In these days of religious fanaticism, revivalism, or extremist religious practices, laced with intolerance and ideological insurgency, one is compelled to ask if the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council that promotes accommodation between the two Abrahamic religions of Islam and Christianity still exists.
The reason for this query is the near-absence of its voice, if not total invisibility, in these days of religious intolerance among Nigerians and the consequent divisiveness in society and politics of Nigeria.
NIREC, a voluntary organisation, was established in 1999 with Sultan Maccido of Sokoto and Methodist Church Prelate Sunday Mbang as pioneer co-chairmen. As leader of Muslims in Nigeria the Sultan of Sokoto is automatic Chairman of Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, whilst whoever is President of the Christian Association of Nigeria is leader of Nigerian Christians.
NIREC, made up of 50 members, 25 Christians and 25 Muslims, was formed because of the incessant ethno-religious crises rampant in Nigeria. It was a forum to promote greater interaction and understanding between the two religions.
However, despite the stated intentions of NIREC, the cleavages and open confrontations between religious tendencies in Nigeria are legion: The first is the snobbery of the Abrahamic Islam and Christian religions towards adherents of indigenous religions.
The next is within Islam, between mainstream sunni Islam, a variant of Saudi Arabia orthodox Wahabbism, and the shiite expression, represented by Iran-inspired Islamic Movement of Nigeria, led by Ibrahim El-Zakzaky.
The more open and direct hostilities is between Muslims and Christians, emblemised, some claim, in the clashes between Muslim herdsmen and Christian farmers in Plateau and Benue states. It has even degenerated into murderous dimensions, whereby Boko Haram insurgents, for instance, capture and decapitate Christian clerics who they regard as infidels.
Insurgents who go by the name, Islamic State of West Africa Province, are an obvious evidence that if some people had their way, the entire territory of Nigeria will be converted into an Islamic country.
And they will probably feel justified in doing so, especially when they believe that winning the whole world, including the traditionally Judeo-Christian West, for the prophet and for God, even with the force of the sword, is a worthy and noble act.
That some Northern Nigerian states adopted sharia legal codes in a secular country still sends shivers of fears into non-Muslim Nigerians, who are either indigenes or non-indigene residents of those states.
A state like Kaduna, that has sharp religious cleavages of Muslims and Christians, regularly experiences violence along religious lines: Predominantly Christian parts of Kaduna State regularly suffer Islamic jihads of sorts usually disguised as clashes over land.
But those who seem to think that a country whose citizens are predominantly Muslim must be violent have neither heard of peaceful Muslim United Arab Emirates and Qatar and violent (mostly Christian) America and Mexico.
Christians too are descending to a ridiculous low. Rev Sunday Congo, Chairman of Gombe State chapter of CAN was suspended by the National Executive Council for congratulating a citizen of Gombe State, Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, who was recently appointed (or promoted) a professor of Cyber Security by Federal University of Technology, Owerri.
Rather than fault FUTO if they felt Pantami, who has expressed intolerant religious views in the past, was undeserving of the honour, CAN NEC displayed religious intolerance by suspending Rev Congo for acts “tantamount to… overzealousness… done without seeking clearance… (and) not only provocative, but also undermines the CAN NEC.”
It’s however commendable that some CAN members in Gombe State have taken exception to the high handedness of CAN NEC, though some mischievous Nigerian politicians have found a clever way to use religion to divide and rule the people so that they can remain relevant and on top of Nigeria’s economic and political pyramid.
A vicious rumour claimed that Patrick Yakowa died in a crashed helicopter because some people were not too pleased that a Christian became Kaduna State Governor after Muslim Governor Namadi Sambo was sworn in as Vice President to President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010.
It sounded preposterous, but many believed, or still believe, it, especially when Mukhtar Yero, his Muslim Deputy Governor, who succeeded him as Governor, picked a Muslim Deputy Governor. And Nasir el-Rufai, who became governor in 2015 and 2019 has had two Muslim deputy governors.
This has caused many people to think that the idea of Muslim deputy governors is to avoid any Christian becoming governor of Kaduna State in case anything untoward were to happen to the Muslim governor.
NIREC appears to have lost its voice in the face of what looks like divisive policies of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), who continuously ignores constitutional requirements for federal character and appoints most security chiefs mainly from one region and and one religion.
Every effort to make the President diversify and spread these appointments as widely as possible, in order to reflect the obvious pluralism of Nigeria, is disregarded, if not rebuffed outright.
The President and his advisers do not seem to recognise that the single perspective that is predominant in the thinking of the security chiefs can blind-side them from appreciating the security and political needs of other Nigerians.
Though Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State noted the irony that most bandits, their victims and security chiefs are Northerners, neither he nor the President recognised that the similarities in culture, language and religion of the three predisposes the security chiefs to have sympathy with the criminal bandits, though it may not be intentional.
The arguments of human GPRS, Sheikh Ahmed Gumi, that bandits should not be regarded as criminals, but are deserving of amnesty, like Niger Delta militants, is another evidence of the sympathy coming out of shared region, culture, religion and (probably) values with the criminal bandits.
Did you wonder why Abdulrasheed Bawa, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Chairman, asked a TV journalist who wanted to know the identities of those accused of financing Boko Haram insurgents, “Will you advise me to come on national television to tell the whole world regarding matters of sensitive national security issue?”
There are unconfirmed reports that soldiers of Southern Nigerian extraction were sometimes rebuked by their Northern Nigerian comrades-in-arms whenever they seemed to be too enthusiastic in shooting down Boko Haram insurgents.
The same sentiments may have informed the suggestion by some that “repentant” insurgents and terrorists should be readmitted into society without prosecution, even as their victims, many of whom languish at the Internally Displaced Persons camps, have yet to recover from the trauma.
It is strange that Nigeria’s senators and members of the House of Representatives do not recognise the “group think” problem, and always confirm the President’s nominations for security chiefs with nary a reservation or interrogation.
Anyway, Senate President Ahmed Lawan once practically promised that the ninth National Assembly was going to be a rubberstamp for President Buhari. And they have left no one in doubt of that pledge.
Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar, being more or less a permanent member of NIREC, may have to assume more responsibilities in getting the body to increase its moderating role and seek accommodation between Muslims and Christians – and even adherents of traditional religions.
CAN is leading in this direction as orthodox and Pentecostal Christian missions now embrace those they derisively label white-garment churches.