By JOSEPH ERUNKE
ABUJA–DR Maryam Abdullahi, a delegate representing Civil Society Organisation, CSO, at the on-going National Conference, Tuesday, accused former military President, Ibrahim Babangida of starting religious crises in Nigeria.
Dr Abdullahi said the former military ruler pushed Nigeria into membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, OIC, without the consent of the people he was ruling, a development, she said started religious crises in the country.
She insisted that the relationship between Christians and Muslims deteriorated when Nigeria was admitted as a full member of Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
Abdullahi, specifically said Babangida, who pushed for Nigeria’s full membership of OIC, did that to manipulate religion in order to perpetuate himself in the office, insisting that this was the beginning of mistrust between adherents of the two faith because of mutual suspicion of possible Islamization of Nigeria.
Abdullahi spoke while making her contribution to the debate on the report of the conference Committee on Religion, during plenary.
The delegate who spoke to the applause of her colleagues, said: “The relationship between Christians and Muslims deteriorated when Nigeria was admitted as full member of Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
“This made Christians to start resisting any move that would portray Nigeria as an Islamic state.
“Consequent to this, there is the prevailing mistrust and disharmony between the adherents of the two religions in the country.
“Mr. Chairman, the then Head of State, that pushed for the admission of Nigeria into OIC did not do that in consultation with the Muslims. He did that in order to manipulate religion as a political tool to perpetuate himself in office and now Nigeria is the worst for it,” she said.
She, however, cautioned against viewing every political policy from religious perspective, explaining that OIC an economic forum not only for Islamic states but also for countries that have Muslims minority.
Dr Abdullahi appealed to the conference to allay the fears of Nigerians that nobody would Islamize or Christianize Nigeria and urged political class to stop manipulating religion and ethnicity in order to achieve a political goal.
She called for strengthening of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council in order to promote inter-religious peace and stability, while also calling for inter-religious dialogue in Nigeria.
But the recommendations by the Committee on Religion that governments at all levels shall not utilize public funds to sponsor any religious pilgrimages for any category of citizens and government functionaries generated heated arguments among delegates.
Similarly, the recommendation for establishment of a National Religious Equity Commission to be jointly chaired by a Muslim and a Christian, generated heated debate among the delegates.
While some delegates applauded the report, others condemned the two recommendations, describing them as unnecessary.
The immediate past Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, in her contribution, commended the work of the committee and supported the recommendation that government should stop sponsorship of delegations on any pilgrimages.
But she disapproved the recommendation for establishment of a National Religious Equity Commission, arguing that Nigeria already had too many commissions and that there were bodies on ground, especially the National Human Rights Commission to deal with such issues as stipulated in the committee’s recommendation.
Also contributing, another delegate, Mr. Atedo Peterside, said he endorsed over 90 percent of the report in view of the excellent work done by the committee but disagreed on the recommendation for establishment of a National Religious Equity Commission.
He argued that establishing the commission was like what he described as “using a single evidence to arrive at different results.”
Mr Peterside drew the attention of the delegates to the situation in France where he said religious organisations came together to address some of the problems they faced instead of bringing the government into it.
“I have strong reservations in this. We should not allow government to get into religion under any guise. Countries that don’t take religion so seriously make far progress than those, who embrace religion.
“As beautiful as this report is, we should be careful. This is the kind of item for which it is very clear that fundamental rights are the issues. Those rights should be handled by religious NGOs and we should not elevate religion above fundamental human rights,”he added