Two groups, Buhari Support Organisation, and the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC, have disagreed over the attempt by the State Security Services, SSS, to arrest the General Overseer of Omega Fire Ministry, Johnson Suleiman, following his alleged comments calling for the killing of Fulani herdsmen.
While MURIC criticised the pastor for his comments and urged the security agency to arrest him, the Buhari support group warned against arresting of the cleric, saying it could cause a huge setback for the administration.
In a statement on Wednesday, BSO’s Deputy Director, Blessing Agbomhere, said it would want the federal government or the security agencies to be drawn into a religious battle as a result of the comments made by the cleric.
Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State had prevented operatives of the SSS from arresting Mr. Suleiman in Ado Ekiti on Wednesday.
Speaking on January 2 at the last edition of the church’s monthly Miracle and Fire Night Service in Auchi, Mr. Suleiman 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 Fulani herdsman found around the premieres of his church.
The Buhari support group noted that Mr. Suleiman’s comments on the killings in Southern Kaduna, were a reflection of the mind of the Christian community, and that any attempt to pick him up would stir the adherents of the religion.
The group also urged the SSS to focus on stopping clashes between farmers and herdsmen in parts of the country and ensure the security of lives and property.
“Everybody has a right to free speech,” said Agbomhere. “Any attempt to arrest him can cause a lot of setback for the Buhari administration.
“As a supporter of the President and a believer in this administration, I don’t want the presidency or the DSS to be drawn into a religious battle.”
According to Mr. Agbomhere, not only are people angry about the killings in Kaduna, they are also entitled to their opinions concerning issues of their faith, more so, because Apostle Suleiman is a leader in the Christian community.
But MURIC described Mr. Suleman’s comments as “provocative, irresponsible and unpatriotic.”
According to MURIC’s Ishaq Akintola, Governor Fayose manifested a blatant disregard for the rule of law by preventing the SSS from arresting the pastor.
“Pastor Johnson Suleman wants to make the country unsafe for Muslims and law abiding Fulanis,” he said.
“Muslims have never been known to fear death or to compromise their faith. But we do not want to join issues with belligerent people who are always bullying Muslims and Fulanis by telling lies and issuing threats. Neither do we want to heat up the polity.”
Mr. Akintola urged Nigerians to objectively and critically examine the Fulani herdsmen phenomenon, saying those killing Nigerians are Senegalese and Malians.
“It is therefore unwise of us as Nigerians to allow a few lawless foreigners to cause religious or ethnic war in our land. Let us separate criminals from their tribe or religion.
“We should resist the temptation to stigmatise Fulanis or Muslims because a few herdsmen take the law into their hands.
“For the avoidance of doubts, we denounce the criminal activities of these herdsmen but we should mind where we point accusing fingers,” he said.
“We therefore call on the Nigerian security agencies to do the needful. Nobody is above the law. Fayose or no Fayose, Pastor Johnson Suleman must still be questioned and cautioned for his vituperations and provocative statements. He cannot remain tied to Fayose’s apron string forever,” he said.
“We charge the Nigerian security agencies to spare no effort in dealing decisively with the notorious herdsmen who have brought untold hardship to Nigerian farmers.
“The full wrath of the law must be unleashed on them for killing innocent farmers and destroying their farms. We appeal to Muslims to go about their lawful duties and to remain calm and law abiding.”
Cleric stands by comments
Mr. Suleiman has insisted that he only exercised his right of free speech when he made the alleged inciting comments.
In a statement by his Communications Adviser, Patrick Shaibu, the pastor wondered why he could be harassed for merely expressing his opinion on the menace of Fulani herdsmen.
“The Fulani militia, masquerading as herdsmen have stated that they are going to kill me,” he said.
“Everyone knows that they are armed with AK47 and have already killed over 7000 persons in Nigeria. Women have been raped and houses destroyed. Yet, not one of them has been caught or is being prosecuted by the DSS or Federal Government.
“Are we saying that I should fold my arms and allow the same Fulani militia to kill me? Am I wrong to give my security aides orders that they should kill any of the so-called herdsmen found near me or my church? Is there nothing like self-defense in our law.”
He clarified that his message was directed to the Fulani militia, in the guise of herdsmen, that had openly declared intention to kill him.
Mr. Shaibu noted that even if the comments made by Apostle Suleman were found to be inciting, as alleged by the SSS, a government that believes in robust debate as a means of strengthening democracy would have invited him for explanation, rather than attempting to “kidnap him.”
Mr. Shaibu said the attempt by the SSS to forcefully arrest Apostle Suleman was “disingenuous and cheap.”
“We expected a more civilized conduct from a government that promised Change,” he said.
“What most people do not know is that Apostle Suleiman’s father was a Muslim. He was born into a Muslim family. He has brothers and sisters that are Muslims and enjoy very cordial relationship with them. So to brand him anti Islam or anti Muslim is being mischievous or taking apostle’s message out of context.
“It is sad that a government that promised a new dawn for Nigerians on 29 May, 2015 under a President who pledged to ‘allow all arms of government (including free press) to function optimally and avoid the confusion which all too often bedevils governance’, has now resorted to a tactic that was so cruelly employed by the military in the country’s not-too-distant past. Is this the Change that President Muhammadu Buhari promised Nigerians?”
Mr. Shaibu wondered why the government has chosen to dissipate so much time and energy on hounding an innocent citizen for the mere fact that he expressed his opinion, at a time of growing national insecurity, worsening electricity supply and mass unemployment, just to mention a few.
“There is no way the Buhari administration will escape the kind of issues that Apostle Suleman has raised if it does not stop the senseless killing of innocent Nigerians by Fulani herdsmen.”
“We are calling on the government to leave Apostle Johnson Suleman alone and apologise to him for the unwarranted intimidation and harassment to which he was subjected, Wednesday morning.”