The Borno State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Home Affairs, Mr Babakura Jatau, tells TOBI AWORINDE that a state government-sanctioned probe is looking into the events that led to the killing of a youth, Ezekiel Bitrus, by a security agent during the demolition of Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, aka EYN, by the Borno Geographical Information System.
What was the genesis of the demolition in Maiduguri?
There is nothing much to it. There is an agency (Borno Geographical Information Survey) created by the state government and that agency is given the responsibility of town planning. People must comply with the town planning. Then there are other things that go with it, like land rent payment, compliance and non-encroachment into the roads, and change of purpose. It is so funny; it is not only churches that were demolished in Maiduguri. There were nine mosques that were demolished, but nobody complained. In addition to that, there are churches that the state government actually built in Borno State. So, whatever happens, I think it is unfortunate, but the way it is being bandied around, it’s not palatable. It wasn’t a deliberate thing.
Did you say the state government built churches?
Yes, the state government built churches in so many other places. But people now resort to sentiments, which is not good. In Borno, we have enough problems to deal with, but it is very unfortunate. Whatever it is, the state government set up a committee that will investigate the remote cause of the demolition, so whatever comes out, I cannot come out to say anything pertaining to that. I don’t want to pre-empt it. It is being investigated, so whatever one will say concretely will only come after the final investigation which is being conducted by the Office of the Commissioner of Police. At the end of the investigation, I think the government will make public whatever the findings of that panel. But it is most unfortunate.
Do you think the state government bears any blame since it gave the church the land to build?
It is not a case of you being given the land. Fine, you were given the land, but there is one thing that we can now see: what is the title? Land goes with a title. In the first place, it is a community area, so we don’t even know when the licence was given to that church, whether it was originally allocated for building a church there. It has also yet to be ascertained whether it is a traditional piece of land or land allocated by the Borno State Government Ministry of Lands and Survey. But in all, about 11 mosques and four churches were demolished in the state in the last two years, but the unfortunate thing is that in this one, one life was lost.
But the state government is following the events as they unfold and we are awaiting the outcome of the by the investigation by the Borno State Government. Immediately after the incident happened, the state government gave directives to the Deputy Governor of Borno State to go to the hospital and see those that were injured, sympathise with them, and ensure that adequate medical attention was given to them. So, I think we would have to be patient with one another; we will have to be tolerant.
I am sure a directive is given (to BOGIS). It would not just go and demolish a place of worship. But all the other demolitions that were done earlier, nobody spoke about them. But we still await the outcome of the investigation. That will determine whether or not there was an error of judgment from either side. Definitely, when demolitions take place, beyond a reasonable doubt, the government will have every reason to do everything according to the law. As Nigerians, we have the freedom to associate.
Remember there is a community in Abuja where there was demolition of some mosques and there were some Muslims also doing the same thing. Remember also how many mosques were destroyed and burnt in the East and the West. All of this is uncalled for; I don’t know if those ones did not get the due authorities. Maybe it was undertaken by arsonists, but definitely, you and I know that no reasonable government will destroy a place of worship without good reason.
The state government also has a one-on-one (discussion) with the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria in Borno State. So, I think the situation is under control and there is no tension, whatsoever, for now. However, the result of the investigation will definitely tell us what went wrong. But it’s most unfortunate. We don’t need this kind of thing at this time. Laws are meant to be, but if you go against the law, whatever the group, what is expected of you is to comply and then lodge your complaints afterwards, not that you will go out and be confrontational. It has happened, so let’s await the outcome of the investigation by the panel.
What is the protocol for demolitions like this?
They would not just demolish any building anyhow just for the fun of demolishing the building. Maybe they thought that they could have brought down half of the building. Again, for any structure that is demolished by BOGIS, adequate notice is given in writing. In addition to that, they would write on the wall or fence of that structure that is going to be demolished. They would then give you a certain number of days to produce your document of authentication. If you don’t do it, that is when the demolition takes place. This is not new in Nigeria, it has been happening all over the country. The other day, a mosque was brought down in Rivers State, but it was not deliberate. You can’t go and try to use land for a purpose it is not meant for, you cannot go and site an industrial facility in a purely residential area. But if the title is okay and BOGIS errs in its judgment to bring down the church, the government will definitely do the needful. But since the case is being investigated, I think we don’t need to pre-empt it. Again, people in Borno are different from any other state; we live with our Christian brothers in peace and harmony, particularly in the southern part of Borno where you don’t have mixed farming. We do all our celebrations together, Sallah, Christmas, and so on. So, a case of religious intolerance is not even there. Even Boko Haram doesn’t discriminate; they deal more with the Muslims than people of other religions. But we pray and hope that the outcome of (the probe by) the panel set up the state government will come out with the facts and the findings which will be made public.
Reports say the phones of protesters at the site were seized. Is that normal?
That, I am not aware of. I am hearing about it for the first time, so I can’t comment on that. But if it was done, then it is not good enough.
CAN said the last Certificate of Occupancy issued to a church in Borno was in 1979. Is that true?
If you were in Maiduguri, you could see the number of churches in Maiduguri. So, I don’t think a church would be allowed to be operating without a C-of-O. I don’t want to talk about CAN, please. It is better you direct the question to CAN. You said they said it. You and I know that from 1979 to date if a C-of-O has not been issued to CAN, then all the churches in Maiduguri are illegal. So, even if the government decides to demolish them, then CAN has no reason whatsoever to complain. That is my own personal opinion; it is not the position of the government. From 1979 to date, how many churches were demolished? That is the question that you should ask CAN.
What do you think the state government can do to improve on the way such a situation is handled in the future?
Now that a panel has been set up, definitely it is going to research all the grey areas and, at the end of the day, if there is anything which is undetermined in terms of carrying out authorised duties, whatever is done has to be in compliance with the law and no law can override the Constitution of Nigeria. These very careful steps are being taken to ensure that we do not encroach or go against the fundamental rights of freedom to association and living in any part of the country. But if you violate the law, that is when the law catches up with you.
What is your message to the family of the deceased?
Honestly, I am pained. All of us are aggrieved. Not only me, the entire people of Borno State, most particularly the people who live in the community with the deceased. We sympathise with them, that is why immediately the governor heard about the incident, he directed no other person than the deputy governor to immediately visit the scene and go to the hospital where the injured ones were and gave a directive that no single person that was affected by this incident should be left behind. He said all necessary medical attention must be given to them at the expense of the state government. In addition, the state government went ahead to set up a panel on the same day. He also invited the leadership of CAN, sympathised with them and sat down with them to discuss privately. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what they discussed and I don’t know the outcome of their discussion.
Source: The PUNCH
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