Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has challenged religious leaders to use their faith in promoting national development instead of impeding it.
The vice president was speaking on Friday as he declared open the General Assembly and National Executive Council meeting of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, at the National Mosque, Abuja.
He said: “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.”
Prof Osinbajo, who spoke on the topic, “the role of Islam in the development of a multi-religious and multi-ethnic nation,” said the issue of religious and ethnic tolerance would not have been a topic decades ago, when leaders of Nigeria’s First Republic were concerned about how to cater for the welfare of the people.
“They were more concerned about the issues that touched everyone, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
“They were concerned about providing food for the masses of the people, providing shelter, providing education, providing healthcare and decent livelihood for the people.
“But today, no true leader can ignore the threat that religious bigotry and intolerance poses for the development of our nation.”
Vice President Osinbajo narrated the story of the Muslim cleric, Imam Abubakar Abdullahi, who saved 262 Christians fleeing from attacks by gunmen in his mosque and home.
He likened this the Jesus Christ’s story about the Good Samaritan.
“They were not concerned about race or religion of those whose lives they saved or whose properties were destroyed. All that mattered was that they were flesh and blood like themselves.”
The vice president said Nigeria was at a historic juncture, where religious and ethnic tensions pervade the nation, but pointed out that the country’s constitution has provided for ways by which the peoples of the country could co-exist peacefully.
“Many are beating the drums of ethnic and religious superiority; some even want 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 individuals and government to respect the rights and dignity of every Nigerian.
“Our constitution speaks of the freedom of worship and the liberty to belong to a faith of one’s choice or even to change that faith without consequence.
“But 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.”
Prof. Osinbajo noted that nations are built by the sacrifices and hard work of leaders who do not care even they are condemned by persons of their own religion or ethnicity so long as they are confident that they act according to oath that they swore to or to God.
He commended the NSCIA for the great leadership it has shown in galvanizing the Muslim community in Nigeria despite denominational differences, and for making the council available for the promotion of inter-faith peace and religious tolerance in Nigeria.
In her speech at the event, Nigeria’s First Lady, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, said the meeting captured the essence of peace in national development.
She called on Muslims in Nigeria to embrace the communiqué that would emerge from the meeting, especially issues relating to Muslims and those that concern their relationship with people of other faiths.
In his speech, the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Saad Abubakar called for greater understanding between people of different faiths in Nigeria.
On the hate speech bill pending before the National Assembly, the Sultan said it is the decision of the legislature to act upon the bill and promised not to comment on the issue.
Delivering the lecture titled, “the Nexus between Islam and National Development,” Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, reminded the Muslim faithful that Islam is a peaceful religion and upholds justice.
He said that Allah commanded the faithful to always promote development.
Pantami said the Sustainable Development Goals were in alignment with teachings of Islam.