Christians must speak truth to power - whatever the consequences

Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi at camp for the displaced near Jos, Nigeria.Andrew Boyd/Release International

There are times when the people of God must speak truth to power. Whatever the consequences. Someone must call for change. If not us, who?

I had an early baptism of fire in 1985 when the Commission for Education decided to build a mosque right next to an Anglican church – St Michael's in Zaria. They had already begun to bring tipper trucks to the site. I wrote to the Minister to say that if they allowed the mosque to be built, there would be chaos. They would be calling for blood to flow.

But they chose to read my letter as an incitement. The government set up a high-powered Commission of Inquiry. They believed I was the one threatening bloodshed and they gave me twenty-four hours to come before the police commissioner, the commander of the army, and others.

The elders of the church, who were senior and respected figures in society, followed me to the chamber. I was surprised to see them, but they came because they didn't want this small boy
to be intimidated.

The commission tried to turn them away, but they insisted. I did have a trump card – the Ministry of Education's plans, which had somehow found their way into my hands. One of the directors of the Ministry had written a letter to say that whatever the Christians tried to do, they were going to build the mosque anyway. And the director had signed it.

The language was provocative, and the mosque itself was a provocation. So I brought out the signed letter and said, "I'm not the one who's inciting bloodshed. It's one of your officers in the Ministry of Education." And I read out the letter.

That mosque was never built. I learned very early that, if you are prepared to say the truth at any time to anyone, then God will give you a means of escape, unless your time is up. I am no longer afraid of these powers. If you don't challenge them over injustice, you will live under oppression.

So I started raising my voice on national matters in 2005. The government was not paying pensions and people were dying. Then after the attack against Gloria, I redoubled my efforts to take a stand against impunity. That was when the world began to listen. I didn't plan it this way, but what I wrote after that began to have some impact. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the US State Department started referencing my website. Many Christian
advocacy groups did the same.

Being the awkward squad can be pretty uncomfortable. But I have seen God vindicate me in the church, and I have seen God vindicate me in society, when I have challenged military and political powers. People have warned me, "Ben, if you do that, you're dead."

If we don't, we're dead anyway. This nations need salvation from the hands of unjust leaders. It doesn't matter whether those leaders are Christian or Muslim, what we are looking for is just governance. We need governors who will care for the people.

Taken from Andrew Boyd's biography of Ben Kwashi, Neither Bomb Nor Bullet, published by Lion Hudson priced £9.43