Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, has refuted claims by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other Christian religious leaders that Christians in Nigeria, particularly in the north, are being persecuted and denied certain privileges because of faith.
The Sultan’s spoke in response to recent prayer protests by CAN and Catholic Bishops against what they perceive as a deliberate campaign by state and non-state actors to eliminate Christians in northern Nigeria.
Speaking at the first quarterly meeting of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) meeting in Abuja, on Thursday, the Sultan expressed concern on the level of sincerity and commitment by members of NIREC to religious peace and tolerance in Nigeria.
“It pains me when we gather at NIREC or other meetings and agree on measures that would promote religious peace, unity and tolerance; but shortly after, you will begin to hear stories of persecution here and there,” the Sultan remarked.
“If we go out shouting, marching, dancing and singing that people of a particular religion are being persecuted and killed, you also forgot people of other religions are also affected in the killings by same enemies of the state.
“We must not allow terrorists to come in between us and divide us. If we mistakenly do, then we are finished. There is nothing wrong with any religious organisation marching on the street to call for God’s interventions in a particular issue. But we shouldn’t make a show of such things because we want to be visible and therefore bring more problems to the nation.
“We have been reading and hearing reports about the persecution of Christians in Nigeria and I keep asking myself: how? Christians are being killed, Muslims are also being killed and they are all lives created by God.
“For me, there is no persecution of anybody in this country. If you claim there is a persecution of Christians in Nigeria, there would also be claims of persecution of Muslims, but that would not solve the problem.
“People claim they are denied places to build mosques, churches in some parts of the country. But the right thing to do in such case is to approach relevant authorities and not to make claims of persecution.
“I can quote from now till the next 100 years of things that have been done or not done to Muslims, but we usually approach relevant authorities in ways that we believe would bring solutions to the problems.”
Also speaking at the event, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, insisted that there was no truth to the claim of persecution of Christians in Nigeria, particularly in the north, as alleged by some religious leaders.
He, however, appealed to religious leaders to be properly guarded in their utterances and not to make statements that would incite the people against themselves.
He reminded them of their positions as religious leaders with massive influence and loyalty from Nigerians, appealing to them to use their positions to preach peace and unity among Nigerians regardless of religious persuasion.
“Nigeria has recently experienced several challenges including a spike in banditry, insurgency, kidnappings, killings and drug abuse. It’s time for a review of approach and strategy for improved result,” Mustapha said.
He cautioned the gathering that no religion, community or business will be unaffected should Nigeria descend into a religious conflict, insisting on a joint effort to strengthen peace and unity of the country.