Reverend Musa Asaka has waded into the story of the abduction, forceful conversion and marriage of the 14-year-old girl, Ese Oruru which came to national headlines after The Trent and Punch brought her story to limelight.
Asaka is General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria and he granted this interview to Punch in which he condemned the act of stealing Christian girls forcing them to convert to Islam after raping them and, then marrying them off. He says that nobody should do that and maintains that what happened to Ese Oruru is a long-standing tradition in Northern Nigeria.
Read excerpts of the interview below:
What is your . to the abduction and forceful marriage of Ese Oruru to a Muslim from Kano?
It is an unfortunate situation. This has been going on in the North. In fact, our Christian girls are abducted but nothing is done about it. It is so sad that while we are praying to live in peace, another side is not showing a sign of peace. I don’t know where it is in the religion that teaches that they can take someone’s daughter, convert her from Christianity to Islam and marry her (off). If that is religion, then it is very unfortunate. I also want to make it very clear: If it were Christians doing this to Muslim girls, Nigerians would have been burnt to ashes. So, to me, it is a total disrespect and a complete disobedience of the law of the land and the law of God. To me, it is stealing; I don’t know why you are calling it abduction. It is stealing and the government should wake up and do something. There is nobody who has the right to take somebody’s daughter and even have the right to give her (away) in marriage. We had a similar experience in Minna (Niger State) and the matter was reported even up to the Presidency. The governor refused to cooperate. They took that girl, changed her name and married her (off). It is not good. That is what some of these Muslims are doing to us. The media should investigate and bring these ones out and the government should come out with a law. This one (Ese) is so fortunate. The one I am talking about is a pastor’s daughter. They married her off and up till today, the government is doing nothing. We met with the deputy governor; his words were arrogant. We are running out of patience. If we want to live in peace in Nigeria, then some of these Muslims have to behave. I don’t see why those practicing a religion will be stealing people’s children and they are doing it with impunity. It is unfortunate.
Why do you think the state governments are not responsive?
I will give you an example of the one in Minna, which I was involved in. We reported the case. Even the Presidency told the governor that the girl should be released. The day we went, the governor left town. How can you take a Christian girl to your Islamic court and say she can marry whoever she wants? Are they the parents? The government is not — I repeat, is not — against the whole thing. That is why when it happens, just because Christians are saying ‘we want peace,’ they will provoke us. I think we have had enough of that kind of one-sided peace. Enough of it! Christians have been taken for granted and it will soon come to an end. We cannot continue to have this kind of nonsense. Someone takes somebody’s daughter and marries her. Can somebody else take their daughter to go and marry? If they have many children and they are not accountable or responsible for them, in the Christian community, we are not like that. If you have your child, you need to know where your child is, what he is doing and who he is doing it with. Yes, we do have some stubborn ones, but you cannot steal my daughter and go and marry her. Who are you?
How often do you get such cases?
I would give you that assignment; just try finding out in the North. You will be shocked.
The Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, said he wrote a letter to the police asking Ese to be returned to her parents and that he should not be blamed for the failure to carry out the directive. Do you accept that explanation?
I was out (of the country). I do not know the time this thing happened; I just came back to meet it. I don’t know the role he played. But I read in the papers that he asked for the release of the girl. My question is: how long was the girl in that custody? I was told the girl was taken from Bayelsa. How long was she there? Where was she? And if she was in his palace, when they took her to his palace from day one, what did he say? Did he ask: ‘Where is she coming from?’ Did he ask the questions? Now, I am told she is pregnant.
Do you think the ordeal of Ese’s parents is over now that their daughter has been found?
This is Nigeria, where we are being controlled by a section. The parents are in pain. I just thank God with them that their daughter is back. They have defiled her and God must punish those people that defiled her. I want to assure you that God will punish them for doing what they did to our innocent girl. I pray that God will give the parents a special kind of grace to take this. They have ruined that girl in the community; they have ruined her future and given her bad pains in her body, but God is going to erase it by His grace.
What is your . to the delay of the Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, to take immediate action on the case?
