Surprise in Sokoto -A report on the recent Synod in Nigeria

10 February 2007 - Print Version

News & Views

Sokoto is the home of the Caliphate – the very heart of Islam in Nigeria – and the very last place where you would expect to find hundreds of Anglican Christians gathering for a church meeting. Earlier history of this town was, however, preparation for this surprising encounter. The first Sultan Abubakar, the great grandfather of the present incumbent on his enthronement at the end of the nineteenth century, announced that he would not permit a Moslem to raise a hand against a Christian. He was able to maintain peace despite enormous pressures. In more recent years that stand has been threatened by the violence and religious extremism that has swept the world leading to heightened tension and fear.
When Archbishop Peter Akinola first proposed holding a meeting of the General Synod of the Church of Nigeria in Sokoto everyone was stunned … it was simply unthinkable to them! Many of them had never visited this historic town in the North Western part of Nigeria and some wondered whether they would be walking into a death trap! The local bishop, the Rt. Rev’d Augustine Omole was both elated and overwhelmed, His is a missionary diocese and the cost of such a meeting was well beyond their limited resources. The Primate was insistent and with the support of the rest of the Synod arrangements began to be made.

The first day of the gathering was devoted to registration and visits to the Governor and the newly appointed Sultan. The Governor’s official residence is part of a large complex of government buildings and is an impressive marble covered building. Security was tight and after passing through metal detectors the Primate, accompanied by more than forty of the bishops and senior delegates, was ushered into a large, air-conditioned conference room to await a formal meeting with the Governor, Alh. Dr. Attahiru Bafarawa. He arrived with a large retinue of aides and after formal greetings were exchanged it was announced that he would provide a hundred rooms at the premier hotel in town to accommodate some of his honored guests! This remarkable act of generosity set the tone for the rest of the meeting.

The visit to the Sultan, however, proved to be even more surprising. The Sultan’s residence is also part of a much larger complex of buildings. As the Primatial party made its way to the reception room they passed through several other rooms filled with an assortment of people waiting for an audience with the Sultan. Once they were situated in what can only be described as a throne room – at the center were three enormous red and gold thrones – they were all seated in a semicircle of chairs to await the Sultan’s arrival. Alh. Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar III was appointed Sultan after his uncle, Alh. Abubukar Maccido died in a tragic plane crash, October 2006. Archbishop Akinola had worked closely with the late Sultan both as joint chair of the Nigerian Inter Religious Council and also the Tsunami Relief fund – a project that raised more one billion Naira (approx seven million dollars) to aid the victims of the Tsunami of 2005.

When the Sultan made his entry, dressed in traditional robes, he proved to be a very energetic man in his 50’s. After formal greetings had been exchanged he spoke to those gathered at length without notes. It was evident that he sits lightly on his throne and is very engaging. Before his appointment he was a Colonel in the Nigerian Army and at the time of his election had been studying at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos. He said that he was about to publish a paper titled, “Religious Extremism and National Security” and he is clearly committed to peaceful existence with people of all faith traditions. Turing to Archbishop Akinola he said, “If somebody tries to hit you because you are a Christian I will place myself in front of you so that they can hit me first!” A remarkable statement from the man who is seen as the “King of Moslems for Nigeria”

After more greetings and the obligatory photographs, the Primate and his party returned to the hotel to prepare for the meeting of the Synod that would start early the next day. The primary focus of the meeting was to address a number of constitutional issues that would allow the Church of Nigeria to continue its remarkable growth. Two of the key decisions made were that the next Primate would automatically serve as Bishop of Abuja and a Provincial Headquarters and Conference Center would be built in the Federal Capital to provide the necessary infrastructure to sustain the Church’s mission and ministry during the coming years. At the end of the day, however, all of the Synod delegates agreed that nothing was more surprising about this meeting than the warmth of their welcome in Sokoto and the promise of peace in such an unlikely place.

The synod communique can be found here

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