•Northern bishops ask govt to seek experts’ advice to lift economy out of recession
Tobi Soniyi and Paul Obi in Abuja
A coalition of 22 Christian groups in Nigeria led by National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) on Tuesday condemned the federal government over the declaration of September 12 as public holiday in commemoration of Eid-el-Kabir celebration by the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, stating that it smacks of usurpation of government functions.
The condemnation came barely two months after a similar incident in which they criticised the action of the Sultan, accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of taking instructions from the him.
THISDAY had reported that in July 2016, Christian organisations lampooned government over the extension of public holiday by the presidency over the non-sighting of the moon by the Sultan.
In a statement issued by the chairman of NCEF Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN), on behalf of the coalition, he stated that it was “very improper for the head of the Islamic faith in Nigeria to announce, declare or extend public holidays.
“We call on the federal government to rise to its task and cease abdicating its responsibilities to the head of a religion. We do not want what happened during the time of Abacha, when Sultan Dasuki was dethroned by Abacha to repeat itself. It should not be forgotten that apart from Christianity and Islam, there exist in Nigeria various traditional religions that are the foundation of our culture as Africans.
“The federal government should continue to play its neutral, non-aligned role in the best interest of the nation. Meanwhile, we await the declaration of the Eid el-Kabir public holiday by the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the coalition stated.
Other members of the coalition include Nigerian Christian Graduate Fellowship; Think Tank For The Body Of Christ; Christian Lawyers Fellowship of Nigeria; Association of Christian Schools in Nigeria; Students Christian Movement; Christian Professionals Forum; Ministers Prayer Network; International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association and International Prophetic Ministerial Association (Inc. Worldwide College of Bishops and Ministers, Africa, UK and USA).
Others are Intercessors Without Walls; Wailing Women International; Full Gospel Businessmen Fellowship; Nigerian Fellowship of Christian Students; University Joint Campus Christian Fellowship; Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellowship (NCCF); Nigerian Supreme Council For Ecclesiastical Affairs; African Association for Ecclesiastical Affairs; The Preacher; The Messenger and Womb of Intercession International Fellowship.
The coalition said notwithstanding its earlier warning in July, “there has been an escalation of the impropriety.”
Asemota said: “We unequivocally wish to state that it is very improper for the head of the Islamic faith in Nigeria to announce, declare, or extend public holidays. This is the function of the federal government and need not be abdicated. This kind of anomalous development has not been taken place in Nigeria until the advent of the Buhari’s administration which has gone to great length to deepen religious divide and tension in Nigeria.
“Again, we have no objection whatsoever to the Muslim public holiday but our concern is that in a secular society as enshrined in Section 10 of the constitution, the responsibility of declaring or announcing a religious public holiday is vested in the federal government and such responsibility is sacrosanct.”
The coalition said it was not unaware of various intrigues and acts of impunity to “transform Nigeria from a liberal democratic society to an Islamic theocratic state.”
The organisation “reminded the government that religion is a very sensitive and emotional aspect of Nigerians, sayingthe wisdom of the founding fathers of Nigeria to adopt liberal democracy as national ideology to accommodate all the divergent groups in the nation cannot be faulted.
“Any attempt to distort that delicate balance in the Nigerian society shall produce nothing but destruction and devastation as the nation is currently witnessing. There is still time for religious extremists to desist before they push Nigeria off the brink of the precipice,” Asemota stated.
He added that the full membership of Nigeria in Organisation of Islamic Countries (IOC). in 1986, by the Ibrahim Babangida military administration was tantamount to making Nigeria an Islamic state.
He held that “the nation is yet to resolve this unilateral imposition of one religion over the nation by an individual. We also conclude that the present distress in the nation, occasioned by religious intolerance and insurgency, from the development of Boko Haram to the evolving of fanatical Muslim assailants, like the Fulani herdsmen, derive from this unilateral and improper decision of the Babangida administration.
“Even the sponsors and actors of the membership of Nigeria in OIC in 1986 were aware of the illegality of their action and as such, kept it out of public knowledge for 10 years until 1996 when Sultan Dasuki confirmed to the Pope that Nigeria was a full member of the OIC.
“We also wish to appeal to the international community to remain circumspect before interfering in religious issues in Nigeria. Even when the Pope visited Nigeria, he ensured that he visited both Christian and Muslim leaders. We condemn, in all totality, the recent visit of the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, in August. His visit was divisive, sectional and capable of misrepresentation.
“Foreign nations should be careful not to send the wrong signal that Nigeria is an Islamic Sultanate with the Sultan as the Supreme Sovereign. Nigeria is not an Islamic theocratic state. It is a democratic nation and authority is vested in the democratically elected federal government.
“It is necessary to reiterate the call to the 386 indigenous ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to urgently convene a conference to examine the emerging trend and threats in the nation and propose solutions that will sustain peace, progress and development in Nigeria. The ethnic nationalities are the “owners’ of Nigeria and it is their responsibility to ensure that justice, equality and fairness prevail in this nation,” Asemota maintained.
Meanwhile, the Forum of Northern States Pentecostal Bishops has called on President Buhari to seek experts’ advice on how to lift the nation’s economy out of recession.
Chairman of the 19 Northern States Pentecostal Bishop Forum, Archbishop John Praise Daniel, who spoke with State House Correspondents after a closed-doors meeting with the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, at the State House, said there was sufferig in the land.
He called on those leading the country not to “Be afraid to look for economic experts, they should not stop to get who can help to help in our economic recovery to ensure everything goes on well so that this country can bounce back as a great nation that we have always been, to ensure this country becomes that great nation we have always dreamt of and talked about.”
He said members of the forum came to pay a courtesy call on the vice president.
He said: “We came to congratulate him and thank the government for the efforts so far since they came in about a year ago especially in stamping out the Boko Haram menace and in ensuring security all over the nation.”
Daniel said they also discussed with Osinbajo the need for the nation to work together in unity, to move on in peace.
He said the threat posed by the Fulani herdsmen was also discussed with the vice president.
He said the forum also offered advice and called on government to make sure that everything was done to foster unity, peace and progress.
He said: “We are a united nation and nobody should be thinking individually but collectively of making Nigeria great. And also let the government know that yes we have agreed we are in recession, the people down there whom we led are suffering, there are cries all over the place and let the government know that whatever they can do to alleviate the sufferings.
“We thank God that the president promised he would look at the hunger Nigerians are going through and we do believe that because the president is a man of integrity, he will follow up with his words to ensure that the suffering of Nigerian masses is reduced and make sure that there is enough in the country if we have all the infrastructure working, things working.
“Agreed, we are suffering from the effect of past misrule of past leadership. All the same we believe Nigeria is a great nation, and we can work together with our genuineness, our commitment and our intellectual intelligence to move this nation forward.”