Thank you CAN, now let’s shock the Imam

The Christian Association of Nigeria marked the 45th anniversary of its existence recently. The President of the Association, Rev. Supo Ayokunle, presented awards to worthy Nigerians. For me, the highlight was the award given to Imam Abubakar Abdullahi. The Imam is the religious leader who gave protection to people who weren’t of the same religion as him when there was an outbreak of violence in Plateau State. Here, I applaud the award that CAN gives to Abdullahi and state that Nigerians like him deserve every recognition we can give them.

I once called attention to what Abdullahi did for his fellow Nigerians on this page, and I urged CAN and the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs to honour him. Why? I’ve always held the view that such concern as Abdullahi showed that time is what every religious leader ought to show to all humans irrespective of religious affiliation. After all, clergies and clerics say founders of their religions, when they were on earth, attended to all manner of people. How anyone who claims religion would canvass anything different is something I find baffling. Even many who say they’re religious leaders don’t qualify to answer to either of the two words – “religion” which gathers all manner of people, and “leader(ship)” to whose wings all manner of people flock. Many religious leaders have become sectionalists, tribal champions. If your religion doesn’t make you to not hate fellow Nigerians across tribe and religion, you have no religion. Your pretence is like smoke; people perceive smoke. People who have a good heart know what a religious person sounds like. So, hide and stop giving a bad name to the few Nigerians who follow the tenets of their religion.

Of all the manifestations by religionists that I find shocking is how anyone who references “God” comfortably advocates harbouring hatred for fellow humans under any guise. I had stated it before; I don’t justify what isn’t lofty because whoever justifies what isn’t loftily done to others will be a recipient of same. We read online how some collectively advocate hatred for a particular tribe up North, but even these advocates show hatred towards one another across the lower Niger River. Yet these are people who mouth religion. The only people who won’t see the oddity in these things are those who don’t have an idea about the ABC of their religion, even though they make the loudest noise about religion.

To me, with the manner CAN recognises Abdullahi the Association is saying a few things. It’s saying, irrespective of differences in religion, we’re all human beings first. We have a common humanity and we should appreciate anything lofty that any human being does for their fellows. Why? It’s so cheap to say and do what isn’t lofty. It’s so natural to engage in what every natural man engages in. When a person steps out of that mode to do things differently, he deserves recognition. He deserves to be raised above the crowd, above the mob that applauds what is natural to the natural man such as hating fellow humans because they have reasons to so do.

With the award given to Abdullahi, CAN is saying we’re all Nigerians first before anyone can claim to be a religionist of whatever persuasion. We see people switch to and fro between the two major religions. These people are Nigerians first before they make the switch. They’re registered as Nigerians at birth before they become conscious of the religion they are born into. That’s enough reason to do what Abdullahi did for fellow Nigerians in Plateau State and CAN is affirming it.

Moreover, CAN is saying it promotes peace and reconciliation, not division and permanent enmity. CAN is saying it doesn’t support divisive elements and their followers in a nation where our people have integrated so much. CAN is saying any call to disunity amounts to a failure to acknowledge how integrated our peoples have become. Comments that one reads all over the place show there are many Nigerians who don’t have such awareness, or they hate the fact that such integration happens. Some don’t want to hear that members of a tribe they hate are humans, that the tribe assists members of another tribe. They hate to hear one state any good thing about members of the tribe or religion that they hate. I once stated that members of a tribe assisted me in my journey through life. The intense response I got showed that some Nigerians didn’t think anyone should have anything good to say about the tribe they loved to hate. That’s how bad this thing is.

Of course, those who know how integrated our nation has become at the micro-level across religion and tribe won’t support people who promote hatred. The reader who’s married across tribes, or whose relatives are married across tribes knows how complicated actualising calls to divisiveness will be. It’s complicated in a situation where children have a Hausa father and a Yoruba mother. The thoughtful reader knows how complex the matter is where children have a Fulani father and an Igbo mother. They know the matter isn’t so straightforward when the father is Yoruba and the mother is Tula. They know the complications when the father is Kanuri and the mother is Yoruba, or the father is Yoruba and mother Igbo. Sometimes the husband belongs to one religion and the wife to another. I know marriages in these modes, a reason I always state that advocates of divisiveness don’t think through what they say. Meanwhile, our world is configured for such integration to happen and it has always happened. The founder of one of the religions had non-members of his race in his ancestral lineage; the other was married across race. But some who claim to be followers of these founders advocate things to the contrary, inciting divisiveness.

When any Nigerian shows the disposition that religion or members of a tribe are to be hated or demonised, then it becomes imperative that well-meaning Nigerians seize every opportunity they have to counter the narratives of those involved. With this award given to Abdullahi, I imagine CAN is saying that its mission isn’t to cause division among peoples, it is not to spread hatred; rather it’s to reconcile peoples. Its mission is to attract all humans to the higher power they believe in whenever they have the opportunity, something that Abdullahi equally demonstrates with his action. I thank CAN for the step it took.

The other time, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), commended Abdullahi. I would want him to do more than that. I want the president to shock Abdullahi. He should make him wonder if truly these accolades are happening to him, make the Imam tell himself that if this is a dream he wants it to continue. I want the president to reassure Abdullahi that doing good to others is good. That doing good to fellow Nigerians will never go unrecognised by our nation. This would make those who have the mindset of working for the unity of our nation remain committed to the course, rather than be discouraged by the vociferous few who occupy our public space, spreading hate-filled divisive messages. As such, I appeal to the President to give Abdullahi a national award.

I also urge Nigerians of means to shower Abdullahi with the kind of gifts he and members of his family won’t recover from. He saved lives. That’s worth more than any gift. I imagine we don’t fully appreciate how vital his gesture is now. We won’t until the day a Nigerian writes our name on the world map, making all of us very proud, only to announce that they or their family members were among the people Abdullahi didn’t allow to die needlessly that time.

Now, I consistently make the argument I make on this page because I’m convinced of one thing: True fame, greatness, isn’t achieved by playing sectionalism but by attending to humanity, doing one’s best for mankind. What’s being done to Imam Abubakar Abdullahi shows this to be true, and I think he earns all the honour we can confer on him. Our world is a huge place though. There’s space for whoever prefers to be a sectionalist or tribal champion.