President Muhammadu Buhari and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rt. Hon. Rev. Justin Selby, and have advised against the manipulative use of religion by politicians and religious leaders for parochial interests.
The duo spoke in Abuja yesterday during the Interfaith Conference organised by the Interfaith Initiative for Peace (IIP), with the theme: “Religious Harmony in Nigeria: Towards the 2019 General Elections.”
President Buhari said that, ahead of the elections in February next year, he was hopeful of the peaceful conclusion of the entire process without featuring the negative use of religion and ethnicity.
Buhari said: “I pray that the 2019 elections will be held successfully without the manipulation of religion and ethnicity.
“It is my hope that anybody who feels aggrieved will put the stability of our country first before their political ambition, or accept the decisions of their political parties or seek resolution through party reconciliation mechanism or the law court.”
The president called on all aggrieved persons in the country to always consider the stability of Nigeria first before their political ambition and seek redress in court instead of resorting to violence.
President Buhari called on religious leaders to avoid partisan politics and political controversies as doing could expose them to the risk of losing their status and public respect.
“Having utilised the roles our religious leaders have been playing so far, I appeal to them to eschew partisan politics and appeal to their respective members to read the manifestos of each political party, discuss and pray for God’s guidance before casting their votes,” he added.
“Religious leaders should not be seen to involve themselves in partisan politics or political controversies, otherwise they risk losing their status and public respect.
“On their part, the traditional rulers are also requested to enlighten their subjects, encourage them to ask questions and clarifications before going out to vote. As you are present, I will request that you encourage your subjects to come out and exercise their voting rights as responsible citizens.
“To all of us politicians, I ask that we discharge our political responsibilities with integrity, bearing in mind that we will one day give account to God almighty,” he said.
President Buhari reiterated that the era of free money, lack of transparency and accountability was over.
“I am proud to say that our country moved on, the era of free money, lack of transparency and accountability is over. We deserve continuity, we deserve a better future for the coming generations. I sincerely hope that 2019 will move us closer to these goals and so I look forward to a peaceful, fair and credible election come 2019,” the president said.
On his part, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rt. Hon. Rev. Justin Welby recalled that the landmark peace agreement of 2015 produced an outcome that reverberated around the world.
He explained that when injustice and violence are perpetrated in the name of religion and ethnicity, religious leaders must speak out and condemn it.
He said: “This nation has the long history of both faith living together; the world is watching. Within our faith tradition, we have the potential to model communities who disagree on the central matters of faith,” he said.
Welby noted that insecurity, poverty, economy, corruption, ethnic division and interfaith suspicion were challenges the country has to overcome in the course of nationhood.
In his address, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, maintained that religious harmony was crucial to national development.
“Religious harmony is very important for peaceful co-existence because there must be understanding before we could collectively move forward as a country. Progress and development would continue to elude us if acrimony, mistrust and back biting are being promoted.
“However, we succeeded in securing the commitment and trust of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Police and other critical stakeholders that would be involved in the electoral process.
“We had similar efforts in 2015 and it resulted in peaceful election that led to surprise defeat of the incumbent president in 2015. We hope that peace and tolerance will envelop the forthcoming elections.”
The Sultan noted that only God can give power to whoever he pleases and also take it from him without notice.
He noted that President Buhari had repeatedly assured the nation of a level playing field for peaceful general elections in 2019.
“We have identified a common problem that has held down Nigeria, and that informed the theme of the conference, “Religious Harmony in Nigeria: Towards the 2019 General Election. We are traditional and religious leaders with massive followership and loyalty. It is expected of us to re-educate and enlighten Nigerians so they could deeply participate and make good choices at the polls,” the Sultan added.
The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, identified selfishness as the ‘original sin’ holding down holding the nation.
“Selfishness at all levels: personal, family, tribe, region, and even religion; this is at the root of corruption, violence, disloyalty and the win-at-all-costs and by-all-means syndrome at elections. If we continue this way, good governance, genuine democracy, national unity, peace and prosperity for all Nigerians will continue to elude us.
“Therefore, the concept of politics, perhaps also, but not necessarily, the players, must change.
“We need a concept of politics that is based on the readiness to serve the common good of all Nigerians. The emphasis should be on service, not self-service.
“We the people, on our part, should stop looking for local heroes and tribal champions who, most of the time, do not care really about our local needs, nor those of the nation,” he said.
He stated that politics should no longer be a place to make money at the expense of the people who are supposed to be served, even as he advised those who want to make money to go into competitive business, where hard work and competence determine success.
“We should no longer allow people to continue to take advantage of political position to suck the nation dry. This is the change that Nigerians should be looking for, beyond slogans and emotional speeches and promises. In my view, this is what the forthcoming 2019 election should be about,” he said.
He called for revolution, a change of mindset, attitude and behaviour patterns.
“This means addressing the heart and soul of Nigerians and leading them into spiritual combat. This is what religion, any genuine religion, is supposed to be all about.
“As religious leaders, we need to move from emphasis on competition for dominance to cooperation towards the common good of the entire society.
“We must join hands and our voices to preach a common a clear message of peace and justice, ready to condemn evil wherever it is found,” he added.
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