Rev. John Joseph Hayab is the Vice Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Northern States and Federal Capital Territory (FCT). In this interview with FRED EZEH, he warned that any attack on the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah by groups threatening him would be treated as an attack on Nigerian Christians.
Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Mathew Hassan Kukah was recently asked to leave Sokoto due to the content of his Christmas Day Homily. He has also been under attack following his message on Easter Sunday. What’s your take on the development?
It was completely an ill-advised statement from people who ought not to be heard or given the kind of attention they got. Nevertheless, CAN leadership in Abuja had issued a warning that no harm should befall the Catholic Bishop. At the northern CAN level, we are fully with Bishop Kukah, not because he is a Christian leader alone, but because he spoke the truth about the current situation in Nigeria.
As Christians and religious leaders, our calling is to stand for the truth and bear witness to the truth. In that light, we are firmly with the truth as communicated in Bishop Kukah’s messsages. We are fully on track as to the interactions both for and against the said messages.
But also, we are not shaken by the negative reactions, for this is what to expect in a world so occupied by enemies of truth. On the ultimatum that the Bishop should leave Sokoto, we have emphatically established our stand that no one has the right to sack any Nigerian from residing or working in any part of Nigeria except a court of competent jurisdiction after establishing the necessity of such.
Those who asked him to leave Sokoto threatened to harm him if he refuses to leave…
It must be established that Mathew Hassan Kukah is a Catholic Bishop. And he was sent to Sokoto on Apostolic mission by the Catholic Church. He didn’t send himself there. Anyone threatening to harm him should be ready to face God and the church. We would not be surprised if attempts are made against him. But we are not people to be threatened. Ours is not a religion of timidity or cowardice. We have been assured and reassured by the Holy Bible that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. We have established that any harm to the Bishop is a harm to us all and shall not be smiled upon or just waved. Our protection is the Lord’s and that is our conviction.
Has CAN reached out to the leadership of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) to seek for peace on the matter?
Christian and Islamic religious bodies in Nigeria meet periodically to seek ways to strengthen peace and unity among their followers. On our side, we have had a good working relationship with JNI for long and we would continue to do that on all matters that necessitate our collective force. But the messages of Bishop Kukah are clear for anyone to understand. JNI or other religious bodies have capable hands to read and understand clearly the content of the messages, except if they choose not to understand or understand it differently. But given the relationship we had over the years, it’s okay if JNI feels offended, and in the spirit of good reason, goodwill, and like we have always approached them, they would reciprocate, approach us if they so feel convinced that Bishop Kukah was wrong in his message. If they do, we will dialogue appropriately and guide them on how to separate what Bishop Kukah said from political instigation.
2023 political game has started. Would CAN be pushing for a Christian to succeed President Buhari?
It is not the duty of CAN to push for candidate or influence the choice of candidates that would emerge from the political parties ahead of any election. It’s also instructive to know that CAN doesn’t work to establish a Christian leader, but to establish a good leader for our dear nation. Our role as always is to check who the candidates are as presented by the political parties, guide our members to make wise individual choices, and help to support and guide whoever becomes successful at the end of the elections to perform well and develop our dear nation. Nigeria is obviously down economically and otherwise, hence the increasing cases of insecurity and other misgivings across the country.
The COVID-19 vaccine is in Nigeria now, but some Christian leaders have kicked against it. What do you make of it?
Undoubtedly, there has been many misconceptions and misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine. On our part, we have performed greatly well in helping the government in the fight against this pandemic and the testimonies even from government and its agencies are there for all to see. Nevertheless, CAN is willing and always available to mobilise Christians for every good course as long as it’s beneficial to the larger population of Nigerians.
Your base, Kaduna, has been in the news lately for serious crimes. What is the security situation and quest for peace especially in Southern Kaduna?
The level of insecurity in Kaduna is alarming. Killings and destructions everyday, with many unreported. Criminals have been emboldened by the utterances and actions of the federal and state governments. The situation has been more devastating in Southern Kaduna where hundreds of communities have been destroyed and people displaced by bandits and Fulani herdsmen. The level of destruction there is terrible. Farmlands, houses, businesses and lives have been destroyed over the past years with no compensation and concrete efforts by the state and federal governments to arrest the perpetrators. Innocent people are kidnapped on daily basis in their homes, farms and along the road, and are forced to pay millions of naira to regain their freedom. For instance, in the most recent major attacks in Zangon Kataf LGA, over 3, 000 persons were sent into Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp.
What efforts are being made by the government and communities to end the scourge?
There has been appreciable level of engagement and commitment by the state government and the community leaders. But in spite of that, people are still being killed on daily basis and communities are still being destroyed. Deliberately or otherwise, the parties have refused to engage with the church leaders and other stakeholders in search for durable solutions. However, community leaders and church leaders have engaged in several discussions and at still engaging.
There are allegations that Kaduna state government is openly or secretly backing these killer herdsmen/bandits. Do you share same fear?
As surprising as that may be, there are indications that it may be true or something close to that. The body language of the state government, its utterances and more give us a reason to consider that the allegations may be possibly true. In most of the attacks, we find government talking more in defence of the attackers, a way of justifying the attacks and wrongly blaming the victims. Whatever might be the case, this is wrong and it leaves us with no choice but to agree with the school of thought that alleges a conspiracy and government involvement.