In Nigeria, if you don’t have anybody (in power), that is how you suffer. The matter is now who you know, who you have, and who can do it for you. Why will the police wait for the Emir to do something? Is the Emir the police? When people are kidnapped and they try to get the person, do they consult the traditional ruler in that area? I have a very high respect for the IG, but if actually he said something like that — that he was waiting on the Emir — I am very disappointed.
A number of Muslim leaders have condemned the abduction, forceful conversion to Islam and marriage. Do you think these leaders are doing enough to reduce the frequency of such cases?
The word ‘condemnation’ has come to be a word we are used to: ‘Condemnation,’ ‘we are on top of the situation,’ ‘everything will be alright.’ None of them has happened. As I am talking to you now, I can go ahead to praise anybody that I want to praise and when I finish, I go about my normal business. Right from Boko Haram, ‘we condemn this, we condemn that,’ but nothing has happened. Muslim leaders coming out to condemn, it is okay; you wouldn’t expect them to come out and start saying ‘we support what has happened.’ That you will never hear. I agree, it should be condemned, but they should show me the action of the condemnation.
How do these issues of abduction, forceful conversion to Islam and child marriage affect religious coexistence in the country?
It continues to pull the rope of disharmony. We are trying to do things together and then one is making himself superior, making you to be under him. Someone can wake up and do whatever he wants to do. He wakes up, takes somebody’s daughter and makes her a Muslim. Where in our constitution does it say you can force someone to be a Muslim? Someone teaches a child to deny her parents and before you know it, they are putting a hijab (on her). That is an insult to Christianity — a very serious insult. Those Islamic leaders must be very honest with themselves; if they really want us to live in peace in this country and that is our desire, I think they should put a stop to it. They should stop playing with our intelligence, telling us that they condemn this when they have already put a hijab on her. Why put a hijab on her? Is she a Muslim?
Today, I can decide to become a Muslim as an adult; nobody can stop me. But I cannot even force my son to be a Christian; he has to choose himself. Why are they forcing our daughters; they rape them, they marry them. On what right are they doing that? I am speaking with a loud voice that the insult is getting too much. We belong to Nigeria; we don’t have any other country but this one. We will stay and die in this country. But the insult should stop so that happiness, harmony and peace will continue. In Islam, the watchword there is peace. I have been looking for where peace has been promoted in many cases, but I have not seen it. Maybe the peace that I know is not the peace that I hear because these happenings can never bring peace. Ese’s family, for instance, will hate Islam for the remaining part of their lives. Is that a good thing?
Do you know if Sharia Law permits this?
If it does, it applies to Muslims and not everybody. Some of us are not Muslims. The girl is not a Muslim. You cannot apply Sharia law on a non-Muslim. That is what is usually done. Even the case in Minna that I told you about, they were citing Sharia law. Why are they forcing us to practice Sharia that we don’t believe in? Check the history of this country; has there been any case where a Christian forced a Muslim to do things the Christian way? I don’t understand the leadership of our country. When things like this happen, they keep quiet. They allow these people to get by freely. We have nothing to do with Sharia. When Sharia was about to be introduced in Nigeria, the country was almost set aflame. Then they brought it back. (Senator) Sani Yerima brought it back. In Zamfara State, many were killed. The argument was that it is only applicable to Muslims. If it is only applicable to Muslims, why make noise? Why bring it to the public? Just introduce it to Muslims and keep quiet. But it is not! Their entire goal is to make sure that they erase Christianity and put their Sharia in. But you know what? God in heaven will never allow that to happen.
What do you say to those that claim that Ese willingly followed her abductor, Yinusa, aka Yellow?
This is Nigeria. You are free to live wherever you want to live. Did she say she wanted to be abducted? Did she say she was going to allow herself be married by force? The issue of her insisting that she wants to go does not hold at all. For some of us that are village people, when we have the opportunity to go to the city, we get very excited, not knowing what the city holds for us. Nobody should bring that argument here. They have done something wrong and I need an apology. They should say they are sorry for whatever that boy did. Whoever he is, I don’t care. He is wrong. He is a thief. He is an armed robber. He needs to apologise. The police that said they were waiting on the emir should apologise. The Islamic clerics should apologise for this thing happening day in, day out in their religion under their watch and not being able to stop it.
What about the Emir of Kano?
