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President Buhari and Nigerian religious minorities

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buhariSomething very uncommon has been happening in Nigeria for a very long time. Before now, many things went wrong in Nigeria’s governance. But while the

happenings favoured one tiny group in the country, it disfavoured another tiny group within the same country. It is all about the Christian minority of the North and the Muslim minority of the South. It is clear for any judge to give verdict on the favoured and the disfavoured.

There have been series of criticism from Nigerians over President Buhari’s appointments. Since May 29, the president has appointed up to 29 key officials to man Nigeria’s economic and other important sectors. Among them are members of the Christian minority of the north. Still claims and counterclaims have mounted in the polity.

It is quite normal to complain overtly in a democratic setup. But it is sometimes uncalled for to initiate bad criticism against a leader at the beginning of the leader’s stewardship. Nigeria is mainly made up of two internationally recognized religions: Islam and Christianity which predominate in the north and south respectively. The minorities of these two religions are found in the areas they predominate.

I read one Iyu Awalu’s online comments where he queried the political position of Christians in President Muhammad Buhari’s government, at least judging from the appointments Mr. President has made so far since he took over the leadership of Nigeria on May 29, 2015. “We know that Plateau and Benue states are predominantly Christians and there are sizable number of Christians in Adamawa, Niger, Kwara, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Bauchi, Taraba, Borno, Yobe Kwara and Kogi states voted for Buhari, that enabled him win the Presidency”, Awalu claimed.

This is generally the perception and reaction from the Christian minorities of the Northern Nigeria who are already feeling shortchanged in the political appointment at the federal level. In the same vein, the Muslim minority groups of the Southern Nigeria have cried out over what they describe as a seemingly calculated attempt since the creation of Nigeria by the federal and state governments to ostracize them from the socio-economic and political unity that should prevail in Nigeria.      

An Igbo Muslim scholar, Abdulkadir Nnachi posted on the media, “The Igbo Muslim has the most difficult life in Nigeria. Immediately he declares for Islam, he is rejected by his own people; in fact he is tagged an “outcast”. He finds himself in the wilderness between the devil and the deep blue sea. With the number of Igbo Muslims who are graduates and experienced in Nigeria, no one has been appointed by the federal government and their state governments.”

This is the yearning of Igbo religious minority. And that is why Mr. President should appoint Igbo Muslims as Ministers, Director Generals of Agencies, Chairmen of Boards, Ambassadors, amongst others as he is assuredly going to do for the northern Christian minority. This will be in the interest of equity, fairness and justice which all ex-presidents and Heads of State of Nigeria did not apply in their choice of cabinet members. Should Igbo Muslims continue to suffer under Nigeria’s democratic governments? No one has ever given an answer to the reason why they have been so much denied, at the same time that their Christian minority counterparts in core northern states have been and are still being uplifted by every successive governments of their respective states and the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Can Nigerian patriots look into this matter dispassionately?         

These minority religious groups call for end of religious intellectual conflict in their areas. They advocate for at least recognition and inculcation of the sense of belonging. President Buhari has already appointed some Christians and has been commended by the Northern Christian Solidarity Forum at least for appointing Engr. Babachir David Lawal as Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), which according to them, is a signal to the end of religious conflict in the north. The forum chaired by Rev. John Joseph Hayab fingers the emergence of Lawal as SGF and Dogara Yakubu as speaker of the House of Representatives as a clear signal that the president means well for Nigerians. Also, some southern leaders under the auspices of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNP), led by former Federal Commissioner for Information, Chief Edwin Clark, believes that Nigerians are all equal without regard to race, creed and tribe. They urge the President to ensure that ‎no section of the country is marginalized in appointments. 

On their own part, the South East Muslim Youth Congress (SEMYOC) has commended President Buhari for his most favourable style of leadership which stands for the overall development of Nigeria. The group backs the anti-corruption initiative and appointment of tested and trusted Nigerians into key positions, because “the failure of those critical sectors will spell doom for the nation, thus the dire need for the most capable Nigerians for the pivotal and sensitive positions.”

But the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, recently gave the assurance that President Muhammadu Buhari’s political appointments will balance out soon. According to him, the President is trying to get the very best of Nigerians; that is why the issue of key positions and no key positions should not be the issue. Statistically, he opined, the appointments don’t amount to five per cent of what is to come because there will be ministers, heads of government departments, federal boards and ambassadors. “At the end of the exercise, no part of the country will be left feeling left out”, the presidential media aide said.

The veteran journalist, Hajiya Bilkis, explained the matter further. She said that what Nigerians are complaining about is not religious but regional balancing in national appointments by the president on the accounts that every Southerner is not necessarily a Christian while not every Northerner is necessarily a Muslim. She discussed further saying, “You may not know some people’s true religion unless you are close to them. You don’t know, for sure, what their religion is! For example, it turned out that a prominent Northern technocrat and former ‎political office holder and ‘Alhaji’ died a few years ago in Europe as a devoted member of the Church of Scientology. He would have otherwise been confidently counted by most Nigerians as a Muslim! A Christian today can be a Muslim tomorrow but what is usually not under debate and can’t be changed is where someone originates from. ‎The constitution of Nigeria does not mention religious but regional balancing in appointments.”

Howbeit, a splinter group of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has warned Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo, Ohaneze Youth Council, Igbo political bigwigs, traditional and religious leaders and other Igbo groups critical of President Muhammadu Buhari to stop demanding any political rights and privileges from the All Progressives Congress (APC) government. “President Buhari is very, very right in relegating Ndi-Igbo to their current political status in Nigeria’s governance. Some Igbo political, traditional, religious, market and youth leaders blindly bagged their egg of political and economic future in Nigeria in a fragile, demoralized and unsteady leader called Jonathan Goodluck, who glaringly crashed heavily with the Igbo political and economic eggs”. 

On his part, President Muhammadu Buhari wants Nigerians to be calm. He has assured that he will not marginalize any section of the country in subsequent appointments. Senior Special Assistant on media and publicity, Garba Shehu, described the appointments made so far were a “tip of an iceberg”, as more were coming. “Our brothers and sisters and fellow countrymen should bear with the new administration as it takes its measured steps towards an effective take off”.

The president’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has also assured Nigerians that President Muhammadu Buhari will balance the federal appointment across all the geopolitical regions, saying the appointments made so far are his personal staff. APC national chairman, John Oyegun notes that two set of appointees so far made are the personal staff and a few important and strategic persons that are going to help him either in the fight against corruption or the fight against insurgency in the North-east of our country. “But this is not where to play the political balancing game. These are serious and the president has the right to appoint those he has confidence in because these are the areas where he has made promises to Nigerians.”

Nigerians believe in Mr. President’s words and actions. By the way things are going in Nigeria today, the uncommon transformation Nigeria needs will be actualized. But let the good heads from the minorities be carried along in the nation’s governance

Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance. E-mail mobahawwah@yahoo.co.uk.

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