President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday rejected the accusations of bias against his administration, saying all the appointments he has made as president are based on merit and not religion or tribe.
President Buhari made this clarification when a delegation of the Arewa Pastors Non-Denominational Initiative for Peace in Nigeria, led by Bishop John Abu Richard, visited him at the presidential villa in Abuja, yesterday.
In a statement by his special adviser on media, Femi Adesina, the president told the clergymen that religious leaders had the responsibility of creating an enabling environment for peace and development to thrive.
He called on religious leaders to work towards the broader goal of building a strong and unified nation and avoid insinuations that could divide the populace, especially along religious lines.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that accusations of ethnic and religious bias have trailed this administration since it released its first key appointments in 2015, and subsequent appointments have attracted the same criticisms.
Critics have continued to point at the top hierarchy of the security architecture as one area the president appointed mostly people from the Muslim far north as an example.
But President Buhari has always denied such allegations.
He said: “Some voices, for political or ethnic reasons, are making unguarded statements accusing the government, and myself in particular, of religious bias .
“Let me assure you, honourable clergymen, that this is far from the truth. In my career as a soldier, administrator, and politician, I have never veered from my oath of office.
“When I had the honour to lead a military government, there were more Christians than Muslims in the Federal Executive Council and the Supreme Military Council.
“This was not by design but I appointed people on their merit without the slightest bias. The present Federal Executive Council is also evenly balanced; again not by design but by respecting and rewarding individual qualities.’’
Buhari expressed delight at the proposition to hold a one-day prayer and fasting meeting for the nation on April 26, 2018, and gave the assurance that he would direct the Inspector General of Police to provide adequate security for the gathering.
In his remarks, the leader of the delegation said more than 45,000 pastors in the Northern part of Nigeria had registered with the group and that they would use their pulpits for the propagation of the gospel of peace, and shun political distractions.
Bishop Richard further urged other pastors to support the administration as it works towards ending the violence in various parts of the country and to avoid politically sensitive sermons.
. . . Explains reluctance to sign economic partnership agreement
Meanwhile, the president has disclosed that Nigeria was reluctant to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) among ECOWAS countries because of the need to protect the economy, especially the industries and small businesses that currently provide jobs for many Nigerians.
Buhari gave this explanation when he received a Letter of Credence from the head of delegation of the European Union to Nigeria, His Excellency, Ketil Iversen Karlsen, at the State House, Abuja.
The president, in a statement by his special adviser on media, Femi Adesina, noted that the signing of the agreement would expose the industries and small businesses to external pressures and competitions, which could lead to their closure and job losses.
“We are not enthusiastic about signing the EPA because of our largely youthful population. We are still struggling to provide jobs for them, and we want our youths to be kept busy.
“Presently, our industries cannot compete with the more efficient and highly technologically driven industries in Europe. We have to protect our industries and our youths,’’ he said.
The president noted that his administration’s insistence on probity, transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors was to secure the future of the country for all Nigerians, especially the youths.
He asserted that his administration would continually promote the culture of honesty and integrity in service, which will guarantee a better future for the youth.
“Our insistence on probity is to encourage people to be accountable, and accept honesty as a lifestyle so as to secure the future of our youths,’’ he said.
The president remarked that more than 60 per cent of Nigerians fall into the youth category and deserve to inherit a stable and prosperous country that they can be proud of, adding that the government will work assiduously to prevent waste and the depletion of resources by corrupt Nigerians.
President Buhari, who commended the EU for its support for the rehabilitation of the North East, noted that the Nigerian economy was already being repositioned to attract more investments that would create jobs.
In his remarks, Karlsen said the EU would continue to support President Buhari’s administration in its stated priorities – security, economy and the fight against corruption.
He, however, averred that the EPA was designed to accommodate and protect some economies that would find it difficult to compete.
“We are hopeful that there will be a signature on the agreement,’’ he added.