Chibok was a war zone, Sambisa a no-go area-Mohammed, Borno CAN Chairman


•Says Gov Shettima bringing harmony between Christians, Muslims through fairness
Bishop Naga Williams Mohammed is Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, in Borno State and also Secretary of Northern Bishops Incorporated. The Christian leader hails from Gwoza, once occupied by Boko Haram.
Bishop Naga Williams Mohammed
You answer the name Mohammed, mostly associated with Islam and you are a Christian.  How come?
Yes, in Southern Borno, it is common to see a family made up of both Muslims and Christians. My father was a Muslim and my mother a dedicated Christian. We were living in the same house, eating the same food and sharing the same culture. At Christmas, my mum would give money to my dad to buy whatever animal for us to slaughter. The same thing when it was time for Eid El Kabir (Sallah), my dad would buy ram for us to slaughter. There was no discrimination in the family on the basis of faith.
As a bishop, some persons would probably expect you to drop the ‘Mohammed’ in your name. What do you say to that?
Someone cannot replace either of his biological parents. Mohammed is my father’s name, he was a Muslim and I cannot replace or change my father. That was his identity and I am his son.
You talked about religious harmony in your family. How do you compare that religious suspicion all over Nigeria?
Waoh! In the past there was absolute tolerance to the extent that you don’t know this man’s religion from the other.  We tolerated each other’s religion. Infact, in my mum’s house, she had a kettle called ‘Buta’ in Hausa.   Muslims use it to perform ablution. While growing up, I was raised to see Muslims from a positive perspective. All I knew was that Muslims were doing what they were supposed to do, and we Christians were doing what we were supposed to do in terms of worshiping and peaceful co-existence in our communities. In Southern Borno, where most of the Christians in Borno State hail from,   most of our families are inter-faith based. I used to know of a family where the father and his six children were Christians, while his three wives were Muslims, and they lived peacefully.
Christians have sizeable population in Borno but they still constitute the minority in the state. Tell us how successive governments have been responding to the challenge of insurgency faced by Christians in Borno.
If you go back to recent history, our first major problem was in February 2006 when a Danish man whom I learnt was not even a Christian drew the picture of the prophet of Islam which was negatively perceived. The incident triggered a protest here in Maiduguri and Christians were attacked. A total of 56 churches were razed in Borno, and scores of shops belonging to Christians were destroyed. There was no compensation from then government.
You mean then Governor Ali Modu Sheriff didn’t compensate victims in any way? 
There was no compensation of any sort. And I repeat, no compensation; nothing was given to the victims. Governor Ali Modu Sheriff merely promised to compensate for all those properties destroyed but ended doing nothing. I was in the high powered administrative committee constituted by then Governor Sheriff representing the Christian community. I think only N150,000 was given to each pastor whose church was destroyed. At a point, we compiled all the destroyed properties including churches and submitted the report to the Borno government.
If Christians didn’t receive compensation from the Borno government after the 2006 Danish cartoon crisis, one is tempted to wonder what the situation is under a more vicious Boko Haram that has caused more havoc on communities that include Christians.
Those who are not from Borno may not know, but you and I know better. In the history of the state, there is no governor that has been fair to the Christian community as much as Governor Kashim Shettima. I am saying this in the presence of God Almighty and this is nothing but the truth. Shettima, in the history of Borno, is the only governor that has sponsored the highest number of Christian pilgrims every year since 2011. I am speaking without fear or favour because as CAN Chairman I do not receive salary or kobo from government or any institution, but the facts need to be told. This governor has shown compassion to the Christian community. For example, when Gwoza people were driven from their ancestral homes, they fled to Maiduguri, and the governor personally came to   CAN Centre in Jerusalem Ward, two times in June and July 2014. He gave N10 million for the IDPs upkeep initially. But then, the victims were not many. By the end of October 2014, the IDPs from Gwoza increased to 42,000 in that camp alone. Shettima came again and gave another N10 million. He  gave additional N5 million for Christians from Borno who fled to Cameroon to be returned home. He gave another N5 million for non-indigenes who fled to Cameron to come back to Nigeria. The Governor even directed the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, to supply food directly to the IDPs in under the Christian leadership. In fact, the governor insisted that he wanted Christian IDPs to stay together with their Muslim counterparts in various designated IDP camps here in Maiduguri but we the leaders felt it wise to separate Christian IDPs to avoid friction between displaced persons dealing with trauma.
You said Governor Ali Modu Sheriff didn’t pay compensation to Christians after the 2006 crisis which led to the destruction of 56 churches. We know churches and mosques were destroyed by Boko Haram from 2011 to date under Governor Kashim Shettima. Has any of these churches been rebuilt by the state government just like mosques are being rebuilt?
On the churches that were razed, we had a meeting with Shettima on how his administration could come in to assist in rebuilding some of them. Last year when the governor visited Gwoza, Askira-Uba   and Chibok Local Government Areas for on-the-spot-assessment of the situation, he saw how some of these churches were dilapidated, some burnt to ashes; in fact, some churches were not only razed but grader was also used to pull down the structures to ground zero as if they never existed there. Like in Gwoza, the report we received was that after some of the churches were demolished, the terrorists packed the debris and threw it far away from the premises. During Governor Shettima’s visit to these areas, he released N100 million for the rebuilding of some of the churches.
A committee was set up for that purpose. I am a member of the committee headed by a Permanent Secretary, Mr. Justus Zare, and I am happy to inform you that presently we have used that money to rebuild 11 key churches which our people are now using to worship. I am surprised when some people were saying why not rebuild all the churches? We cannot do that because there are so many places that are still unsafe for people to return, and you cannot expect us to go to the Christian communities on the fringes of Sambisa Forest to start rebuilding their destroyed churches, when the security situation has not improved. After the initial N100m, Shettima approved another N105 million for the second phase of rebuilding destroyed churches.
This was made possible when CAN officials led by me had a meeting with him on Thursday, March 30, 2017 at the Government House. So far, the governor has released N210 million for the reconstruction of our burnt churches. He also approved the sponsorship of all our local pastors to participate in the 2017 Jerusalem Pilgrimage. During the meeting, Shettima approved Certificates of Occupancy (C of O)  and land for church buildings in the state. This has never happened in the history of Borno since 1979. In fact, one of my neighbours who was a journalist with an Abuja based newspaper, died last year. He was a Christian, and when the governor heard of it, he gave the family N1 million for the burial. So also, when Archbishop Emmanuel Kana Mani (whom I succeeded as CAN Chairman) died, the governor visited the family residence in Maiduguri and gave N10 million to the family. He gave N5 million for the upkeep of his family, while the other N5 million was for funeral. There was a time we complained to him to give us additional Christian Permanent Secretaries; initially we had only one in the state, and he immediately approved additional three. As it is now, we have five Christian Permanent Secretaries in Borno Civil Service and we have to appreciate him.
His government has given us the opportunity to even run a collective programme on television and radio, we work with the Jama’atul Nasril Islam to sensitize our people on peaceful co-existence. They trust us, we trust them. In fact, it may interest you to know that there was a time I was asked to lead in a Christian prayer at a gathering where we were only three Christians in the midst of many Muslims.
The government under Shettima is bringing harmony between religious leaders through his fairness.
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Source: Vanguard