by Mark Amaza
For the past 24 hours, a video has been spreading on social media showing Apostle Johnson Suleiman, the General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministries, an Auchi-based church making some rather shocking comments unexpected of someone who claims to be a religious leader.
In the video, Apostle Suleiman admonished his members to kill any Fulani herdsmen that they sight and cut off his head. In his warped thinking and very limited wisdom, this was the solution to the protracted killings in Southern Kaduna and violence wrought on communities there by militias of Fulani herdsmen. In his words, “we cannot continue to sit down idly while some people keep killing because of their religion.”
— Dr. Aminu Gamawa (@aminugamawa) January 21, 2017
Such a message is a very dangerous and inciting statement filled with hate, and in complete variance with the faith he is a minister of.
While admittedly the Federal Government has failed dismally in acting on violence in the Middle Belt by Fulani herdsmen militias, the lingering crises will not be solved by killing any herdsman on sight. This is also because as the violence has now been given a religious coloration due to the respective predominant faiths of the attackers and the victims, there is a high likelihood that it will not be just herdsmen that will be attacked but Muslims in general, and especially those of Northern origin.
Many have attempted to explain away his statements as advocating for self-defense, but it is far from the truth. Asking people to kill any Fulani herdsman they see is not advocating for self-defense – it is encouraging mindless killings.
If by any chance Apostle Suleiman’s words are seized and acted upon by people, it will bring us closer to the precipice of a sectarian war, the very thing which many people have feared will result from the violence by the herdsmen militias. Such a war will be disastrous for Nigeria and make the religious civil war of the past few years in the Central African Republic look like child’s play.
Not only that, it appears that Apostle Suleiman has a penchant for making unguarded public statements on socio-political issues from a point of ignorance: in March 2016, he declared that Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai will soon die, in protest of the controversial Religious Preaching Bill sent by the governor to the State House of Assembly. Ironically, Suleiman had while making that pronouncement admitted to not having read the details and provisions of the bill.
As with his pronouncement on Governor El-Rufai regarding the bill, Suleiman makes the same grave error on the issue of the violence in the Middle Belt: embracing reductionist and simplistic narratives of complex issues, often seemingly off the back of pedestrian social media analyses rather than seeking more knowledge and information about the subject matter and understanding all sides of the issue.
Apostle Suleiman and indeed, all other religious leaders, occupy an important place in our society as agents of mass influence. It thus behoves on them to use that influence rightly by aiming to speak the truth without being divisive and incendiary with their statements; most especially in a country wrought with religious tensions like Nigeria, to build bridges and not destroy them.
It is possible to condemn the killings in the Middle Belt and criticise the shameful inaction of the Federal Government on the matter without descending to advocating for violence against people simply because they are of the same religion, ethnic stock or profession as the perpetrators of the violence.
Most especially, for a man who claims to be a servant of God, Apostle Johnson Suleiman’s statements are downright shameful and disgusting. He must do better than this in future.
Creative mind. Enthusiast. Learner. Multipotentialite. And here, an assistant editor.