By Suleiman Abdullahi
NIGERIA – President Muhammadu Buhari, notorious for bigotry, shocked many on Thursday in Abuja when he warned that stoking ethnic and religious prejudices will not augur well for the development of the country, adding that his administration will continue to create the enabling environment for religious freedom as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.
Speaking when the leadership of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) led by its President-General and Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, paid him a courtesy call, President Buhari said:
“The Federal Government will continue to promote religious freedom as it is a constitutional responsibility. I must thank the Muslim ummah for promoting inter-religious dialogue in the country. It is self-evident that if the country must work, we must continue to work together in spite of our ethnic, religious and political differences because Nigeria is our collective project.
“Accordingly, the Federal Government under my leadership does not and will not allow religious prejudice or partisanship to influence any of its decisions and policies. It is my solemn decision to be fair and just to all segments of society.”
The President assured the delegation that government was doing all within its powers to bring the current state of insecurity to the barest minimum, calling on the local community to assist the security forces as they perform their roles:
“The Federal Government has worked tirelessly to combat insecurity and other challenges that are confronting the country. Security is a protracted problem but we are not relenting in our efforts. Not only are we equipping the military, we are also boosting their morale to perform their constitutional duties without undue interference. We are also encouraging locales to enhance their intelligence gathering and timely remitting to the security Agencies.
“I acknowledge that security is the first responsibility of Government but Government cannot do it alone. It requires stakeholders, such as yourselves. Therefore, I urge you to lend your support to the security agencies by providing information that may stem the tide of crimes and insecurity in the society.”
He also spoke on efforts of his administration towards making life better for the average Nigerian:
“We are diversifying the economy and putting appropriate mechanisms in place to reduce poverty and more fiercely combat corruption, regardless of the status of those involved.
“Programmes such as N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme and Home-Grown School Feeding are just some of the interventions made to empower Nigerians and cater for their needs.
“The National Social Investment Programme alone has directly benefited four million Nigerians through job training and financial assistance.”
President Buhari called on the leaders to continue “speaking to our people and to help amplify this message through your very tried and tested networks” and to give full backing to the Alternate School Programme which he launched on Tuesday.
He said the it was “designed to not only address our high out of school rates, but it will boost our levels of Girl Child education while also equipping our youth with the right tools in making decisions at every turn of their lives when confronted by peddlers of evil and hateful messages… and also address the public health crises that the world is currently facing.”
The President used the opportunity to appeal to Nigerians to support government efforts on COVID-19:
“As Government continues to work towards managing this crisis, it is also critical that you lend your voices in support of those basic but fundamental protocols that can significantly curtail the spread of this disease – Washing of our hands, Using facemasks and ensuring social distancing as much as possible have been proven to be our first line of defense in the fight against this virus.
“Furthermore and much more important, when the vaccines which we are working hard to procure for the nation arrive, please, please join in the drive to educate people that these vaccines are meant to save lives and protect everyone.”
Earlier in his address, Sultan Abubakar commended the President for the successes achieved so far in the Northeast, calling on the Government to deal decisively with the banditry that is raving the Northwestern States of Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and some parts of the North Central.
While expressing confidence that security forces, with better synergy among them, will overcome present challenges, he solicited for the cooperation of all the governors with the federal government irrespective of their political leanings, calling on Nigerians to support the new leadership of the armed forces.
The NSCIA leader also appealed to Nigerians, particularly religious leaders to refrain from making inflammatory comments that tend towards sowing discord in the polity and exacerbating the current level of insecurity in the land. He asked that religious leaders making subversive comments should be called to order.
The Sultan equally identified with the ‘Hate Speech Campaign’ of the Minister of Information and Culture. He said ‘Hate Speech’ is aggravating insecurity in the country and that “we have to act.”