Niyi Odebode, Abuja
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has said if Nigeria fails to address religious violence and extremism, the menace will destroy the country.
Making specific mention of the unending killings in Southern Kaduna, the former President also declared that the solution to the Niger Delta crisis was already included in the report of the 2014 National Conference, held in Abuja. He contended that military action would not solve the agitation in the region, stressing that it would create secessionist groups in the region.
Jonathan, in his presentation to the United States House Sub-Committee on Africa, on Wednesday, said failure to apprehend culprits of previous religious killings had emboldened those who engaged in such acts.
A copy of the presentation was made available to The PUNCH on Thursday in Abuja by the former President’s media aide, Ikechukwu Eze.
In his presentation, he grouped sensitive issues the sub-committee invited him to speak on as ‘Challenges facing Nigerian Christians and the Niger Delta Question’.
Advising the Federal Government on religious killings in the country, he said Nigeria could no longer ignore conflicts going on in various parts of the country.
Jonathan added, “If, as a nation, we do not kill religious persecution and extremism, then religious persecution and extremism will kill Nigeria.
“The potential danger associated with the level of conflicts going on across the country is so glaring that no sane mind can ignore.”
He noted that security agencies had a history of failing to apprehend the culprits.
Jonathan stated, “Your invitation (of the sub-committee) letter profusely highlighted the issues of the killing of Christians in Nigeria, the last major incident being the recent killings in Southern Kaduna in Kaduna State, and I do not need to elaborate on that.
“The challenge is how we stop that from recurring. How do we ensure that Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully in Nigeria and practise their religions freely without discrimination, molestation and killings?”
He stated that although there had been more than 10 major incidents of ethnic and religious violence in Kaduna State since 1992, only in one were the culprits punished.
This, the former President said, was in Zango Kataf, when the Ibrahim Babangida administration sentenced 14 persons to death over the riot in the area.
Jonathan said he supported the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference that an Equity Commission be created to handle religious crisis.
Quoting the report of the conference, he stated, “In view of the fact that religion plays a vital role in many aspects of our national life, especially in the aspect of national security and national unity, it is highly imperative that it be singled out from other fundamental rights and given a special attention via the creation of an Equity Commission whose sole mandate will be to focus on religious rights and their promotion.
“This is in line with best global practices as many advanced democracies have special legal and institutional arrangements for some very sensitive aspects of their national life.”
Jonathan believed that the establishment of specialised agencies, such as the equity commission, would not be out of place, adding that they existed in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.
The former President said that for example, in the UK despite the existence of the UK Equal Opportunities Commission, a Commission for Racial Equality (created by the Race Relations Act, 1976) existed alongside the UK-EOC for many years.
He stated that despite the existence of the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour, America had other special human rights enforcement agencies to promote specific rights.
Jonathan stated, “I totally agree with the 2014 National Conference on the need to establish the Religious Equity Commission that will have powers to arrest and prosecute those who contravene the law.”
He said his government established 12 federal universities, nine of which were located in the North.
According to him, his administration set up 165 elementary and high schools in each of the 19 northern states to combine Islamic education with western education.
He explained that he personally visited the scene of the bombing at St Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla, where Boko Haram killed 44 people on December 31, 2011.
He recalled that he promised Nigerians that those responsible for that heinous act would be brought to book.
“That promise was fulfilled on December 20, 2013, when Kabiru Umar, aka Kabiru Sokoto, was sentenced to life imprisonment after my administration investigated that crime, identified him as the mastermind, arrested him and diligently prosecuted him and some of his associates,” Jonathan added.
Defending his administration, he said, “The point I want to emphasise by citing these incidents is that my administration had the political will to halt impunity in Nigeria and that is why killings, due to religious extremism, were localised in the North-East with occasional killings in other zones of the North.
“The killings did not spread to the mainly Christian south and I believe that the fight against impunity by my administration was the main reason for this.”
To end the ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria, he stated, “I recommend the establishment of the Religious Equity Commission, enforcement of our laws without fear or favour and maximum cooperation by all Nigerians, especially our revered religious leaders and clerics.”
Agitation in N’Delta predated Nigeria’s independence
Jonathan said the complaints and restiveness in the Niger Delta were not unique to the region.
“The people in this region feel that though they suffer from the environmental hazards of the exploitation of the God given resources, they do not commensurately benefit from the exploitation of these resources.”
According to him, the agitation predated Nigeria’s existence in 1914.
He recalled that oil palm produce (palm oil and kernel) was the major raw materials that fed the growth of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, and they largely came from the Niger Delta.
Jonathan said various tribal chiefs, such as King Jaja of Opobo and Nana Olomu, resisted British exploitation of these resources and were both arrested and deposed. These punitive measures, he said, did not end the agitations.
The former President added that with the discovery of petroleum in the Niger Delta, similar agitations surfaced.
These, he said, included the Niger Delta Republic, proclaimed by Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro on February 23, 1966.
Jonathan noted that the Federal Government had come up with many interventionist initiatives to pacify the Niger Delta.
These include the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, set up by the military administration of Ibrahim Babangida and Niger Delta Development Commission, established by the Olusegun Obasanjo government.
He stated, “The greatest stumbling block of these interventionist agencies was lack of continuity, resulting from an over politicisation of projects as each successive management awards new contracts rather than continue with those awarded by their predecessors and as such, the Niger Delta is littered with many abandoned projects with very few completed projects to show for the huge monies spent.”
He noted that the 13 per cent derivation introduced by Obasanjo had benefited Niger Delta states and their people more than the interventionist agencies.
Jonathan stated, “Those who knew Akwa Ibom State before the 13 per cent derivation became law will agree that the derivation fund has changed the face of that state, making it almost overnight one of the most developed states in Nigeria. The same is true with other oil producing states though with varying degrees of development.’’
‘Military crackdown can create secessionist groups in N’Delta’
He suggested that the Federal Government should adopt the recommendation of the 2014 conference on fiscal federalism.
The former President stated, “States should be allowed to exploit their natural resources as they deem fit and pay adequate taxes to the Federal Government. This is also the position of the 2014 National Conference.”
Advising the Federal Government further on the Niger Delta crises, he stated, “The military crackdown in the Niger Delta will not end the agitation there.
“It will have the opposite effect of provoking the youth, which will cause them to seek to acquire sophisticated weapons to defend themselves and their communities.
“This may, in turn, lead to secessionist movements and the reincarnation of the Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro-led revolution and the Biafra Civil War. The Federal Government and the international community must work to avoid this.”