Abuja — The Federal Government yesterday said it would soon convene a national religious conference to address the constant religious crisis bedevilling the nation.
The Vice President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, disclosed this at the 47th Independence Anniversary Celebration Interdenominational Church Service at the National Christian Centre, Abuja.
The decision follows latest crisis in Tudun Wada Local Government area of Kano State where youths were said to have unleashed terror on Christians living in the area.
Over nine people have been reported killed while churches and houses owned by Christians have allegedly been burnt down. Shops belonging to Igbo traders were reportedly set on fire while three pastors have been arrested and kept in custody.
The action is said to be as a result of speculations that a Christian teacher in the area drew a cartoon considered offensive to Muslims and displayed it in his room.
Reacting to the incident, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday warned that Christians would "no longer tolerate any attack on its members".
At the church service in Abuja, the Vice President said no nation can develop economically and otherwise with constant instability, as no investor would put his money in an unstable economy.
He said, "The President has asked me to use this occasion to plead with religious leaders, Christians and Muslims to preach and teach that people should learn to live together in peace and harmony. The religious intolerance that we have observed is coming up again must be addressed. We implore the religious leaders to preach peace and harmony.
"The government will soon call a meeting of all religious leaders for us to brain-storm, maybe lock ourselves up in one room for a whole day to come up with a solution that will suppress these excesses of some fanatics. We believe that as a nation if we continue to do what we have been doing, if one religion continues to rise against the other and kills, maims and continues with the instability, we will not go anywhere. There is so much instability in the nation when a nation is not stable, nobody will want to invest in that nation.
"For us to grow economically, we need the private sector but the private sector will not be able to do anything if any particular community, local government, state or religion continues to rise against each other because each investor wants to see his investment grow."
Jonathan also pledged government's commitment to handling the affairs of the state with the fear of God. "For the President and myself we use this day that we are remembering the independence of this great country to pledge our total commitment to Nigerians that we will handle the affairs of the state with the fear of God.
"We may not be angels, we are ordinary mortals born in sin, who live in sin, but we have that commitment that we will do our best not to let Nigerians down. Our prayer is that God will give us the wisdom to do things that will bring glory to His name".
Reacting to the Kano incident, CAN National Secretary, Mr. Samuel Salifu, who spoke in Kaduna, asked government to prosecute the brains behind the violence "as Christians in the area are set to defend themselves against any form of attacks on them".
He said an internet cartoon emanating from a 20-year-old Muslim boy from Bangladesh had apparently sparked off the crisis.
Salifu said, "Information available to me is that almost all the churches within that local government area have been razed down and shops belonging to Christians have been razed down and in houses where they dwelled in, we have been told that they have been ejected and their property brought out and burnt.
"The information given was that they saw a cartoon on the internet and they still discover that this cartoon was drawn by a 20-year-old Muslim boy from Bangladesh and they decided to visit their anger on innocent Christians and their churches.
"I have been told that nine people including a youth corps member are confirmed dead and several others injured while the local government in a desperate attempt to cover pretended to be taking the victims to the hospital while in reality they sent some of the victims to Bauchi and some other places around so that people will not go there and see the number of destitute or refugees caused by this incident."
He said the Vice President had been informed. "I didn't even know that the President is back to the country from the US. I was told that he was at the passing out parade of the Nigerian Defence Academy on Saturday.
"Christians and Christian leadership are getting extremely worried because both the Christians leaders and Muslims have been holding series of meetings within and outside the Nigerian Inter Religious Council (NIREC) to see how to bring about peaceful coexistence between followers of the two religions."
He said the more "CAN continues to meet with Muslim leaders, the more some of these people eventually turn round and say they are no longer Muslims but hoodlums, but it is always they that attack our people unjustly.
"I don't know, if they don't have control over these people, then this NIREC meeting is going to look to me like a very useless meeting because we will meet, they will go and kill, we will meet, they will go and kill, then they turn round and say they are not proper Muslims. How is it that they cannot take care of their own people? We have hoodlums among the Christians too, but we don't allow them to go and kill anybody. So this issue of hoodlums are not limited to Kano or anywhere alone.
"We are pleading with the government to step in. I am directly telling President Yar'Adua because this may be a very good litmus test of his administration."
"So far, both Christians and Muslims in the country seem to appreciate what he is doing. But if he keeps quiet and talks about rule of law and doesn't try quickly to intervene in what is happening, then he will now begin to see that there is a different law running in this country because the Christians will not continue to watch while people just slaughter them as they like," he said.