By Ifeanyi OttahNo Politician at least since Nigeria’s independence has been a victim of religious bigotry as the Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC)General Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari as a committed Muslim has been accused of having a secret plan of Islamizing Nigeria and as such Christians should not vote for him on March 28. He has also been slapped with the label of “a fundamentalist and bigotry.”
Buhari has been accused by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of harbourign a religious agenda. The ruling party has also accused APC of sponsoring the terrorist organization Boko Haram
From the very beginning of the 2015 election campaign, the PDP and aides to President Goodluck Jonathan have resorted to name calling, character assassination and abuses. The president’s attack dogs are on the prowl pouring vitriolic attack on some notable Nigerians including Gen. Buhari. The APC Presidential candidate has been suffering the worst of attacks. The fact that Buhari is the former Head of State and an elder statesman means nothing to them.
Nigerians are daily served with Buhari’s lost Cambridge West African School Ordinary Level Certificate as if it is the major thing Nigerians needs to know now. The issues of unemployment, security challenges, economy, poor manpower development, corruption, poverty in Nigeria and how the over 200 abducted Chibok School girls would be brought back are non issues as far as the president’s men (Dr. Doyin Okupe, Dr. Reuben Abati and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode) are concerned.
Buhari’s age of 72 years has remained a serious issue as far as Jonathan’s men are concerned. Recall that the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose in a controversial advertorial warned Nigerians not to vote for Buhari whom he said was closer to his grave.
Fayose, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Public Communications and Media, Lere Olayinka also said: “Buhari should not allow desperation for power to lead him into throwing the north into another orgy of electoral violence as he did when he lost the 2011 presidential election.”
President Robert Mugabe is still presiding over the affairs of Zimbabwe at his young age of 90 years. Tunisia sown into office on the 31st of December 2014, an 88 year old Vertan Beji Caid Sebsi as her president.
However, Buhari recently met with the representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria(CBCN) and assured them of his commitment towards ensuring that Nigeria remains a multi-religious state where every individual is free to practice his or her religion of choice.
He said although he had been consistently vilified and maligned, he had no personal religious agenda and neither would he support any moves by anybody or group of persons to either Christianize or Islamize Nigeria.
In his speech titled “One Nation bounding Freedom, Peace, Unity and Love,” Gen. Buhari, who was accompanied by his running mate Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Director General of the APC Presidential Campaign Organization, Governor Rotimi Amaechi and a host of other members of the party’s Campaign team, said he “will not condone any initiative that seeks to promote one religion over the other.”
Earlier in his welcome speech, Bishop Ignatius Kaigama, President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, who is also the Arch Bishop of Jos, said the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria believes in the unity and progress of this country and regretted the wide communication chasm that exists between the leaders and the people.
He hoped that the conversation was an indication of the willingness to establish a sustainable communication Platform. The Bishops expressed their concern with the falling education standards in Nigeria, wide spread corruption, insurgency and the worrisome security situation in the country, amongst others.
Reacting Buhari traced the cause of the challenges to unemployment. He said: “In a country where a large percentage of the younger generation is unemployed and where no immediate respite is in sight, these challenges are prone to abound. Give them self improvement opportunities; offer them a view of a greater tomorrow and all these will be in the past.”
The APC Presidential candidate assured that his government will pursue a well-planned agricultural programme in conjunction with development of the rural areas in order to exploit the multiplier benefits of agriculture, empower citizens and curtail rural-urban drift. He also stated that the solid mineral exploration and exploitation would be given a boost to generate employment.
On corruption, Buhari maintained that “we already have laws and institutions empowered to fight against corrupt practices. All we need is the will to activate these structures and utilize them appropriately.”
He further stated that Nigeria’s potential for greatness will become evident again and be more appreciated not long after he steps into office.
Consequently, Buhari was penultimate Thursday endorsed in Abuja by a group of Christians from the Northern states for the March 28 Poll.
The Christians under the aegis of the Northern Christian Leaders Eagle-Eye Forum, led by Pastor Aminchi Habu, during the endorsement, presented Buhari with a copy of the Holy Bible.
In an interview shortly after, Buhari said: “This is not the first time I am accepting Holy Bible publicly; this is not the first time. It is not even the second or third time. All these problems people are making because of religion are just of recent time and dimension. We both Christians and Muslims, have been leading this country and there was no religious problem.
“It is just now that somebody is creating these problems for us. I hope God will look after it.
I told you this is not the second or third time I will be accepting Bible. This one is special because of the leadership of the church that made the presentation, that is the only difference. Otherwise, I do receive Bibles, they are in my libraries.”
