Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, has faulted the proscription of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) by the Federal Government,
According to him, the move to ban the activities of the Muslim threatens Nigeria’s foreign image.
In an interview on Tuesday with DAILY POST and other select journalists in his Abuja residence, Onaiyekan says there is the urgent need for the government to reaffirm its commitment to respecting the rights of religious groups to exist and operate freely in the country without undue interference. Against that backdrop, he called on the authorities to reverse itself on the proscription of the Shi’ites.
Other issues the top cleric spoke on include: President Buhari’s incoming cabinet list, the state of insecurity across Nigeria, the suspended Ruga settlement plan, etc.
Federal Government has proscribed the Islamic Movement in Nigeria, better known as the El-Zakzaky’s group or Shi’ites. What do you make of that move?
“The proscription of a religious group is certainly not seen as our character in Nigeria. But government has an allergy to admitting they have made an error.
“I hold to the Presidency’s statement that they are not proscribing any religious organisation. The issue now is to press the government to reconfirm that they are committed to respecting the rights of religious groups to exist and to operate in Nigeria. That right should be given not only to the Catholics, the Sunnis, the Anglicans and other groups but also to the Shi’ites.
“My hope is that having made that blunt mistake, the government will reverse itself because the impression the Shi’ite proscription gives about Nigeria around the world is terrible.
“It portrays us us as a country where government can wake up one day, get a court order from nowhere that a particular religious group is proscribed. If we allow that to go, it means Catholics and my own religion too can be prescribed any day by any government who manages to get any judge to an ex-parte or non ex-parte order.
“The Shi’ites have told us why they are protesting. The fact that I have not joined them in their protest does not mean that I don’t believe they have the right to protest. Their leader has been under detention against the same court.
“If I were a Muslim, I will also fight for the freedom of every Muslim, because freedom of religion is not only the freedom between different religions; there is also freedom within religions. I don’t know what will happen if I was detained unjustly and the court orders my release and they refuse to allow me to come out, I don’t know if anybody will be able to stop the Catholics from protesting.
“If a religious group goes against the existing laws of the nation, hold them accountable and prosecute them. From that point onwards, it is the job of the judiciary to determine for them. But, for the government to just wake up and prosecute them is a mistake. It is one step too far. We cannot allow Sheikh El-Zakzaky to die in the hands of government.”
Today, the state of insecurity across the country is alarming. Do you see any glimmer of hope for a safe and secure Nigeria in the near future?
“Truth of the matter is that we are in deep trouble. The security of the country is in serious condition. Not only that we know this, we suffer it.
“It has not always been like this but the government congratulates itself that it is doing its best and that we Nigerians should be grateful. For me, that’s where the problem lies.
“Until government recognises that security has changed for the worst in the last five years, it is unlikely that they will put forward means to reverse the trend. We still want to believe the state can protect us, because the alternative to is that we do not have a government.”
What do you make of President Buhari’s incoming cabinet and the tsunami of ‘Bow and Go’ Nigerians witnessed during the just concluded ministerial nominees screening by the Senate?
“I can hardly accuse the National Assembly of not doing the right thing, because they claim that they are doing the ‘bow and go’ screening of the ministerial nominees in line with their standing rules.
“As a Nigerian watching, I am looking forward to a federal executive council that will move into action swiftly so that within a month or two, Nigeria will be able to say ‘Mr. President has put together a good team.
“But if you ask me, I will say 43 ministers are too many for the presidential cabinet. But we can only make a final judgement at the end of the day, when we see how they perform. By their fruits, we shall know them. Democracy can only be judged by its fruit, which is good governance.”
FG’s Ruga settlement plan may have been suspended but Nigerians are unsettled about the project. Do you think fears of the people are justified?
“The federal government did not define to Nigerians what Ruga is? What the objectives are? How will it work? These questions gave rise to a free ground for all kinds of conspiracy theories which has generated a major crisis on the nation.
“If the government had explained what Ruga means, Nigerians may begin to see for themselves what the good intentions for the Ruga project were and perhaps embrace it.
“My position is that let us not throw away the Ruga plan like throwing away the baby with bad water but let us apply it now positively to every part of Nigeria.”
Is the call for restructuring obsolete and out of place considering the state of the nation?
“We must admit that the structure we have on ground is not working well. No country has a perfect structure. Every country is working to improve your structure.
“There is nothing special with the fact that there is something wrong with the structure we inherited. What is needed is to improve it. So, the call for restructuring is an effort to look at our structure of governance with a view to seeing how we can improve upon it.
“Just like a building with a faulty architecture, the thinking is that the architecture of our state is wrong and no amount of patch up can fix it. We seem to have arrived at a situation where we cannot continue to patch up this system.
“We need to improve the structure and doing so means we may need to sit down together as a people and decide the kind of federation we want for our country.”