In this interview with HINDI LIVINUS, fiery Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Yola, Revd. Fr. Stephen Mamza, speaks on the state of the nation
You are approaching your 25th year espiscopal ordination, as a Catholic Priest, 10 out of which you are celebrating as a Bishop. How has it been?
Well, thanks be to God that I have had the opportunity of serving in the church for 25 years. The Lord has been sustaining me. He has been very gracious to me. It has not been by my own strength or by my own power, but by the power of God that has been doing everything I did. I can say nothing but thanks to God.
You would be inaugurating an 86-unit housing estate built for the victims of insurgency to commemorate your 25th anniversary as a priest. Why is this important to you?
As you know, since 2014 the Catholic Diocese of Yola, has been involved in taking care of displaced victims of insurgency – those displaced from southern Borno and also northern Adamawa, who ran into Yola for refuge. So, the church opened its doors so that these people can put up. At a certain stage we had over 3,000 people living on our church premises. Most of them returned to their original homes after the military reclaimed their homes. But again, there are those who still face threat of insurgency, especially those living at the border of Sambisa forest and cannot go back to their homes because of the activities of Boko Haram since 2014.
Thesepeople have been at the camp that we set up for IDPs at St. Theresa Cathedral. So, we thought of what we could do to improve their living standards. Because we were becoming weary of taking care of them and even for our donors fatigue was setting in. And the IDP themselves were getting tired of staying in the camp – it is not easy for anyone to live for seven years in a small tent in a camp with children. So, I thought of building a place where the IDPs could be resettled.
And thanks be to God, through the support of Mesio in Germany, we started last year in January the construction of 86 units of houses to be built for the 86 families still in our camp. On the housing estate, we built a church and a mosque and a school for the IDPs, which will soon be inaugurated. Already some of the IDPs have been moved into the estate.
You have faced criticism from your fellow Christians for building a mosque for Muslim IDPs. How did you handle the opposition?
In the first place, when we played host to these IDPs, we did not discriminate against any one of them. We didn’t ask what religion the IDPs belong to; we didn’t ask for their church denomination; we just treated them as human beings who are in need of help, irrespective of their religion, denomination or tribe. Majority of the IDPs who thronged our camp were Christians but there was also a large number of Muslims among them. And if we were able to build houses for all of them, and also built a church for the Christians among them, then it is only a matter of justice and fairness that we also provide a space of worship for the few Muslims among them. There are about 10 to 12 Muslim families in the camp.
I just felt that since we didn’t leave out the Muslims while providing food for the Christians or leave the Muslims out while building houses for the Christians, it is only just that we also build a mosque for the Muslims as we built a church for Christians. It is not something that is commonly done; it is not something that we have heard of being done, especially in our country, Nigeria, where everybody is conscious about their own religion.
What do your parishioners think about it?
Even from within, people did not see it as a good gesture, at all. But it is normal; I can also understand them. Some of them even pointed out that the Boko Haram insurgents are Muslims and they have caused a lot of the havoc for us; they ask, “Why should we even go ahead and build a mosque for them?” But I say, “Well, not all the Muslims are Boko Haram (members), not all of them (Muslims) are evil. Those that I know, that we have been living together and taking care of them for the past seven years, I know them to be good. So, there should be no reason why I should discriminate against them. I think that is the reason we built the mosque. People even ask, “Why should you, a Christian, build a mosque?” And my response to them is that, “I am a Christian, a pastor, a bishop and a priest, I shouldn’t deny anybody their right to worship.” I think that is the clear message I actually want to pass across.
Religion is a matter of choice. One can choose to practise this religion today, and can equally choose to practise another religion tomorrow. People should not be compelled into the practice of any particular religion against their will. If as a Christian you decide to change to Islam, that’s your own choice, you should be allowed to do so. Also, if as a Muslim you decide that Christianity is better for you, you should be allowed to practise the faith of your choice. Nobody should be threatened or forced.
If a Christian chooses to become a Muslim, that Christian shouldn’t be threatened. Same way, if a Muslim decides to become a Christian, that Muslim shouldn’t be threatened. That is what freedom of worship guarantees under our constitution, since it is a secular state that allows and tolerates freedom of worship.
What is your thought on the hijab crisis in Kwara State?
The root cause of the crisis in Kwara State is no other person than the state governor. If the governor had intervened right at the onset of the crisis, perhaps we wouldn’t witness the crisis, but he didn’t. He was quiet. He didn’t say anything, and later he ordered the schools reopened without addressing the concerns agitating the owners of the mission schools. The governor did not handle the hijab matter in a mature manner. Should anything happen in Kwara, he should be held responsible, because he has shown bad leadership.
If you actually look at the happenings in Kwara critically, you will see that the Christians in Kwara State, for quite a very long time, have been marginalised. And it is not only in Kwara State; it is the same in a lot of places, particularly in the North, where generally Christians are marginalised. That is what we are talking about; there should be freedom of religion. Let it be that as people are free to join any political party, so they should be free to join any religion that they love.
It should be a matter of choice. No one should compel you and people should not use government resources to promote their religion, which is what is happening in Kwara State, just as in many states in the North, where governors use public funds to promote their religion, while other religions are neglected. There are so many places where it is almost impossible to get land to build a church, not to even to talk of getting a Certificate of Occupancy. So, there is serious, marginalisation taking place in Nigeria on the basis of religion.
Source : Punch Newspaper
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