He promised Nigerians that if given the opportunity to serve the country again he would not promote the religious agenda of anyone. Buhari, who used the opportunity to clear the air on some of the allegations against him in religious matter, told the gathering that though a practicing Muslim, he never belonged nor shared the views of any extremist group.
He said: “Let me state this categorically, that I, Muhammadu Buhari, as an individual, and as president of this great country by the grace of God, given the opportunity to serve, have no personal religious agenda.
“And I will not entertain, consider or promote the religious agenda of anyone. I will not condone any initiative that seeks to promote one religion over the other. Neither I, nor my party or any member of my team has any desire or plan to Islamize or Christianize Nigeria or support anyone with such intention.
“Although I am a practicing Muslim and I have been so all my life but I have never belonged to, nor shared the views of any extremist group. I am not even a cleric. I believe that religion is personal and private.”
However, in 2011 general elections, the Christians voted massively for President Goodluck Jonathan who eventually contested against Buhari, because they believed that he (Jonathan) was one of their own. Eventhough Buhari ran with a Pentecostal preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare of the Latter Rein Assembly. But today the realities seem to have changed. Buhari is now running with another Pastor, Professor Yemi Osinbajo of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. The sentiments appears not to be the same as in 2011.
“Meanwhile, the misuse of religion in today’s politics is still gradually becoming the order of the day which to an extent should not be so.
The 2011 election, more than other elections, witnessed more attempt of mud-slinging at the name of Buhari. He had been accused of urging Muslims to vote only Muslim candidates.
On the other hand, President Jonathan penultimate Friday night was at the Holy Ghost service of the RCCG at the Redemption camp, along Lagos-Ibadan Express way. By Saturday evening, he was at the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Church, along Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, in Lagos. A fortnight earlier, he had been at the Living Faith Church, popularly known as Winners Chapel, in Ota, Ogun State.
All these Churches are known for their mega status, with membership running into many millions. President Jonathan has been quoted severally as saying that he was not in those Churches for campaign but just to greet the church members and ask for their prayers for Nigeria.
Rivers State Governor, Rotim Amaechi recently alleged that PDP bribed some Christian Religious leaders with N6 billion to campaign against Buhari.
Amaechi said that the religious leaders (Pentecostal) had been circulating documents to convince Nigerians that the APC and Buhari would Islamize Nigeria if voted into power.
He told the crowd at the State APC governorship rally in Emohua that the PDP ought to know that Nigerians were too enlightened for any political party or an individual to make the country a Muslim nation.
The governor who is also the Director General of Buhari Presidential campaign organization, therefore advised the religious leaders, whom he accused of commercializing the Christian Faith, to return the bribe money to the Federal Government.
He said: “Some Pastors collected N6 billion and they are circulating document and telling you not to vote for a Muslim, that they want to Islamize Nigeria. Tell them to return our N6 billion.
“They gave them N6 billion, they should return it to the Federal Government Coffers. They will tell you that Buhari wants to Islamic Nigeria, tell them we are too educated.
“I am a Catholic but no Catholic Priest has told me that story right now in the Catholic Church because, I will ask him how. If any Pastor tells you that, tell him to return the money.
“No body can Islamic Nigeria, they have commercialized Jesus Christ. They should stop commercializing the Christian faith. You know what Jesus Christ did in the temple? He chased them away.
“We shall chase away those Pastors who have collected money from the PDP to tell us lies. We shall chase them away on behalf of Christ.”
In the related development, the Archbishop of Enugu Anglican Provence, Most Rev. (Dr) Emmanuel Chukwuma, has criticized President Jonathan for visiting some Pentecostal churches and watching Chief Fani-Kayode abuse prominent Nigerians in the name of running his campaign. Chukwuma, who is also the Bishop of Enugu said at the weekend that Jonathan’s sectional visits to churches could be counter productive as the orthodox churches would pay him back for his non chalance and continuous neglect.
On the Director of Media and Publicity of the PDP presidential campaign organisation Fani Kayode, the bishop said it was shameful that Jonathan allowed him to drive his campaign even when the president knew he has a case in court.
Chukwuma frowned at the way Fani-Kayode was insulting prominent and elderly people, saying if he was not called to order, it may affect the president adversely.
Moreover, Rev. Moses Ilo, the General Overseer of Soul Winning Chapel, Ebute-Meta Lagos, was quoted as saying that corruption is a major problem in the country, and before Nigeria can realize her potentials, the evil must be tamed.
“He said: “What Nigeria needs is the taming of corruption and this country would become like Garden of Eden or Canaan. All we need is to tame corruption, there is corruption in every facet of the Nigerian Polity and the most urgent thing is to tame it. We have been praying and not doing anything; then God selected a Muslim, who has a very severe commitment to tame corruption. He is not a Christian, but God has seen his inside. God sees the inner most of men’s hearts and He sees that this man has an aversion for corruption, he wants to deal with corruption, then he chooses Buhari to go and be president for four years to tame corruption.”
