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On Gov. Elechi religious tolerance

By Muhammad Ajah

The cordial relation between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria is really a development that every citizen must rejoice with and pray hard for its sustenance. The years of religious crises have gone and we must all stand up against any attempt to induce such. This is why I respect, identify with and pray for the Interfaith Establishment set up by the Federal Government and co-chaired by the highest authorities of the Islamic and Christian faiths in the country.

Due to the foresight in establishing this great and fruitful national body and its achievements within the short period of its existence, there have now become several areas where one nuclear family has Christians, Muslims and pagans and they live in perfect peace and harmony. This has portrayed Nigeria to compete among the comity of nations highly revered in terms of religious tolerance, unity and cooperation in recent times.

This spirit of religious tolerance and coexistence should permeate the states and rural areas and be taken seriously by custodians of the major religions as well as the political elite. It is laudable that many state governors across the nation have imbibed this spirit and are doing their best to carry all segments of their citizens in their political train irrespective of religious, social and political differences.

But there is a recent tiff that called for attention and caution in Ebonyi State. The tiff was between the governor and some Muslim leaders of the state, although many have believed that it was more politically inclined than religious. On the other hand, some believed it emanated from the search to address some feelings of neglect and compassion.

On the 18th day of September, 2009, barely two days to the end of the month of Ramadan, there were the text messages that the Governor Martin Elechi has banned Muslims in the State from using the microphone to call to prayers – adhaan – in all the mosques. At least I can recall that I also received the message from five different persons some of who are highly placed Nigerians.

Although the text messages carried slight differences, the central point was that the governor said so and as a remedy that he must be resisted. The messages added that the governor was an evil and devil and that he should be resisted from carrying out his plan. It further requested that the message should be sent to ten other Muslims apparently because of the fears on the minority Muslims and the need to invite rescue and solidarity from the larger Nigerian and global Muslim Community.

The following day, there was another message that the ban of Ebonyi State Governor Martin Elechi on Muslims from the use of microphone for ahdaan in mosques has brought the attention of the State Security Service (SSS) who graciously waded into the matter and went into discussion with the governor to rescind the order. The message sounding as a corrigendum and damage control of mismanaged situation by the authority and in order to maintain national security, peace and tranquility, added that Muslims should remain calm.

The genesis of this is when the governor summoned the Muslim leaders of Ebonyi State led by Eze Ndi Muslim, Alhaji Muhammad Obiahu who is believed to be one of the earliest surviving Igbo Muslim in the State. Others who attended the meeting were the Hausa and Yoruba Muslim leaders, the Chairman of Ebonyi State Muslim Pilgrims' Welfare Board, Alhaji Sulieman Ogah, Chief Haroun O. Ajah and two other Muslim elders in the State.

The governor had said at the meeting that he received protests that the Muslims' call to prayers disturb people's sleep and therefore must be stopped. It was gathered that after the Eze Ndi Muslim had pleaded that the call to prayers was the only way Muslims heralded the beginning of their daily worship, the governor reluctantly yielded to the plea that the volume be reduced to the barest.

The questions that arise here are these: Who wrote the petition and how many times have the Muslims complained to him of their being marginalized in the State affairs?

What would have soothed the matter was for the governor to come out openly to denounce what he was alleged to have said. But instead, he summoned the Muslim leaders again and asked them to do the job through press interviews, media propaganda and taking messages to Muslim leaders across the country.

However, what seems paramount now in Ebonyi State and the nation at large is for the leaderships to inspire the real sense of belonging to the Muslim Minority in the Southeast and Southsouth. They have qualified citizens to hold any state and federal political offices. They can display the highest level of gumption and responsibility when entrusted. They must not be treated as second or third class citizens of this great nation even in their own homes. They are part and parcel of Nigeria.

Muhammad Ajah wrote from Central Business District, Abuja ([email protected] 08055247005)

Development / Accra / Ghana / Africa / Modernghana.com