sponsors are spreading their murderous tentacles from the Northern states to the Federal Capital Territory. 
  Their jihad is made easier because successive governments have abdicated their responsibility to make every part of the country safe for Nigerians of all faiths or punish offenders.

The case of the late Elisha is pathetic. Waylaid during her usual early morning evangelism routine by suspected criminals, with their twisted creed of hate and bigotry, the 42-year-old mother of seven was stabbed multiple times and left to bleed to death. We are shocked and outraged by this gruesome murder.

Although the police have yet to conclude their investigations, there are already very strong indications that she was murdered by Muslim fanatics, who had reportedly threatened her before over her preaching. This extreme form of intolerance has been gaining ground, particularly in the Northern states where many state governments pursue policies that promote religion and inadvertently encourage fanaticism. There are reasons to worry.

The attack did not of course come out of nowhere. Nigeria has no shortage of grim examples of this kind of monstrous criminality. Indeed, the past few weeks have been fraught: Apart from a 74-year-old woman beaten to death by a Muslim mob in Kano for alleged blasphemy, three Christians killed in Niger State for the same reason, and a carpenter battered to near death in Kaduna, stories abound of hate attacks on Christians and churches in the North. The madness started long ago, escalated in the late 1980s with frequent pogroms in Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Katsina and Sokoto states. Churches, businesses and schools were fair game for bigots, while Christians and Southerners were murdered in their hundreds, many in gruesome acts of barbarity.

In October 2015, Christian Today magazine reported that armed mobs attacked two churches in Gidan Waya and Sondi villages in Taraba State, killing 31 worshippers. While the state may disavow any link with the 12,000 Christians killed, 13,000 churches destroyed in hate attacks as reported by World Watch between 2000 and 2013 in Northern Nigeria, Gatestone Institute cites endemic bias against non-Muslims by the region’s political and traditional elite. The frequency and geographic spread of the attacks are increasing and widening under Buhari’s watch. The Nigerian state is failing its citizens by its serial refusal to scrupulously prosecute the perpetrators of religious hate crimes.

Nigeria has too many problems already; strenuous efforts should be made to prevent it from becoming a sectarian killing ground. Buhari should be bothered about the impunity of Fulani herdsmen and fanatics targeting places of worship and persons of other faiths much like the Boko Haram terrorists. Open Doors, a non-profit, in its World Watch 2016 ranking of countries where Christians are persecuted on a scale ranging from extreme, severe and moderate to sparse, Nigeria was embarrassingly rated as severe and was 12th out of 50 countries. This is simply terrible.

It is very crucial that Nigeria’s leaders rise above sectarian and ethnic sentiments. For a diverse polity – multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural – the basis of unity and progress should be equality of all citizens before the law and the enforcement of law and order. A crime is a crime: it does not matter who perpetrates the crime or who the victim is; it must be punished. Nigeria is crumbling under the weight of impunity as those who commit heinous crimes in the name of ethnic or sectarian chauvinism often escape unpunished.

Buhari’s seeming tardiness in confronting Fulani herdsmen – now rated as the world’s fourth most deadly terrorists − is feeding the fears of sectarian domination and he should be bothered. As President, he should do more to give all Nigerians a sense of belonging and discourage chauvinists who erroneously feel his presidency gives them a cover to unleash atrocities on others.

Elisha’s case is a litmus test for the acting Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris: he must apprehend all the murderers and their sponsors, ensure a thorough investigation while the Attorney General of the Federation, Shehu Malami, should diligently prosecute them. The IG should resign if he cannot satisfactorily bring this case to closure.

Human dignity demands the right to preach and even question other beliefs peacefully. We repeat our warnings that some state officials are literarily playing with fire, playing the religious card with impunity because they have been getting away with it. Overt and unchallenged promotion of religion emboldened 12 Northern states to adopt penal aspects of the Islamic sharia law and set up religious police to enforce it in defiance of the constitutional provisions against adopting a state religion and state police.

But we recall the warning of a former army chief and civil war commander, Theophilus Danjuma, who cautioned the nation some years ago that no country survives two civil wars or a religious war. They should read the mood of those Nigerians, and they are increasing in number, who are dissatisfied with the union and loudly saying so. States should respect the country’s secularity and stop dabbling in religion.

We encourage active resistance within the law by individuals and groups discriminated against or attacked by religious maniacs. Self-defence groups, class action suits and sustained advocacy are helpful in a society governed by the rule of law.

 It is no longer acceptable for government to simply issue rebukes and promise to fish out the murderers. There must be a thorough, independent and timely investigation of this act of horrific violence. Unless the Buhari government acts now, murderous religious fanatics will dent his administration and put the country on a destructive path. The President should use the Elisha murder as the take-off point for a determined policy to stop those who promote lawlessness in the name of religion.