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Insecurity: Ethnic profiling of bandits could lead to genocide, Reverend Idowu-Fearon warns

Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon is the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Worldwide and Chairman, Kaduna Peace Commission. In this virtual interview with selected media organisations the bishop who will be retiring from the communion in 2022 shares his views on aligning a particular tribe to banditry, agitations, among other sundry issues. Excerpts:

You are returning to Nigeria at a time the country is divided along ethnic, religious and regional lines; is it the kind of Nigeria you expect to come back to?

When you have a family you must be prepared to operate with a broad mind without losing your identity. Nigeria is my country, I have lived in the UK for six years now and I am qualified to become a British citizen if I want to, but Nigeria is my country. The problem with Nigeria is very simple. Is it Biafra, Oduduwa or Middle Belt; what each of these groups is asking for is recognition. If our politicians will accept that each of us has an identity and recognise our identities; that will reduce selfish individual politics.

Like in Kaduna, what the state government needs to do is to see that every group is recognised. What we are asking for is equity. When you talk about justice, you are talking about equity. Equity is giving me what is due to me. Everybody is looking for recognition. Recognition is biblical because we are created in the image of God. 

As the Chairman of the Kaduna Peace Commission, what is the level of peaceful coexistence in the state?

We have a big problem at hand. I am concerned about identifying all the bandits with a particular tribe because it could lead to genocide; that was what happened in Rwanda. Banditry is not new in Africa; even in the Far East. I have been doing some studies on banditry in Algeria, Morocco and Pakistan. This horrible thing that is killing us in the North West and is moving out to other parts of the country is very worrisome, and until we all come together and fight it, the daily bombings by the air force, the army and the task forces will not stop it. There are questions we need to ask. Where do the bandits get arms from; who are the people supplying them with drugs? The air force will continue to bomb, and the more they bomb, the more the bandits will mushroom.

There are people among us who are benefiting from this crisis. We keep on blaming the government. You and I know that the government is pumping a lot of money that is meant for development: better schools, good roads, water supply and electricity, into this fight. Part of the money that should be used for development is going into fighting banditry. So we need to organise ourselves at various levels to join hands and fight this menace. The media has a crucial role to play in this. It is in our interest to tell our political leaders to join hands to fight this menace. Let’s restore peace and then we can vote in or vote out whoever we want. That is my position.  

Nigeria is 61; how do you think the country can address its leadership challenges, corruption and ethnicity, as well as nepotism?

Unfortunately, our religious organisations are guilty of this. Just pick one church, pick my own church; if you look at the Anglican Church in Nigeria you will see that what is happening with our political leaders is exactly what is happening there. The church is a reflection of the political state we have found ourselves in.

Therefore, what do we do? We need education. Information, they say is power, the media must expose these things, and even the way we elect our leaders in most elections in the North; you know that you and I will just cast our votes. It is not the person you want to vote for that the leadership wants you to support.

Somebody who is 61 is not a child. We must begin to look at ourselves, and that was what I said earlier on identity. Nigerians must accept that we are diverse, and as the Qur’an makes us understand, God deliberately put us together in order for us to understand one another.  

How will the Centre for the Study of Muslim-Christian relations enhance peace in Kaduna and Nigeria?

We are engaged in peace building, because among our students we have imams and pastors who have congregations, and then we have women who are very influential. We plan to even go beyond Kaduna that is why we’ve just invested over N1m on virtual facilities at the centre so that we can get people from anywhere to enroll without necessarily coming to Kaduna. You can join online and take your course, but we emphasise pairing people – a Muslim and a Christian. We are trying to influence one another, but one thing we do not do at our centre is indoctrinating people. You are free to be who you are as long as you do not infringe on other people’s freedom.  

You are the first African secretary general of the communion; how do you feel?

It is a real privilege, and I feel humbled, because I don’t believe I was the best qualified person, but God in His wisdom gave me the opportunity to serve. I feel I have gained a lot in this position.  

What are your plans about retirement in 2022?

 My immediate plan is to get back to Nigeria and squarely concentrate on giving a home for the Kaduna State Centre for the Study of Christian-Muslim Relations. Now we are operating from our family home, and as you might have known, the Kaduna State governor and his cabinet, in recognition of our little contributions to Kaduna in terms of peace building – using education for peace building – gave us a piece of land on Yakubu Gowon Avenue. It is a half a million dollar project – that is going to be an international centre for the study of Muslim-Christian relations.   

What is your advice to the Northern governors on insecurity and poverty in the region?

We advise that if they do not coordinate their various individual efforts it will not work. So the governors must cooperate. The governors in the North West must pull their resources together and see that they fight this insecurity together. The North East and the North Central should do the same. But if Kaduna is spending so much money and Katsina is not liaising or cooperating with Kaduna, it will not work. They should pull their resources together; they shouldn’t wait on the federal government. That is my honest advice.

In terms of poverty, once we are able to address the problem of insecurity, we can face the challenges of poverty. There are no jobs, people cannot go to the farm. Look at all our big farms; most of our farmers have abandoned them to bandits. Poverty can only be solved when there is security.

The above interview was originally published in Daily Trust,

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