I don’t know when he got involved and how they put the matter to him. If his version of what transpired is true, then he doesn’t need to apologise to anybody because he did speak up to say the girl should be released. But if it were in the beginning that he kept the girl until he succumbed to pressure, then that would be a different thing entirely. But that boy (Yunusa) must be thrown into prison, never to see the light of day. We should not allow this thing to continue like this.
Do you think the Sultan of Sokoto, who is the leader of Muslims in Nigeria, should also speak on the matter?
The Sultan of Sokoto is entirely in charge. I am not expecting him to be in every nook and cranny of this country. You can be a leader and they will not inform you of some of these things. I don’t know whether the Sultan of Sokoto was informed. If he was informed, what did he do? But I know him a bit; he is a man of action. But when it comes to religious matters, there are things one has to be very careful about. I don’t know his role in this matter, so I wouldn’t want him to start apologising for something he didn’t do or know about. But if the matter was taken to him and he didn’t do anything, then I would say, ‘Your Eminence, you owe us an apology.’
Some have asked the IG to step down because he was negligent. Are you in support of this call?
I am not talking about resignation here because this is not the first time it is happening. I have told you it is a daily thing in the North. All the police IGs that have gone before him have been through this thing. So, I am not talking about resignation here. I am just saying he should wake up. Next time, he should not say he is waiting for the emir because in cases of kidnapping, I have never heard that anybody waits for a traditional ruler in that area. Resignation will not change this thing. Anyone who doesn’t want the IG there should take a different step; they should not use this case.
What should be done to stop traditional rulers from being a stumbling block to the law enforcement agencies in such cases?
That is why we have the government. We elected them to protect us, but if they cannot protect us, then it will get to a point where you will have to surround your house with a big wall and make sure you protect yourself. It is the responsibility of government to pass a law forbidding that. What is killing Nigeria more than corruption is impunity; people do whatever they want and get away with it. Nothing happens to them. So, if I do this today and nothing happens to me, it will encourage me to do it tomorrow. If this government can kill impunity; if this government can start punishing people that are doing the wrong thing, then this government will help. But just for them to reveal that someone has been kidnapped or abducted and at the end of the day, they go and sleep on their bed, it is not good news for the country.
The Kano State Government has absolved itself of any blame in this scandal. What is your . to that?
Go to Kano; do your research. You will find many girls that are under the hands of some Muslims in this kind of manner. I don’t want to join issues with the Kano government; I am talking about actual happenings. If those that were supposed to have played their roles had done so, that girl would have gone back. More than anything else, the Islamic leadership must pass a law that nobody should steal a Christian girl and marry her. That is not the way we marry culturally or religiously. Why are they trying to act different? Someone takes a small girl and tears her to pieces in the name of marrying her. He just steals and they allow him to go scot-free. I think the Islamic leaders should look into that. Let that one be done in their own religion if they don’t care. But tearing small girls apart is unethical; it is a sin against humanity and against God.
I don’t know why the government is keeping quiet that it is religion. There is no religion that says anyone should go and steal someone’s daughter and then force her to be a Muslim. That is wrong; it must be condemned and stopped before it gets out of control. These girls that are taken away have brothers and sisters; they have parents and relations. If those people begin to try to give trouble in the manner they got it, Nigeria will be a different place. I pray it doesn’t get to that place. I plead with the religious clerics and traditional rulers that they should make it a point that those kind of happenings only occur in Islam. Anybody who is not a Muslim should not be forced into it. The idea of taking somebody else’s daughter, marrying her and putting a hijab on her; they should stop that nonsense. It is not applicable to Christians.
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari should have waded into this controversy by now?
Buhari has many things on his hands. Buhari cannot just sit down there and start handling issues. You need to find out, was he told? You cannot just talk about Buhari on this issue. He is our President; was he told? Sometimes, we just sit and start criticising the leaders, condemning them, when they don’t even know. Now that he is the President, everybody will think that for every little thing that happens in every corner, he should know. In the Minna case, for instance, we took it up to the presidency. The presidency gave orders, but the state government refused to obey and nothing happened; that is the most painful one. But in this one, we should not bring our President Buhari in if we have not told him.