Nigerian Christians, under the aegis of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), have presented a charter of demands to a frontline presidential candidate ahead of the country’s general election.
CAN leadership met with the candidate of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, in Abuja on November 16, where they presented their demands after he failed to pick a Christian as his running mate.
Tinubu, a Muslim, from Nigeria’s South West region, emerged the candidate of the ruling party on June 8 and was expected to pick a Christian as running mate to ensure religious balance but instead nominated a fellow Muslim, Kashim Shettima, for the position.
Shettima, a serving senator, is a former governor of terrorism-ridden Borno State, North East Nigeria.
The choice unsettled the APC with some northern Christian members of the party and several others kicking against it.
A statement by the APC Presidential Campaign Council said during the meeting held at
CAN President, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, at the meeting held at the association’s secretariat in Abuja, presented a list of demands which Tinubu should meet if elected president in the February 25 election.
In a speech titled “CAN Proposal for Nigeria Post-2023,” Okoh called for the restructuring of the country which he acknowledged is a constitutional requirement.
He canvassed the decentralisation of policing system, devolution of power to states, equal rights for all religions and their adherents, right to self-determination by all ethnic groups, right to control natural resources by communities that bear them, no to open grazing, and equitable electoral system that guarantees the right to vote and be voted for by all.
He said the Nigerian constitution does not provide an order for a society with multiple religious beliefs and practices, and that this failure threw the country into perennial religious conflicts.
He said, “The constitution in Section 10 states that Nigeria and any state in Nigeria will not have a state religion. This provision is reinforced by Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution which guarantees to every Nigerian the freedom of religion which includes the right to hold, change and propagate his religion.
‘’The prohibition against having a state religion is not only that the country or part of it will not make an official declaration that no one else should belong to another religion. No. it is more than that.
‘’It includes the government of the federation or the state acting in any manner that confers one advantage or disability to one religion and not the other.
‘’This means that when governors of states in northern Nigeria implement a policy of not granting the statutory right of occupancy to churches over landed property they are violating Sections 10 and 38 of the Constitution.
“It means that when a government spends public money to hire teachers for Islamic schools and not for Christian schools, it violates Sections 10 and 38 of the Constitution and vice versa. This position was brought out clearly by the Court of Appeal in the case of Adamu v. Bauchi State Government.
‘’Anyone who soberly considers the actions of the previous and current Nigerian government over religion will realise that those actions proclaim a state religion.
‘’It is this flagrant violation of our common citizenship through the co-mingling of religion and politics that is the main cause of religious conflict in Nigeria, terrorism, and insecurity. We cannot make progress as a nation if we do not behave like other multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation-states that remove religion from politics.’’
Okoh said the next president should ensure a balance between Christians and Muslims and that this would check reckless violation of the rights of the religions.
“We have to be a religiously neutral state, not a religious state. We must have a constitution that is focused on democratic citizenship where the government pays no attention to any private identity apart from citizenship.
‘’This transition to a modern, democratic, secular state from a neo-feudal, theocratic state requires both constitutional and administrative reforms.
‘’It requires that the next Nigerian President carefully constitutes his policy and programme to ensure a good balance between Christians and Muslims so that the past practice of reckless violation of the rights of one religion or the other will not reoccur. That is the minimum requirement of saving Nigeria.’’
Okoh said Nigeria’s search for equity and justice has not been realised.
“Why did our vision fail? Nigeria failed because of incoherence between the vision of justice, prosperity and unity in diversity, and its institutions and practices of politics and economy.
“In place of inclusion, Nigeria instituted and entrenched the politics of exclusion; in place of protection of fundamental rights, Nigeria embraced violations of the rights of its peoples; in place of justice for all, Nigeria practised privilege for the few; and in place of secular, democratic governance, Nigeria promoted theocratic, neo-Feudal governance,’’ he maintained.
Why I didn’t pick Christian running mate – Tinubu
Tinubu, at the meeting, explained that it would have been easy to pick a Christian but that he needed Shettima to help him drive the government if elected because of his (Shettima) competence.
“I offer a confession. I selected Senator Shettima thinking more about who would best help me govern. Picking a Christian running mate would have been politically easier. But the easy way is rarely the right one.
“He is a brilliant man with superior intellectual capacity. He is studious and detail oriented. Enjoying excellent organisation skills, Shettima fully understands the vital difference between governance and politics,” he said.
Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial nerve-centre, assured the Christian community that he would not run a government that is religiously biased. According to him, he achieved that when he was governor.
“My belief in the need for secular government and faith-based organisations to work in unison is not something adopted recently to benefit my campaign,” he said.
“As governor of Lagos, I partnered with the Christians to improve lives and foster education. For instance, I returned mission schools to their owners, most of whom are Christians.
“I instituted yearly Christian Denomination Service at the Governor’s residence as we approached the new year. This tradition continues in Lagos.
“More importantly, we fostered an atmosphere of religious tolerance and inter-faith collaboration. My cabinet was diverse and talented.
“In the exercise of government, I did not give a thought to whether a team member was Christian or Muslim, Yoruba, Igbo or Arewa,” he said.
Tinubu, also a former senator, added, “I have never lent myself to baseless prejudice and discrimination. To do so would be a recipe for failure in the governance of a diverse society and I am not a man that is familiar with failing.
“I never chased people out of Lagos nor made them feel unwanted. Under my administration, Lagos welcomed all comers and continues to do so today.
“After me, Lagos has had one Muslim and two Christian governors. I may not be perfect. What a human being is? But I am not a petty man secretly wedded to secret biases and prejudices,” he said.