In an interview with the Deputy Chief of Mission, United States Embassy, Abuja, David Young, Abdullahi Abubakar, an imam who helped save scores of Christians from being killed during the recent killings in Plateau State, speaks on the experience.
This interview was conducted and published by the U.S. Embassy on August 19. It was transcribed by Nasir Ayitogo.
Embassy: Imam Abdullahi Abubakar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you have been an imam?:
Abubakar: I was born in Akwiam, Bauchi State. I studied in Quranic schools in Potiskum and in Gombe before I came to Gindin Akwati in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, where I stayed with my father’s elder brother. At that time, I think, I wanted to join the army to fight in the Nigerian Civil War but my father objected to my plan because he was very old and weak. He was the imam at that time and I was the closest help he had. So, when he died, I was appointed as his successor.
When I was appointed as an imam? I cannot remember the date but I think it could be about 30 years ago; since my father died. I am not sure. It’s been a long time and I can’t remember.
Embassy: What happened on June 23rd, 2018 in your village in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State?
Abubakar: At about 3.30 p.m., shortly after the mid-afternoon prayer, worshippers were still in the mosque when we started hearing gunshots from Gindin Akwati area, some distance from our village.
The intensity of the attack increased as we heard more gunshots from Soi, a community that is closer to our village. Soon, there was pandemonium everywhere in our villages as people ran from invading attackers.
Since the mosque was open, I beckoned everyone fleeing, both Muslims and Christians, to come in there for protection. My deputy and I took charge in directing people into the mosque and my home for shelter. We asked everyone to lie down on the floor of the mosque to avoid being hit by flying bullets.
We also locked the mosque and my home and stayed guard outside to ward off the attackers. We pleaded with them to spare the lives of those being sheltered in the mosque and my home.
It was a tense moment. But I did not give up or allow them to harm my guests as they scattered in different directions trying to gain access to the mosque and my home. I tried to make calls but the phone lines were dead. I couldn’t get through to anyone.
Embassy: What happened to the people who were in your mosque and house?
Abubakar: By the will of God, those that He did not want to die in this attack took shelter in the mosque and in my home. Then, we pleaded with the attackers not to harm them.
We could not identify any of the attackers because they had their faces covered. We just kept pleading that in the name of God, they should not harm anyone.
I prostrated in front of the armed men, pleading for the lives of those being sheltered. I even began to cry, wailing and rolling on the ground, asking them to leave and after a while, they left.
Embassy: The people who went into your mosque and into your house, where are those people now?
Abubakar: When they ran from their houses to the mosque, we sheltered them and stayed with them in the mosque after the attacks. We ate together and we protected them until they were moved to a displaced persons camp.
Embassy: Tell us why you did what you did?
Abubakar: The main reason I did what I did was because I had been living in peace and harmony with these people as neighbours. We had never had any problems with one another.
We had lived in peace until suddenly these attackers came to destroy the village and kill people. I won’t let that happen, so I asked the people fleeing from the attackers to take shelter in the mosque and in my home.
Embassy: How did you feel on that day when this happened?
Abubakar: When this happened, I was really traumatised. I was severely traumatised. I could not sleep for almost a week. But because of my strong faith and trust in God, I have been able to endure the shock and stress. The pressure is easing and I am beginning to calm down.
Embassy: Tell us about how your faith and your work as an imam led you to do this very brave thing that you did.
Abubakar: Alhamdulillah (praise be to God, the Creator). Our religion, as taught by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), shows that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) lived in peace and harmony with diverse ethnic groups and people of different faiths – Christians, Jews and atheists. He never hurt or oppressed anyone. We learn and follow his teachings and in his footsteps.
Embassy: Tell us about relations with Christians in your village.
Abubakar: As I said earlier, we have peaceful relations with Christians in my village. Let me even tell you that we have intermarriage relationships between us as well. I even have grandchildren whose parents were non-Muslims but who later converted to Islam.
We interact and do things together. I even forgot to tell you, the non-Muslim natives gave us the land on which the mosque is built because of the trust and understanding between us.
Embassy: What do you do with Christians at Christmas time and Sallah?
Abubakar: During Sallah, we celebrate together. And when it is time for Christmas, we celebrate together as well. We exchange food and gifts. Boys and girls get together and party during these festivities. We the elders exchange visits between us, Muslims and Christians. We never experienced any problems between us until this attack.
Embassy: There is a lot of violence today in different places throughout this country, some as conflicts between farmers and herders, others with kidnappers or cow rustlers, some between Christians and Muslims. It happens in states all across this country, from Plateau to Benue to Borno to Zamfara and Delta. What message do you have for people here in Nigeria who are dealing with this kind of violence, reprisals and counter-reprisals? What message do you have for Nigerians and for people around the world?
Abubakar: I thank God for His interventions in these types of conflicts. We continue to pray that by the grace of God, this should be the last time we experience this type of violence. We also pray God to touch the hearts of those behind these conflicts to toe the path of peace. And if they are not willing to change, may the Almighty God deal with them as He deems fit.
Embassy: You are a person of faith who has devoted himself in submission to God’s will. What message do you have for us as peacemakers to try to put our faith into action and live out our lives with our beliefs?
Abubakar: Alhamdulillah (praise be to God). We should all reflect on the fact that God created us, some as whites, others as blacks, some, tall and others, fat, and so on. God had a reason for creating us as diverse humans.
No one has a reason to question the existence of the other. If God had wanted otherwise, He would have created us the same.
We must embrace the diversity that God has created and strive to live in peace with one another everywhere in the world. If God had wanted us to be the same, He would have done so but He brought us all together, mixed us together, I don’t know how to explain it, but, you know, He brought us together to create harmony so that we can live in peace together.
God wants us to live together in peace. If He had wanted, we would just be the same and there would be no difference. My message to the entire world and to everyone is that we should all respect one another, follow the rules and be selfless advocates for peace.
We have conflicts because people are greedy and self-centred. If people are not selfish, I would not even bother to hide my money. I would just carry it on my head and walk around. I would not even need to protect myself anyhow.
Please, eschew selfishness because that is what causes conflicts, leads to destruction.