Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Friday, charged the General Assembly of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs with ensuring peace and religious tolerance across religious divides similar to that which he enjoys with President Buhari .
Speaking at the Assembly’s opening ceremony, he said, “As the highest decision-making body of the Council, I offer to you this morning, both a commendation and a challenge. First, the commendation to you for the great leadership you have shown in galvanizing the Muslim community in Nigeria despite denominational differences. But also, for making the Council available for the promotion of interfaith peace, and religious tolerance in Nigeria.
“The challenge stems from the theme of this meeting which is “Islam and National Development.” Permit me to put the topic in context so that we do not miss the essence of the topic. So, I recast the theme to read as follows quote, “The Role of Islam in the Development of a Multi-religious and Multi-ethnic Nation.””
Osinbajo posited that the duty of fostering Religious Tolerance is a leadership function, and that people in positions of authority should consider it of paramount importance.
According to him, “Decades ago in this same country, it would not have been a major topic. Leaders in the first republic did not consider religious intolerance as a major national issue, they were more concerned about the issues that touched everyone regardless of religion or ethnicity; they were concerned about providing food, shelter, education and decent livelihoods. But today, no true leader can ignore the threat that religious bigotry and intolerance poses for the development of our nation. That is just the way it is.”
Reiterating the level of tolerance that exists between him and the President, Osinbajo spoke of how he worships a stone’s throw away from the President’s kitchen, and how his faith is of particular interest to the President.
“Every Sunday, my family and over 100 Christians attend service in the Chapel at the Villa. The Chapel is located in the premises of the President and his family. It is located a few seconds away from the First Lady’s kitchen. Sometimes when I see the President on a Sunday morning, he asks me whether the service is over already or I am escaping from the service! That is the sort of tolerance that we need in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and it is the duty of leaders to show that sort of example.”
He lauded the President as an exemplary leader while also citing scenarios where Christian leaders had called for national honours for their Muslim counterparts, an imam had put his life on the line for the sake of hundreds of Christians who sought his mosque as a place of refuge in a society plagued by religious tensions.
He went further to suggest that, “We are at a historic juncture in the existence of our nation. Here and there are religious and tribal tensions. Many are beating the drums of ethnic and religious superiority. Some even seek to divide the nation into ethnic zones. Yet our constitution speaks in the clearest and highest terms of our national commitment to the equality of all Nigerians regardless of ethnicity, religion or status. It speaks of the imperative of all individuals and governments to respect the rights and dignity of every Nigerian. Our constitution speaks of freedom of worship, the liberty to belong to a faith of one’s choice and even change that faith without consequence. But constitutional declarations mean nothing unless there are men and women ready to make the personal sacrifices to bridge the gap between rhetoric and constitutional ideals. Such men and women are not usually very many. But they do not have to be many to make a difference.”