Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has asked politicians and government officials to avoid provocative utterances and decisions capable of causing religious conflict in the country.
The association expressed concern over the threat by the Kaduna State Urban Planning Development Agency to demolish St George Anglican Church, Sabon Gari, Zaria.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, CAN President, Rev. Samson Supo Ayokunle,
said that the religious body was concerned that the only reason for withdrawing such threat was “historical value” and not for the purpose for which the church was built and the blessings it has brought to the immediate communities and the entire nation.
“We acknowledge the fact that the Kaduna State Government has decided to retract its threat to demolish the ancient church building which has been standing for over 110 years in that location for historical value of the church,” Ayokunle said.
In the statement signed by its Director of Legal and Public Affairs, Kwamkur Samuel Vondip, CAN said: “While we commend the government for taking the bold step to withdraw from its earlier threat to demolish the Cathedral, we are concerned that the only reason for withdrawing such threat is for ‘historical value’ not for the purpose for which the church is built and the blessings it has brought to the immediate communities and the entire nation,” he said.
Ayokunle said Nigeria is passing through very critical challenges of insecurity, poverty and high level of joblessness leading to many Nigerians giving up on life to the extend of committing suicide, adding that this time calls for more commitment to God, while spiritual values are desirable.
He further said that all arms and tiers of government are expected to recognise this and promote more commitment to God rather than waging war against religious organisations.
He said that the association has observed that some politicians in power are the ones using their “selfish ambitions or immature political decisions to cause political tensions in our land, not the religious leaders as such”.
“We seize this opportunity to plead with them to desist from provocative political decisions that border on religion that can set the religious groups against one another.
“We the religious leaders in the country have promised never again to allow any politician or any other group to use their actions or statements to divide us again,” he said.
Ayokunle noted that without religious harmony in Nigeria, there cannot be peace and progress.
“We urge those in political leadership never to give flimsy excuse of overriding public interest again in this country to order for the relocation of any church or mosque all over the country,” he said.
Regarding the move to demolish the Anglican Church in Kaduna, CAN said: “Don’t we have abundance of land in Zaria Local Government Area to which the so-called market can be relocated?”
The statement said that the reason given by the state government suggested lack of respect for the church in Nigeria and a probability of future threats to other churches without that long ‘history of historical value,’ not only in Zaria but the entire Kaduna State.
“By the time that church started there, about one hundred and ten years ago, how many structures were in the vicinity to now warrant threat to the existence of the church?
“If the market came there many years after the existence of the church, should it be the church which first got there that should have its existence threatened? If overriding public interest was the excuse given, is the church equally not serving the public? Is the church serving an individual? The threat issued in the first instance was a provocation which ought not to happen in the first instance,” he said.