Vice President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday lamented that Nigeria’s existence was being threatened by religious and tribal tensions.
The Vice President stated this at the opening ceremony of the General Assembly of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Abuja.
Also at the general assembly, First Lady, Aisha Buhari admonished governors to provide basic amenities for residents of their states, saying that President Buhari cannot take care of every part of the country.
According to Osinbajo, “We are at a historic juncture in the existence of our nation. Here and there are religious and tribal tensions. Many are beating the drums of ethnic and religious superiority. Some even seek to divide the nation into ethnic zones.
“Yet our constitution speaks in the clearest and highest terms of our national commitment to the equality of all Nigerians regardless of ethnicity, religion or status. It speaks of the imperative of all individuals and governments to respect the rights and dignity of every Nigerian.”
He pointed out that the nation’s constitution speaks of freedom of worship, the liberty to belong to a faith of one’s choice and even change that faith without consequence.
The Vice President stated that “constitutional declarations mean nothing unless there are men and women ready to make the personal sacrifices to bridge the gap between rhetoric and constitutional ideals. Such men and women are not usually very many. But they do not have to be many to make a difference.”
Osinbajo, who rephrased the theme of the general assembly from “Islam and National Development” to “The Role of Islam in the Development of a Multi-religious and Multi-ethnic Nation,” said unlike in the past, today “no true leader can ignore the threat that religious bigotry and intolerance poses for the development of the nation.”
He recalled that “decades ago in this same country, it would not have been a major topic. Leaders in the first republic did not consider religious intolerance as a major national issue, they were more concerned about the issues that touched everyone regardless of religion or ethnicity; they were concerned about providing food, shelter, education and decent livelihoods.
“But it is my respectful view that the burden of ensuring that faith promotes national development as opposed to impeding it is on leaders. This is the challenge I pose to you today.”
Regardless, the vice president said he had seen clear cases of religious tolerance that could spur national development, explaining he was pleasantly surprised when the leader of a large Christian domination in the North requested that the governor of his state be given national honour for rebuilding churches destroyed during religious conflicts.
He further noted: “Yet there are states where governors refuse to grant certificates of occupancy for the building of churches or places of religious gathering in outright violation of the constitution they swore to uphold.
“Every Sunday, my family and over 100 Christians attend service in the Chapel at the Villa. The Chapel is located in the premises of the President and his family. It is located a few seconds away from the First Lady’s kitchen. Sometimes when I see the President on a Sunday morning, he asks me whether the service is over already or I am escaping from the service! That is the sort of tolerance that we need in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and it is the duty of leaders to show that sort of example.
“It is the courage of leaders to live up to the ideals of their faith and their sworn commitments that invariably build nations. Leaders must live up to the commitments to which they swear, especially political leaders.”
He declared: “Nations are built by the sacrifices, the hard work of leaders who do not care even if they are condemned by persons of their own religion or ethnicity, so long as they are confident that they act in obedience to the oaths they swore and to the Almighty God. Such men and women are few, but the profundity of their actions invariably transforms communities and nations as they bend the arc of history in the direction of unity, peace and progress.”
He lauded the Sultan of Sokoto, who hosted the Assembly, for seeking to build bridges with other faiths, locally and internationally, stating, “this is as it should be. The challenge of nation-building is not the noise of the religious bigots and nihilists. It is the silence and inaction of leaders of different faiths who know better, those who say and do nothing, and to whom we appeal today. Your words and actions may make the difference between peace and tragedy.”
Speaking on the roles the state governors must play to uplift their people, Mrs. Aisha Buhari stated that her husband was incapable of handling the challenges facing the nation alone and admonished the political leaders to work together to bail the country out of the doldrums.
She mentored: “We should either fasten our seatbelt and do the needful or we will all regret it very soon because, at the rate things are going, things are getting completely out of hand. The VP (Vice President Yemi Osinbajo) is here, some ministers are here, they are supposed to do justice to the situation.
“People cannot afford potable water in this country while we have governors. Since this is the highest decision-making body of Islamic affairs, for those that are listening, we should fear God, and we should know that one day, we will return to God and account for our deeds here on earth.
Earlier, the President-General of NSCIA and Sultan of Sokoto, his eminence, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, said leaders must be accountable to the led and must demonstrate good example of humility and service.
He advised leaders to do more on education, particularly to address the Almajiri System and girl-child education.