PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has written to the UK Parliament debunking recent claims by the Northern Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) which accused his government of persecuting and alienating Christians.
Earlier this month, several prominent Christians, including former defence minister Lt General Danjuma, the former military governor of Rivers State, General Zamani Lekwot and Chief Solomon Asemota, told UK MPs that President Buhari was not serious about tackling insecurity. All members of the NCEF, these Christian elders blamed Lord Lugard for sowing the seed of ethno-religious crises and dichotomy between northern and southern Nigeria.
In a paper dated June 3 and sent to the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, of the UK Parliament, they called for a deepening of democracy and the rejection of sharia. Titled Competing Ideologies of Democracy and Sharia in Nigeria: The Nuance Understating of the Drivers of the Conflict in Nigeria by Farmers and Herders, the paper was in response to a request for written submissions to the UK inquiry into ongoing violence between farmers and herders in Nigeria.
They cited the prevailing waves of insecurity and quoted President Buhari’s pre-2015 comments supporting the sharia movement. They added that President Buhari said he would die for the course of Islam, had made it clear he could not be blackmailed into killing the sharia idea and had called on Muslims to only vote for those who will promote Islam.
In response to this NCEF letter, the presidency has written to British MPs through the Nigerian high commissioner to UK, Justice George Oguntade. Presidential spokesman Mallam Garba Shehu, said two letters were addressed to Reverend Philip Mounstephen, a former secretary of the Church Missionary Society and now head of the Independent Review of Foreign and Commonwealth Office Support of Persecuted Christians and Baroness Berridge, the chair of the All Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief.
In the letter, the Nigerian government dismissed as inconceivable and outrightly false, allusions to the effect that the Boko Haram terrorism served a government agenda against Christians. Justice Oguntade explained that President Buhari’s deputy is a pastor, adding that the president has also befriended Church leaders and church groups both within and outside Nigeria.
He said: “The safety and security of all Nigerians, whatever their faith, is a fundamental priority of the Buhari government. The government knows that Nigeria can only achieve its potential if there is religious tolerance and cooperation.”
Justice Oguntade added that the president’s cabinet is balanced between Muslims and Christians, noting that he himself was a former chancellor of the Church of Nigeria. According to the high commissioner, vice president Professor Yemi Osinbajo has maintained regular contacts with Christian and Muslim leaders as part of efforts to build and sustain interfaith dialogue.
Stressing that the country’s security challenges had no ethnic and religious colourations, the high commissioner said the farmers/herders clashes predated the Buhari administration, noting that such clashes bordered on the desire for pasture by the herders and the desire to protect crops from encroachment and destruction by the farmers. Justice Oguntade explained that these clashes had a long history and the Buhari administration is taking a major step to address the root cause of these crises and violent clashes pitting Muslim and Christian farmers alike against the herders.