The security agencies will today meet the leadership of the Christian community to discuss how to enhance security at the various churches in the wake of the terrorism threat alert on the country.
Ahead of the meeting, some churches have begun the process to improve security on their church premises, as well as arm their members with personal security tips.
In interview with the Daily Graphic, the General Secretary of the Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC), Rev. Emmanuel Barrigah, confirmed that the council had received an invitation from the National Security for discussions in relation to the terrorism threat alert.
However, he said, the council had already sent notices to their member churches to beef up security and also educate their members to be security conscious, vigilant and watch out for suspicious characters.
Rev. Barrigah said the council would liaise with the security agencies to provide training for church workers.
Some of the churches, on their own, had contacted the police to provide security training for selected members for internal security control to prevent any sudden and surprise attacks.
The Africa Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (ACSIS) last week issued a security alert that the Salafi Jihadist group based in Burkina Faso had been moving in and out of Ghana through the border with Burkina Faso over the past four months.
The militants are reported to have killed four Burkinabe customs officers at a checkpoint at Nohao, near the Ghana border, and burnt three vehicles in February 2019.
The National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu, has urged Muslims to report strangers who come into their communities with views that do not conform to the teachings of Islam to the security agencies.
He has also called on leaders of the various Islamic sects to be on the alert and protect non-Islamic public places of worship from attacks from extremist elements who may enter the country to engage in terrorist acts.
In an interview with the Daily Graphic last Tuesday, the National Chief Imam’s spokesperson, Sheikh Aremeyaw Shaibu, drew the attention of the Muslim community to the teachings of Islam and said the Qur’an forbade attacks on public places of worship, even in situations of war.
“The position of Islam with regard to attacks on public places of worship is that such places cannot be targeted because they are considered havens of peace and sacred symbols of God,” he said.
Therefore, he added, it was wrong and un-Islamic for any person or persons claiming to be Muslims to attack churches or any place where people gathered to worship God.
Sheikh Shaibu was reacting to a security alert issued by the Africa Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies (ACISS) to the effect that a Salafi Jihadist group based in Burkina Faso intended to launch attacks on churches in Ghana.
The ACIS claimed, among other things, that the group had been moving in and out of Ghana through the border with Burkina Faso over the past four months.
Sheikh Shaibu buttressed his point with Qur’an 60:8, which states: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous towards them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.”
He added that Muslims had no grounds to hate Christians.
He said Qur’an 49:13 also promoted tolerance among people of different cultures, adding that practitioners of the religion were forbidden from hating people of other cultures.
Qur’an 49:13 states: “O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you into peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is knowing and acquainted.”
Sheikh Shaibu said from those two texts, attacks on Christian or Jewish places of worship could not be justified, especially in a country such as Ghana where inter-faith dialogue had been very robust and adherents of both religions had lived in peace with one another for centuries.
He advised Muslims to be vigilant and cautious and “smoke out” strange elements with strange mindsets within their midst and find out what such elements were engaged in, who accommodated or received them or who their friends were.
“This must be seen as the responsibility of the Muslim to contribute to the general peace and security of the country. We must remember that we have only one Ghana. This is a country where we are able to gather in our mosques and worship without any fear and we would want to continue in the spirit of inter-faith harmony, dialogue and friendship with adherents of other faiths in Ghana, the West African sub-region, Africa and the world,” he said.
He urged Muslim parents and organisations to be part of the effort to rid the country of extremist elements.
He acknowledged the fact that due to poverty in the Muslim communities, jihadists might attempt to lure the youth with money to engage in terrorism and urged Muslims in the country to be wary of strangers who might come into their communities bearing gifts.
Sheikh Shaibu assured the security agencies of maximum cooperation to flush out jihadists and extremists from society.
Security beefed up
The Presiding Bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church of the Western West, Rt Rev. Dela Dogbe, said security at the church was paramount, especially in recent times.
For the A.M.E. Church, he said, the leadership and pastors had, at a conference recently, educated and sensitised members to security tips to equip them with basic security measures.
Rt Rev. Dogbe, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), said some policemen had also offered security training to some of the leadership and pastors.
He added that some of the branches of the church had policemen as security during church service, while other branches also engaged private security to ensure protection.
He urged church members to be conscious of their surroundings, look out for unknown persons who acted strangely and also report suspicious characters to the leadership and security of the church.
He said the CCG had also circulated some security information materials to various platforms to ensure that church leaders became conscious of the security of their churches and their members.
He underscored the need for prayers, while the church became vigilant.
The General Secretary of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference (GCBC), Rev. Fr Lazarus Anondee, said the issue of security in the church was discussed at a joint meeting between the CCG and the conference on May 2, 2019.
At that meeting, he said, it was agreed that the issue be taken seriously by all churches and preventive measures, including the training of ushers on security matters, taken to address the threat.
“The various Bishops are now operationalising the decision,” he stated.
The General Overseer of the Global Revival Ministries, Rev. Dr Robert Ampiah-Kwofie, said some workers of his church were being trained on security issues.
He said the church was also collaborating with the Ghana Police Service to come up with ways to improve security in the church.
Trial of faith
A former Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church and former General Secretary of the CCG, the Most Rev. Dr Aboagye Mensah, said attack on the church was not a new thing in Christianity, since some disciples of Jesus Christ were persecuted for their faith.
He said Christians needed to see those attacks as a test of their faith and a fulfilment of the Word of God that such attacks would happen during the end times.
“The threat of terrorism or the attack itself should not deter Christians or shake their faith; they should rather see it as a trial of faith in the Lord. The threat should not also stop people from going to church,” he said.
While acknowledging the fact that most of the attacks were executed unawares, hence the need to tighten security, he said Christians should see them as a trial of their faith in God.
For his part, a former General Secretary of the CCG, Rev. Dr Opuni Frimpong, said with the current terrorist threat on churches in some West African countries, including Ghana, church leaders must show more concern about the security of their members and facilities.
He said although churches in Ghana had, over the years, enjoyed peace and security from attacks by religious terrorists, the current threat and attacks on churches in neighbouring countries were a wake-up call to the church community.
He suggested that church leaders, ushers, among others, must be trained on some basic skills in security, body language and how to move people to safety, adding that closed-circuit television (CCTV) equipment and other security gadgets must be installed on church premises.
“Attention must be paid to sitting arrangements of new members and visitors during church services, with some security arrangements around them until their dedication can be trusted,” he stated.
“Security is a collective responsibility and, therefore, church leaders and members must demonstrate a serious interest in their own security,” he said, adding that “the recent terrorist attacks on churches in Sri Lanka, Burkina Faso and so on must set a security strategy agenda for the churches”.