By Jonathan Nda- Isaiah, Abuja
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to withdraw Nigeria from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and other international religious bodies and treaties.
This was one of the demands made by CAN officials when they met with the president at the presidential villa, Abuja, yesterday.
According to CAN, membership of such organisations and treaties violates the secular state of the nation as enshrined in the country’s constitution and further violates government’s non-partisanship in religious matters as contauined in the same constitution.
Led by its president, Rev. Samson Ayokunle, CAN also called on the executive and the National Assembly to prevail on states in the North to issue Certificate of Occupancy to churches in the region.
He said: “We call on the executive and legislative arms of government to withdraw Nigeria from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and from other international religious bodies and treaties Nigeria signed with such religious organizations, because it violates the secular state of the nation as enshrined in the constitution of Nigeria and further violates government’s non-partisanship in religious matters as enshrined in the same constitution. The sanctity of the constitution must be kept for Nigeria to survive as one nation.
“We call on the executive and the National Assembly to prevail on states in the North to issue Certificate of Occupancy to churches in the region. Many excuses are presently being given by state governments in the North to deny Christians the right of building their own places of worship.
“Recently, Jigawa State Government pulled down some church structures under the guise that they did not have building permit. The truth of the matter, as obtained from the chairman of CAN in the state, was that the churches had applied for permission to build for not less than a year or more without any response.
“Do the Christians in the North not have the right to build their
houses of worship and serve God without fear or favour? If Nigeria is one country, this type of religious discrimination must come to an end.
CAN equally called on President Buhari to address the lopsidedness in appointments done by his administration in order to ensure both ethnic and religious balance.
Citing appointments in the defence sector of the country which is skewed in favour of one religion, he said in the recently released statistics of appointments made by this administration by the media adviser to the president, there was apparent lopsidedness because while some states have over thirty people appointed, others do not have more than three.
He wondered how people from such neglected states can have the sense of belonging in this nation and this administration.
CAN bemoaned the failure of some state governments to pay workers’ salaries and allowances when due and called on the federal and state governments to work together to address this as quickly as possible, noting that this would stem the rising tide of crimes and suicides all over the country.
They also called for the revival of the Nigerian Inter-religious Council (NIREC) which had in the past fostered interaction and promoted religious harmony between Christian and Muslim leaders in the country, whose meeting logistics were provided by the government.
On the president’s recovery from sickness they said: “We wish to seize this opportunity as well to very much congratulate you for the miraculous recovery from sickness which took you away from the shores of Nigeria for many days.”
They told the president that they, an Association, prayed for him like other religious groups in the nation and expressed gratitude to God that he returned to the country alive.
The umbrella body of Christians commended the president for his commitment to flushing out the Boko Haram terrorists from Nigeria.
Rev. Ayokunle lamented that the insurgents had caused deep sorrow and damage to the nation, especially many Christians, churches and facilities in the northeast in particular and the North in general.
He, however, observed that the murderous herdsmen, who were previously allowed to ply their trade in many communities in Nigeria, have become a menace to their host communities.
Ayokunle said: “The Christian communities of Benue State, Southern Kaduna, Enugu and a host of others have been on the receiving side on this. Recently I went to a village called Ancha in Bassa Local Government of Plateau State where 21 Christians in a village were killed overnight by Fulani herdsmen. My church in that village lost 20 members out of the 21 and we gave them mass burial.
“It was a gory sight to behold. The most painful and baffling thing about it was that after that attack, they came to the same area again and killed another 24 people with none of them arrested by the enforcement agents. What a complicity!
“Why are the Fulani herdsmen devastating communities without being arrested? Why are they not prosecuted? Why was the source of their ammunition not investigated? Why do they roam about with guns without being arrested? All these are begging for the quick attention of the president so that the people they are attacking also might not seek self defence which may lead to the breakdown of law and order in the nation.”
CAN also commended the administration for the recovery of some of the kidnapped Chibok girls after some years of incarceration by the insurgents in the northeast, urging the president to intensify efforts to recover the rest who may still be alive.
The group reminded President Buhari that it had sent a special appeal to the government and the Inspector General of Police in particular to help recover 20 Borno women kidnapped by Boko Haram while going to bury their relative who died outside Maiduguri, but that it had received no word on the matter.
“Up until now, we did not hear anything over the matter from the government; neither was our letter acknowledged. We are renewing our appeal again for the recovery of those women who were all Christians,” the CAN president said.
On his part, President Buhari assured religious leaders, and all Nigerians, that his administration would address rising concerns on corruption, insecurity and injustice in various parts of the country.
President Buhari, in a statement by his special adviser on media, Femi Adesina, gave the assurance when he received a Christian delegation led by the CAN president and a Muslim delegation led by the secretary-general of Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, in separate meetings at the State House.
The president told the CAN delegation that he had already given instructions for the submission of all the names of heads of parastatals in order to address the allegations of lop-sidedness in appointments.
President Buhari also said his administration would ensure reform of the police and judiciary, describing both institutions as critical for the security and stability of the nation.
“There is no way we can be comfortable in our country unless we are lucky to have a good police force and judiciary.
We need a good police force and judiciary to really maintain the legitimacy and the confidence of the populace in governance,’’ the president added.
On the fight against corruption, the president assured both CAN and JNI leaders that his administration would always be guided by the rule of law and constitutionality in prosecuting all those accused of corruption.
He explained to the JNI delegation that corruption in the country had taken a cultural dimension, urging all religious leaders and Nigerians to join in the fight in order to reverse the trend.