The Christian Association of Nigeria has vowed to defend the founder of Omega Fire Ministries, Johnson Suleman, after operatives of the State Security Service tried to arrest him on Tuesday.
The group also criticised Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, saying he has failed to speak up against attacks on Christians.
Fiery Edo State-based preacher, Mr. Suleman, caused a stir by calling for the killing of Fulani herdsmen found near his church.
Speaking on January 2 at the church’s monthly Miracle and Fire Night Service in Auchi, Mr. Suleman said President Buhari’s “silence on the genocide in Southern Kaduna has continued to fuel mutual recriminations and distrust among the diverse ethnic and religious groups in the country.”
Mr. Suleiman said he had been warned that Fulani herdsmen were planning to attack him, and urged his security guards to kill any herdsman found around his church.
An attempt by SSS operatives to arrest Mr. Suleman on Tuesday, reportedly for making inciting comments, was thwarted by the Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose.
The preacher later explained that he was not targeting any Fulani herdsmen, but only those who may seek to kill him, saying that killing them would be in self-defence.
In its reaction to the development on Friday, the Christian umbrella body in Nigeria, CAN, described the planned arrest as “an attempt to turn Christians to refugees in their own country”.
“Apostle Suleman has become a refugee in Ekiti state as security operatives are said to be searching every nook and cranny of the state with a view to arresting him,” CAN said in a statement on Friday.
“If there is an urgent need to interrogate Apostle Suleman on any issue, it would only have been proper to extend a formal or informal invitation to him from the SSS rather than Gestapo approach used in the attempt to arrest him. It should be noted that under Nigerian Laws, he is presumed innocent until a court of law proves otherwise. Or have they extended the proposed obnoxious law that forbids religious preaching without the permission of the state governor down south too?
“Treating Ministers of God and our members as common criminals is unacceptable to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Enough is enough,” the association said in its statement signed by the special assistant on media and communication to the CAN President, Bayo Oladeji.
The association lamented the government’s failure to address the cases of blasphemy killings in northern parts of the country, citing repeated cases of released suspects, without further arrests by the security operatives.
“The Police have been releasing those who were arrested for the killing of our members in Kano and Kubwa (Abuja) while our leaders are being subjected to untold hardship for no just cause.
“It is high time the overzealous security agencies knew that Nigeria remains a secular state and any attempt to turn the country into a refugee camp for Christians will not be acceptable and will be resisted with every lawful means,” the statement said.
Silence not golden
CAN described the actions of the controversial pastor as a “mere expression of his fundamental right, which every Nigerian is entitled to”.
“The last time we checked, Sections 38-41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states clearly that every Nigerian is “entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
“The Constitution states unambiguously that ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference’.
“Every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interests:
“Every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to move freely throughout Nigeria and to reside in any part thereof, and no citizen of Nigeria shall be expelled from Nigeria or refused entry thereby or exit there …,” the statement said.
The association condemned the killings in southern Kaduna, describing it as genocide.
CAN accused Vice President Osinbajo not speaking up against attacks on Christians, saying his “studied silence is no longer golden.”
“It is high time the overzealous security agencies knew that Nigeria remains a secular state and any attempt to turn the country into a refugee camp for Christians will not be acceptable and will be resisted with every lawful means.
“We call on the acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to intervene in all the clampdown on the Church in Nigeria after all, he is in the office primarily to represent the interest of the Christians and his studied silence is no longer golden,” it said.