Why Nigerians must resist religious sentiments

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It is a very overwhelming and welcomed development in Nigeria that religion is now playing insignificant or no role in the national political system. That a time has come when Nigerians have lost grip of being manipulated by religious bigots and political soothsayers is an indication that the country is now marching towards the right direction. Once the electoral system is corrected and the people choose their leaders by themselves, Nigeria will become what all its patriots desire for it.

The recent national issue of selecting Arch. Namadi Sambo to be the Vice President by President Goodluck Jonathan has generated mild criticism of both religious and ethnic undertones. To put it more appropriate, it is being accepted by Nigerians, and especially the religious leaders that appointment into political offices in Nigeria should not be based on religious or ethnic backgrounds.

Immediately our beloved former President Alhaji Umar Musa Yar'Adua passed onto the glory of Allah and I know that constitutionally Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was to become the legitimate occupant of Aso Rock Villa, I was troubled by the way the vice would emerge. I know the position is not too significant in our political workings. But, as it has been, every vacant political position in Nigeria is often contested with vigour and intrepidity.

The information that was widespread at the beginning of the search for a Vice President was that a northern Muslim governor whose deputy is a Christian will be selected so that the deputy will constitutionally become the governor. In so doing, the new governor may consolidate his grounds and run for the 2011 gubernatorial elections. This is on one hand. The second reason that was advanced was to empower the Christian minority of the North.

It is great news that the nation's leadership will not only think on the pages of newspapers of empowering the minority, but is practically demonstrating it once more. When Obasanjo was elected President of Nigeria in 1999, he picked the then Governor-elect of Adamawa State, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to be his vice. Obasanjo openly brought people like Reverend Kukah and Professor Jerry Gana to political limelight. This attitude is laudable because at least it gave the northern minority the sense of belonging to Nigeria at large, and to the majority in the north.

Even if Governor Sambo was selected on veiled religious grounds, Nigerians should be proud that our democracy is thriving and that the leadership has began to empower the minority. The gesture, all good citizens would expect, should be extended to other minority groups in the country. If we can have a Muslim-Christian leadership in the north, what is wrong in having a Christian-Muslim one whether in the north or the south. The implication of this is that the minorities should be empowered because if one of the tenets of democracy – that majority carries the vote – is fully implemented in the country, the minorities will always suffer. And the religious minorities in the south have often cried for empowerment.

Some prominent Nigerians have continued to propound the need for our leaders to be religiously tolerant in order to move this country forward. Religious groups like Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Northern Christian Elders Forum (NORCEF) have been canvassing for religious understanding between the two great religions in Nigeria – Islam and Christianity. The fight to ensure that the other is not marginalized in any sector is always there, but the ultimate goal is that both these religious groups should coexist in the political, economic and social development of the country in all parts. The key players should take note of this.

The Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) has done its best in this regard. But let it go round, so that as the minorities of the north are empowered, those in the south should get the same treatment. Even in the political system, the minority political parties or say the opposition parties are being incorporated to form government of national unity. The gesture of carrying all Nigerians along in every aspect of life and development will form the stronger basis upon which this country will resist internal disturbances, regional and ethnic agitations.

On the issue of religious attachment, I so much cherish the Yorubas and Hausas for being primarily attached to their culture before religion. In the north, the real Islamic scholars know the position of Islam on religious tolerance and mutual coexistence with non-Muslims. The history of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and pages of the Holy Qur'an contain existing proofs on this topic. They should intensify efforts at educating the youngsters who often take minor misunderstandings to the extreme. It is heartwarming that religious crisis is becoming a thing of the past in the core north states. Thanks to patriotic governors like Mallam Shekarau, Namadi Sambo and few others.

Nigerians must deemphasize the significance of religion in their life. Both Islam and Christianity are not the original religion of Nigerians. But as God has made it so, man can better understand and come to Him through a path that He has carefully made for man. Let an indigenous Christian in Adamawa, Kaduna or Kebbi live and be given the opportunity to display his God-given talent. In the same way, let an indigenous Muslim in Imo, Rivers or Bayelsa be given the political opportunity to serve in any field of human endeavour even in government house. What prevents an indigenous Muslim from being a Commissioner in Ebonyi, Cross River or Anambra? What prevents a Muslim from the east from being a Minister or Special Adviser to the President? What prevents an indigenous Christian from being a governor or deputy in Bauchi, for instance?

Recently I read from the sultan – the simple, frank, learned, patriotic and God-fearing Muslim leader – the best of words for the development of Nigeria. The Sultan, while reacting to the reactions arising from Governor Sambo's elevation to the seat of Vice President and the rise of his Christian deputy, Mr. Patrick Yakowa to become the Governor, acknowledged that Nigeria is multi-ethnic and multi-religious and that anyone can aspire to lead it.

According to him, the religion of the political leader whether at the national or state level should never hinder the subjects from practising their religion or demanding for their legitimate rights and protecting their all-round interests. If Nigerians profess to be good Christians and Muslims, as the sultan understands and preaches, they should lead the nation and states as God instructed in the Holy Books – the Qur'an and the Bible?

Like a handful of patriots and nationalists, the sultan strongly believes that by leading in accordance with the provisions of the Holy Scriptures, those setbacks to our development such as greed, corruption, nepotism and injustice and so other ills associated with our society of the present day would be eliminated. Hear this great leader of our time speak, “I pray for a country where a Christian will be the happiest, most contented man going about his daily life under a Muslim ruler, and vice versa. I also pray that the type of hate-killing going on in Plateau should be totally reversed and all will live, love and embrace one another as brothers and sisters created by God.”

“We must all learn to live with our neighbours, whoever the Almighty chooses for us. Then and only then will our country develop and prosper. We must understand ourselves and co-exist peacefully. Nigerians must continue to build on understanding and we should not allow the devil to come between us.”

Many Nigerians believe in the words the sultan has spoken. They are words that are easily spoken but have proved hard to practice in the past. Nigerians are changing and Nigeria is bound to be great with this development in the nearest future.

Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail: [email protected]

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Articles by Muhammad Ajah