However, Buhari at the 4th Annual Sir Ahmadu Bello memorial Lecture on February 15, 1998 says Religion is the anchor in the lives of the majority of our people. Besides giving meaning and direction to us, it serves as a means of succor and support against the turbulence and vicissitudes of life; it gives people a value system that inculcates a sense of right and wrong and which ultimately becomes a more effective anti-crime saviour than any armed police force. Somehow, unfortunately, despite the attachment of our people to the letter of their faith and their readiness to defend it with all their strength, there is no corresponding concern with its spirit; and; consequently, this has not translated into Nigerians becoming their brothers keepers, and nowhere is this failure so glaring as in the way and manner officials treat matters entrusted to them by virtue of their public office.
Yet they are not shunned by religious leaders. Our Ulama and Priests will pray for and bless every charlatan, bless every accursed occasion or deed so long as there is someone to foot their bill.
Our Society must reject this and quickly put these miscreants and pseudo scholars out of business more importantly, we must also forcefully resist those who wish to set our society on the path of Religious conflict.
The recent past was unfortunate, the present is not good enough, and it is our duty to create a future that should become a model for all multi-religious societies. We must get together, we shall all get it together. Our principal religious share a heritage that ought to be used to forge links between Muslims and Christians. Both are revealed, Monotheistic faiths that teach tolerance and peaceful co-existence.
The recent visit of the pope was a good sign of tolerance and mutual determination to put past mistrust aside.
Christianity preaches love and is founded upon love and true belief in the one true God as the life of Jesus Christ (AS) symbolizes. Islam means peace and submission to the will of the same one true God. The life of the Holy prophet Muhammed (SAW) who during his lifetime, interacted, received and discussed issues of theology with Christian Priests right inside Masjid an Nabawi, his Mosque and the second holiest Sanctuary in Islam, should be sufficient as an indication to the type of brotherhood and tolerance that Islam teaches, demands and practices. If nowadays this type of interaction doesn’t exist, Muslims must search their souls and ask themselves if they indeed copy the example of the Holy prophet in their dealings with people of the Book, as Christians are called in Islam.
In the same vein, our priests must be able to know that Islam is very deferent from what missionary education teaches, and to distinguish between the agenda of Christianity and the agenda of Western imperialism. The Qur’an teaches Muslims that among those closest to them are the Christians.
Perhaps, it can with justice be said that the problem of leadership is most acute in the dorman of religion, because, more than in other areas leadership in the religious sphere tends to lead from behind. Leaders seem to wait to determine what the mob wishers to hear, and they tell exactly that. But the mob is frequently a blood thirty creature which has no place in the scheme of any of our civilized monotheistic faiths.
We must understand provocation while it is being planned and stop it before it happens. We must educate our zealot to learn that his right ends where those of his neighbour begin. Everyone must be made to accept that we are all one vast family under the lordship of God; and it is He alone who can pass judgement over bondsmen. Knowing this, we should try to heal the wounds of past conflicts whether caused by provocation sour memories of history, external instigations or plan accidents.
For the future, I wish to suggest that Christian and Muslims must break down the banner of suspicious, hostility and misunderstanding; and the best way of doing this is by directly taking to each other. It is certainly time to begin a dialogue between Christianity and Islam at all levels -individual, communal, national and even international to reassure ourselves, save our present and preserve our future, and have a basis for hop here and the hereafter.
We must always remember whether we believe in destiny or not; we will all die. Whether we believe in the hereafter or not we will all go there. And whether we call ourselves secular or whether the truth is that ours is a very religious society, however, short on example and however long on precept. And we should be proud of the fact that we are religious…”
However, Vice Presidential candidate of the APC, Professor Osimbajo, has berated President Jonathan for being the first Nigerian leader to have attended the meeting of the organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) since Nigeria was clandestinely enlisted by President Ibrahim Babangida in 1986.
Osinbajo said this on Tuesday, at an interactive session with professionals in Warri, Delta State. Nigeria is one of the 57 member states of the OIC, an organization that states that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interest of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony.
According to Osinbajo, those accusing the presidential candidate of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari, of being a Muslim fundamentalist, who might Islamize Nigeria are getting it all wrong.
“Throughout his period as military head of state, Buhari was under intense pressure to drag Nigeria into the OIC, but he never yielded in line with the constitution.”
“When Babangida eventually dragged Nigeria he never attended any of its meeting because they needed to first get the constitution amended.”
“But it is on record that in 2013, President Jonathan ensured that Nigeria attended an OIC meeting.”