By Sam EYOBOKA
THE 82-year old historical masterpiece known as Mapo Hall perched on top of Oke Mapo, in Ibadan, Oyo State last week rekindled the legacy of the colonial masters when it played host to stakeholders in religious matters who had gathered in the ancient city to proffer solutions to the perennial crises in parts of the North.
The hall which was renovated in 2006 amid controversy, we are told, is a very sacred place among the Ibadans. There is no telling if that was the reason the Oyo State governor, Dr. Christopher Alao Akala chose the place to host Islamic and Christian leaders and a motley of traditional rulers drawn from the state who gathered in an atmosphere of conviviality to brainstorm and seek a pathway to peace and an to perennial sectarian killings in Jos and Maiduguri in particular and the North in general.
History has it that in July 1925, Captain W.A. Ross, laid the foundation stone of the Mapo Hall in Ibadan which at completion in 1929 served as a perfect meeting place for colonial masters because, as we are told, when on top of Mapo Hill you can see the entire city.
As early as 8.30 a.m. last Tuesday, a weather-beaten green Mitsubishi Gallant car with registration number OYO AH 962 YRE bearing a CAC Family sticker had been packed in front of the hall. Strangely, it carried a triangular sign post on post on top stating its mission: ‘To keep Christians and Muslims as friends is a task that must be done. We are all children of Abraham.’ Dressed in a white garment, a man who described himself as Pastor Emmanuel Olowolayemo, who also mounted a horn speaker atop the car, was busy soliciting the co-operation of adherents of both religions to leave in peace, emphasising that both were children of Abraham.
Whether his one-man campaign for peaceful co-existence among Christians and Muslims in the country fell on fertile ground is another kettle of fish; because at the tail end of the programme when he came in to the hall to give his cassettes to members of the high table he was uncharitably chased out of the hall.
That point is significant because NIREC, an acronym for Nigeria Inter-Religious Council is an association formed in September 1999. Christian and Muslim representatives after due consideration of their independent divine revelations and dictates of the Creator, were determined within the context of the two religions to forge inter religious harmony and having firmly and solemnly resolved within the confines of the nation’s constitution to live in harmony and peace for the welfare, security and prosperity of the people of Nigeria as a nation.
The gathering at Mapo Hall was the opening ceremony of the South West zone of NIREC’s 2011 quarterly general meeting and the issue that dominated discussion was the killing of eight persons in Farin Lamba, Vom and Fan, Barkin Local Government Area, including a woman and her daughter on Sunday night by yet-to-be identified uniformed assailants.
Speaker after speaker agreed that God is interested in |Project Nigeria and they therefore condemned sectarian killings in that region, with several making different recommendations including the reintroduction of moral instruction in public schools in the country, public enlightenment of youths against social vices. While Prof. Noibi stressed the need for the nation to accord religious education its rightful place from primary to university, others like Evangelist |Olapade Agoro took a swipe at religious leaders, who he said have jettison their God-ordained role of righting the wrongs in any society for filthy lucre.
According to him, the day religious leaders will take up the gauntlet and speak the truth and muster the needed courage all the killings in Jos and Maiduguri and any other place for that matter would stop automatically.
The Sultan of Sokoto and president, Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Associations, Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar III who was heralded into the hall at 11.06 a.m., was immediately followed by his deputy, the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Garbai El-Kanemi and the CAN president, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, was the first to speak. In his welcome address, he lamented the state of security in the affected region, saying that the scenario has the capacity to adversely affect the forthcoming elections in April.
“We condemn in no unmistakable terms all acts of violence in Jos and Maiduguri in particular, and say that if not checked could affect the general elections,” he said, restating the august body’s commitment to the sanctity of human life which must be respected and protected by all.
Continuing the Sultan said: “We must identify the perpetrators of the senseless violence and bring them to book. We must build a nation of law and order and anyody, Muslim or Christian, who violates the sanctity of life and property of any other person, must be made to face the full wrath of the law.
“There has not been any family, both Muslims and Christians, who has not been affected one way or the other…Old wounds are yet to heal and we are inflicting new ones. The God we worship is a merciful God and a compassionate God; we can never attract His mercy by denying the same mercy to our fellow human beings.
The former military officer also charged governors to be more security conscious and “take the responsibility of safeguarding the constitutional rights of every Nigerian resident in their domain.”
The NIREC co-chairman, Pastor Oritsejafor, acknowledging that NIREC remains an important organ to address issues that affect both faiths, took off by lamenting the killing of eight persons the previous day. He urged government to take appropriate steps, in the interest of the people to resolve religious conflicts wherever they exist.
