By Oluremi Olu
I am constrained to respond to Mr Rasheed Abubakar’s rebuttal of the PUNCH Newspapers’ reportage on the crossing over service attacks on worshippers in the early hours of 1 January 2018. This I do, not as an apologist of that journal or the complainants – the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); but, rather as someone, concerned about the dangers that the import of his rejoinder portends for the continued peace and harmony in Kwara State.
In a rejoinder titled “PUNCH the liar: A rejoinder to PUNCH and Can…”, published on the website of iwitness.com.ng and some other websites on 4 January 2018, Mr Abubakar contended that the attacks on some worshippers returning from, and still at, the crossing over service in the early hours of January 1 2018 was not a “Muslim versus Christian” affair. Citing differences between the news content carried by some mainstream Nigerian news media and the PUNCH Newspapers, Mr Abubakar concludes that PUNCH was biased and untruthful in her reportage. Mr Abubakar further railed against the PUNCH Newspaper and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), describing the former as “Islamophobic” for failing to attribute the incident to “hoodlums” and “miscreants”, as the Kwara State Police Public Relations Officer (PRO), the State Government and some news outlets did; and, the latter, who in this case, was the victim, as “troublesome” and the “…ever-problematic Christian body…”. However, in a contradictory twist, and whilst citing an unverified NAN report, Mr Abubakar was to later absolve the CAN chairman, Professor Tim Opoola, of using the term Muslim fundamentalists to describe the attackers.
To begin with, the claim that the PUNCH Newspaper report suggested or implied a Muslim-Christian clash is a strawman argument, as nowhere did the report make or suggest such an incident. The writer just made up this argument, in order to find something to defeat.
That the New Year Eve attacks in question were premeditated is not in doubt and the excuses of “Youths”, or if we may put it in Mr Abubakar’s preferred terminology, “miscreants” and “hoodlums” protesting the denial of their “right” to hold a New Year carnival and alleged attacks on QAREEB members are mere cover, and invented, stories. In the light of the desperate attempts at changing the narrative on this incident, I strongly suspect that there is more to the actions and identities of this so called “Youth”, “hoodlums” and “miscreants”, than readily meets the eye. Some people certainly know more than they are admitting about this incident and there lies my worries.
Secondly, while we may not like what they do, “miscreants”, “hoodlums” of whatever hue – “common” or “executive” are brilliant survivalists, whose strategy in doing what they do is to “live to fight another day”. Hence, in doing what they do, they always tend to act in a manner that creates the barest minimum of disruption / attention that is necessary for the achievement of their goals, and one that minimizes their chances of detection, investigation and arrest. Therefore, if the New Year Eve incident was indeed the deeds of genuine criminals , who were out to molest, rape and rob, there would have been no need for them to attack and destroy, and consequently compound their crime and attract the ire of higher authorities, when they could very easily have achieved the objectives of their “petty crimes” right there on the streets and vanish, under the cover of darkness, into the many back alleys that surround the stretch of Taiwo (Isale) Road on which they operated. And, hardly would any of those attacked have bothered to go to the Police, thus taking the heat off the criminals.
Drawing parallels between the Ilorin Church attacks and the Port Harcourt Mosque attack is an obvious case of the fallacy of false equivalents. Neo-Biafrans are not driven by religious zealotry, at least not of the Christian variety, but by a kind of twisted nationalism hinged upon a dissonant mix of Christianity, Judaism and Igbo Traditional beliefs. Their heads are still clogged by that cobweb of war propaganda, wherein a false dichotomy was sold to them and the outside world, to wit: that the civil war was a Christianity versus Islam struggle. And, today they carry on in that untrue and expired propagandist belief that all northern (Nigerians) are Hausa/Fulanis and Muslims, the group they erroneously and misguidedly see as the source of all of their problems. While their reign of terror lasted, they also attacked Pentecostal Christian Churches.
Violence is so random and indiscriminate in the way it strikes that it cannot differentiate Muslim from Christians, especially in spaces where Christians and Muslims live cheek by jowl.
Regretfully, and for all we are yet unable to verify, the QAREEB members complaining of being victims of attacks by this faceless “Youths” may well have been aggressors turned victims, having encountered stronger opposition than anticipated from their would-be victims. In short, the kernel of my argument is that, the “me-too” argument that cites attacks on Muslims to prove that the New Year incidents were not religiously-motivated is a red herring.
Suffice it to say that no proof whatsoever was provided to indicate that the news content from the syndicated news source (the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN) he relied on, and one which, according to him, was widely cited by some of the mainstream national media, is true. Pertinent is it to mention that NAN is, by virtue of her ownership and control, notoriously prone to “news management”; more so when the proprietor of NAN is presently facing accusations of religious bias flowing from her conduct. Therefore, it amounts to “arguing from the negative”, to make and juxtapose two unproven premises, then insist that since you believe the first to be false, therefore the second must be true. Additionally, it is genetic fallacy, of the argumentum ad hominem variety, to assume that the PUNCH Newspaper reportage cannot be true because of their person, while accepting as true the NAN reportage, because of their person. This argument is self-defeating because if , for example, one assumes that PUNCH Newspaper reportage in this case is untrue because their editors are Christians; it can also be pointed out that the NAN reportage is likewise untrue either because her editors are Muslims or she is owned and controlled by a government with a bias towards Islam.
Reports emanating from a News Conference are not necessarily always restricted to what was said at such briefings. In especially controversial cases, journalist often consult independent sources, in order to give a balanced picture of what was said at the briefing.
However, our contention remains that, the difference in reportage between the NAN and The SUN newspaper on the one hand, and The PUNCH Newspaper, on the other, may be due to nothing more sinister than the different institutional ethos/ ideology and the editorial judgement of these media houses. It should be borne in mind that NAN is essentially a Federal Government parastatal, whose journalists operate on a mind-set similar to that of an Information Officer in the Federal Ministry of Information: completely conservative, official, pro-government, civil service type mentality.
In conclusion, may I advise that in Ilorin, nay Nigeria, that day will never come, when we will all become Muslims, neither will that day ever come, when all of us will be Christians; therefore, we are better off learning to live with, and respect, the beliefs of each other. The two Abrahamic faiths widely practiced in Nigeria have clear provisions which mandate that there is no compulsion in religion; hence, let everyone be free to choose or change their religious beliefs, as their conscience and convictions dictate.
If God actually wanted all of us to be the same thing, it is well within his powers to create all of us uniformly.
Accordingly, Mr Abubakar should start by helping to snatch the correct Islamic narrative from the intolerant and vicious jaws of that now increasingly ubiquitous monster called Wahhabi-Salafi, fundamentalist Islamism; and teach his co-religionist the need to practice and interprete their scriptures within contemporary contexts.
Nigeria is a secular, multi-religious and multi-ethnic country and no “one size” will fit it.
Furthermore, that “…Islam is a religion of Peace …“ is well taken; however, it is axiomatic that the first pre-condition for peace, real and genuine peace, is justice – a concept which Islam strongly associates with. Consequently, I will urge Mr Abubakar to use his journalistic talents to campaign for justice for the real victims of the January 1 2018 attacks.
Finally, may I congratulate journalist Abubakar on the pun he so brilliantly crafted into the title of his article. Salaam.
• Until recently, Mr Oluremi Olu lived and worked in Ilorin, a city that he still maintains strong filial, fraternal and professional links with.