Reverend Danjuma Byang, a member of delegation of the Northern Pentecostal Bishops that met with All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a couple of months back, has regretted being part of the gathering.
The Guardian gathered that the cleric posted the remorse in a WhatsApp group, ‘Blunt Truth’, where he explained what transpired at the meeting.
The bishops had been accused of receiving millions in naira as ‘transport money’ and branded souvenirs.
Contacted, Byang, who confirmed his attendance, explained that the religious leaders visited the politician to table their grievances with northern governments.
He said: “It is a smear campaign. Yes, I attended the meeting and wrote a short report of it. I am surprised that the only thing they read there is the transport money I said I collected.
Let me send you the report I made.”In the report he titled, ‘The Northern Pentecostal Bishops’ Meeting With BAT’, Byang observed: “It is true that the Northern Pentecostal Bishops, under the leadership of Archbishop John Praise Daniel, who is the National Vice President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and chairman of Northern Pentecostal Bishops, called for the meeting in Abuja. The meeting was enlarged to include all Pentecostal Archbishops, Bishops and Apostles from the North, with about 100 people in attendance.”
He said one of the organisers, Bishop Jonas Katung, invited him, explaining that Katung held that the church in Nigeria, most times, plays the politics of exclusion, often with grievous consequences, when the outcomes manifest.
The embattled cleric went on: “He (Katung) said there is nothing wrong in interfacing with all political aspirants and candidates, even with the ones we do not share in their manifestos or those we think are not likely to win, to hear what they have to offer and have the opportunity to express our fears and challenges if they eventually win the elections.
“This made much sense to me and I decided to attend the meeting. And I thank God I did! “Bola Ahmed Tinubu personally came to the meeting without much fanfare.
”For almost an hour, he took time to try and convince us that in all his political, public and private life, he had never been a religious bigot, who discriminated against Christians and gave several examples to buttress this.
He (Tinubu) explained also that he didn’t choose Senator Shettima Kashim as his deputy to spite or despise Christians in the North, but only as a political strategy to win the election.
He, therefore, pleaded that conscious efforts must be made by all concerned to try and play down the role of religion in politics and governance in Nigeria.
“After the speech, I was one of the three attendees, who were permitted to respond by way of comments and questions. I appreciated the points he had made, but made him realise that the situation in the North was quite different from what obtained in the South.
“I told him that Christians in the North were not happy with his choice of another Muslim from the North to deputise for him for good reasons. I explained that in the North, there is a deliberate agenda to marginalise Christians from the public square and to annihilate Christianity in due course, if possible. I said there are at least eight states with a majority Christian population and a few others more which are roughly equal in population between the two faiths.
But these are our experiences:“In this government, there are more than 30 ministers in the Federal Executive Council from the North and Abuja, but we have only two Christians, who are ministers among them. Christians find it hard to acquire land documents to build churches or even to renew the ones that have expired.
“Christians are not allowed to preach their faith in government-owned media houses in some states. The teaching of Christian Religious Studies (CRS) and or Bible Knowledge (BK) has been banned in public schools in many states, including Borno, in which the ban was done by the man he had chosen to deputise for him.”
Byang continued: “Christian students are denied admission into public universities and other tertiary institutions and the few admitted, are denied their choice of some professional courses like medicine, engineering, law, accounting, which are needed for Nigeria’s development.
“I had to stop because of time constraint. I then asked him that if by any means we supported him and he wins the election, how would he redress these challenges? The applause I got after my question showed that I spoke the mind of almost everybody in the hall.“
The two other speakers also raised issues about what he had for us as Christians in the North if he wins. In his reply, he appreciated the issues raised.
Obviously, some of them were eye openers to him. But he said for political exigencies, he wouldn’t divulge what he planned doing, but that he had heard them and would surely act on them, if elected.
He said all he wanted the Christian community from the North to do was to identify capable men and women with integrity to present to him for engagement in his government if he becomes President.
“In closing, the convener thanked BAT for coming and the comments he had made and told him to consult widely among Christian leaders in the North, who are still grieving for what they perceive as rejection and despising Christians in the North, among whom he did not find anyone capable to deputise for him. He also asked him to ensure he recovered occupied Christian lands and communities violently taken over and occupied by terrorists, if he becomes President in 2023.“At the end, breakfast was served, with some campaign souvenirs like towels, tea mugs, notebooks and some transport money to all attendants.“It must be emphasised that Archbishop John Praise Daniel and Bishop Katung, the conveners of the meeting, made sure that BAT did not leave the meeting thinking that the Northern Pentecostal Bishops had endorsed his candidacy for the office, but wished him the best of luck.“Thanks for your time.”
Rev. Byang told The Guardian that the above was what he wrote on the WhatsApp group, stating: “But you can see that the main thing I said was never reported, only that he gave us money.
“The truth is that I don’t know how much Tinubu gave John Praise. And I don’t know how much each person got, but the TP (transport fare) I got could hardly bring me back to Jos and fix my car due to the badness of the road to Abuja.
“The error of judgment I mentioned was to explain to my people how indeed I shouldn’t have accepted to attend the meeting, if doing so, would be misinterpreted as has been done.”
But The Guardian had on Monday reported that PFN (PFN) disowned the ‘Pentecostal Bishops’ Forum of Northern Nigeria’, which met with Tinubu on Friday in Abuja.The move followed the uproar generated by the single faith ticket adopted by the ruling party for the poll.
Denouncing the clerics’ parley on Sunday, Deputy National Secretary of PFN, Bishop David Bakare, submitted that such a group does not exist within the Fellowship.
“There is nothing in PFN that is region-based like Southern or Northern Pentecostal Bishops.
“The PFN was not part of the meeting with the presidential candidate that was highly politicised. We are, however, aware of the ripples in the public domain about this matter. I am speaking officially to clarify that PFN has nothing to do with that,” he had asserted.