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Religious leaders preaching inciting sermons should be arrested, Cardinal Onaiyken tells FG

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By Joseph Erunke
ABUJA- The Metropolitan Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, yesterday, attributed the growing religious intolerance in the country to what he called hate speech and inciting statements by supposed men of God.

To this end, he called on the Federal Government to begin to direct law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those found wanting in the act.


The Catholic Archbishop spoke in Abuja, at a National Security Workshop,organised by a foreign security consultant, Club de Madrid, in collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser to the President, ONSA.

Speaking with journalists on the sideline of the occasion, Onaiyekan said the country must sit up in its counter-terrorism efforts.

“Plenty of work needs to be done to counter the terrorism narrative at the grass root. Boko haram did not just spring up and started shooting on the first day.

“There has been these movements, these groups in their special mosques, where they have been preaching, and the context of their homilies has been identified by many people as not in the right direction.

“Nobody felt that they had the responsibility of say hey, wait a minute what are you saying. That was the time to have started the debate, that was the time when other Muslim groups should have engaged them, but they were largely left alone, “he said.

He added:” Eventually, politics came in and the politicians found them useful, and conscripted them, and empowered them, they became too powerful, that is the story of what happened.”

Continuing, he said: “We must learn from our past mistakes, while we defend freedom of worship and freedom of speech, there is obviously a limit as to how far you can carry your freedom.”

Answering question on whether religious leaders have fared well in this area, the cleric responded:” Religious leader? That is a very nebulous expression. Who is a religious leader in Nigeria, you can drop your microphone today and tomorrow you become a pastor, if you are a Muslim, you can become an imam.

“Nobody is going to ask you how did you became a religious leader, if anybody comes out and tells me he is a Catholic Revered Father, I would ask him how did you get there, because we have our own system.

” But in Nigeria, we are free, because of that, people claim to be bishops, Imams and religious leaders, they say whatever they like and they are not responsible to anybody.”

He further added: “In my own opinion, there is enough in the law in Nigeria to curb reckless speaking, if somebody standup in church and in his pulpit and starts inciting his members to go and kill others, he has committed a crime under the Nigerian Law and he should be arrested, which is not happening.

“There is a tendency then for security agencies to be a little bit afraid, they would say if you touch religious leaders, there would be backlash, let the backlash come for goodness sake, so that we can get out of all this mess.”

In his speech at the occasion, National Security Add Adviser, Mohammed Babagana Monguno , represented by Mrs Catherine Imaji Udida, while  noting that Boko Haram had remained a real threat to internal security, said the threat that Nigeria faced from violent extremism “today is by a group which has proven its capacity to evolve, adapt and extend its network both within Nigeria and abroad.”

While also likening the group to other international terrorist groups, he regretted that no one noticed a difference in Boko Haram or paid attention to its capacity when it came up.

“No one paid more than a passing interest to its preaching and strategic objectives. Sadly, Boko Haram is not just another fringe Islamist movement but a deadly terrorist sect very similar to Al Qaeda in ideology and aspiration, “he said.

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