According to him “the religious crises of the last few weeks in Jos and Maiduguri have remained a source of great concern to all well meaning Nigerians. The violence in Jos assumed a new dimension with the introduction of bombs which claimed several innocent lives.
I therefore use this medium to appeal for an immediate end to these unwarranted killings and destruction of property in the affected areas. I also use appeal to all religious leaders in the affected areas to uphold the truth and seek genuine solutions to these crises.” The CAN president maintained that as leaders of different religious groups, “we have a duty to ensure peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding between our members. The Nigerian Constitution provides for certain basic fundamental rights for all Nigerian citizens which must be upheld and protected by all. The sanctity of human life must be preserved at all times and wherever across the nation.
As religious leaders we must have the courage to speak the truth even when the truth hurts. Killing of innocent men, women and children under any guise is condemnable. We must preach to our followers and avoid violence at all cost.”
He also enjoined the Federal Government, the affected state governments and all relevant security agencies of government to do everything possible to arrest the perpetrators of these dastardly acts of violence, no matter how highly placed and put an immediate end to this unnecessary bloodshed.
There were two presentations on the role of religious leaders in politics and governance by two erudite scholars from both sides of the divide before the host governor, Dr. Alao-Akala read his address. But before he was ushered to the rostrum, there was a very enlightening presentation by a young Islamic lady who easily and methodologically spoke the minds of all lovers of truth.
She stunned many religious leaders seated at the Mapo Hall that day by her mastery of the Holy Bible. She mesmerized everybody when she started quoting from Mark 10:17, and later Mark 12:29-31 and ending up with John 13:34-35, all of which stressed the need for love for one another, arguing “if we can do this there will be peace in Jos and Maiduguri.” End of discussion, wouldn’t you say?
Akala, in his 5-page statement, described the situation in Jos and Maiduguri as unfortunate, saying that the South West geo-political zone enjoys perfect religious harmony, stressing that there is hardly any family in the zone that does not have Christians, Muslims and practitioners of traditional religion. “It may interest you to note that intermarriages among offspring of the various religions are a common feature, there is therefore no rigid line of divide among the adherents of the three religions. This is why ethno-religious turbulence which occurs quite often in other parts of the country can hardly take place here.”
Continuing, the governor stated that one way of ensuring societal cohesion is for all governments throughout the Federation to maintain a policy of zero tolerance for religious discrimination, pointing out that the goodness or otherwise of a man does not necessarily reside in which religion he belongs. A man’s virtue is in his being, his soul and his virtue. He therefore charged that having agreed as a people in consonance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to uphold unity, harmony and peace for the upliftment, security of lives and property of our people, we must not relent in our effort to ensure continued existence of Nigeria whatever it takes, stating that the Ibadan NIREC meeting should serve as a watershed in our resolve to be on top of the situation.
Arguing that the eyes of the world are on Nigeria, Akala urged the leadership of NIREC to establish an effective monitoring team that will comprise members of the Armed Forces, the Police, the State Security Services, representatives of traditional rulers and other relevant security agencies, in each of the six geo-political zones to constantly monitor developments and take prompt actions to nip in the bud all catalysts including political, economic and religious militancy that may ignite trouble.
“We have demonstrated to the international community that we are at the vanguard of democratic practice and ideals and ready and willing to defend it. By allowing religious and communal violence to scuttle democracy and good governance, our avowed commitment to freedom at all levels will be a fluke. We should not allow recent developments in some parts of the country to frustrate our future efforts, but rather accept it as a challenge to find lasting solutions to the problem,” Akala urged, saying he had no doubt that Council was competent to tackle the seemingly intractable societal malaise head-long.
In a 25-point communiqué issued at the end of the 2-day deliberations at the Premier Hotel, Ibadan, and signed by the Council’s national co-coordinator/executive secretary, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, NIREC urged governments at all levels to reduce youth restiveness by making providing employment for the citizens.
It called on governments across the country to expose and prosecute the masterminds of ethno-religious crises in Borno and Plateau states, stressing the need for the preservation of the sanctity of human life. The co-chairmen specifically appealed to traditional and religious leaders at all levels to imbibe the spirit of courage to speak the truth at all times and seek genuine solutions and reconciliation of aggrieved parties.
While sympathizing with bereaved families in the perennial violence, as part of reconciliation, NIREC recommended that the Federal Government should adequately compensate all the victims and to guarantee an end to the recurring crises, it advised that state governments should expand the State Security Council to include religious leaders for more effective performance. The Council also used the occasion to appeal for an extension of the period for the voters’ registration exercise as a result of the initial hiccups and the attendant complaints across the country, and advised Nigerians against the activities of evil minded individuals in the country.