Sokoto — President Goodluck Jonathan has condemned the use of religion to justify violence against Nigerians saying that to consolidate growth and prosperity as a nation, there is need for dialogue, understanding as well as appreciation of our differences.
Jonathan spoke in Sokoto yesterday at an international conference on "Islam and Fundamentals of Peaceful Co-existence in Nigeria,"jointly organised by the Sokoto State Government and World Muslim League.
From left: Gov. Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto State, Vice President Namadi Sambo, Secretary General, Muslim World League, Makkah-Saudi Arabia, Dr. Abdullahi Bin Abdul-Mushin Al-Turki and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa'ad Abubakar during the International Conference on Islam and the Fundamentals of peaceful co-existence in Nigeria in Sokoto yesterday.
Jonathan who was represented on the occasion by the Vice President, Mohammed Namadi Sambo, spoke against the backdrop of the violent campaign by the Boko Haram Islamic sect to impose Islam on the country and introduce Sharia as a way of life for the people.
This was just as the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar 111 lamented that, the problem in the country was not because we were different set of people but because we had deviated from the true paths of such religions.
Jonathan said, "We must do everything in our powers to ensure that religion is neither misused nor abused to justify violence. Our young people must be shielded from teachings which will take them down the path of violence and hatred.
"We have grown to respect and appreciate our faith and beliefs. We have also grown to acknowledge that our strength as individuals and as a nation lies in understanding and appreciating our differences. We cannot now relent. We must also guard against individuals who use faith as an excuse to emphasise our differences. Fundamental to this objective is the conduct and teachings of clerics and Imams at the grass root levels. Wherever misguided doctrines and sectarian bias may be introduced deliberately or in error, there should exist a monitoring or peer review mechanism by senior clerics, established organisations or well-meaning individuals to rectify such deviations in time without rancour.
"This is very important because the local clerics exert influence, especially on our children and the youth."
He also said that the Federal government had continued to promote religious harmony "by constantly engaging the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, NIREC, jointly chaired by the Sultan of Sokoto and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria and by taking their advice seriously.
"Through pragmatic ventures, such as the fast expanding indigent children programme, also known as the Almajiri Integrated Education Programme, the Federal Government, in partnership with state governments and Islamic organisations, is making progress in providing quality education at the grass-root and giving opportunity to every Nigerian to have good education.
"I call on all believers to reject religious-motivated violence, advance tolerance and promote mutual understanding. We must emphasise on the imperatives of dialogue as the bedrock of our efforts to sustain peace and advance development. Religion can and should be a fountain of solutions rather than a source of conflict," he added.
Jonathan further stressed that Nigerians as individuals should not relent in understanding and appreciating their differences, pointing out that as a ,Nigerians had overcome several challenges in the past and moved forward with joint commitment for a better future, adding that, to consolidate growth and prosperity as a nation, dialogue, religious understanding and tolerance, rather than confrontation, must continue to guide citizens' collective and corporate existence.
The conference theme, he added, was not only relevant but represented the reinforcement of government's consistent efforts to promote inter-religious dialogue and harmony.
"It also greatly underscores our unwavering commitment to the stability and unity of our nation in the face of difficult security challenges in some parts of our country, perpetrated mostly under religious guise," he added, and commended Sokoto State government and the World Muslim League for the joint initiative.
In his speech, Governor Magatakarda Wamakko stated that the conference was aimed at discussing peaceful co-existence in the country.
"The gathering vividly mirrors the invaluable sacrifices by our forefathers in the development of human civilisation and ensuring peaceful coexistence.
"We have no reason whatsoever to adopt violence in advancing any course. We both individually and collectively have the duty of upholding the tenets of our religion, which are all opposed to violence at all times," Wamakko added, pointing out that dialogue and not violence was prescribed in the Qur'an and Bible for both Muslims and Christians; and which the two world's most famous religions propagate.
Also speaking, Sultan Abubakar explained the reason for the conference as being aimed at peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims in the country.
Abubakar further spoke of the need for unity of Muslims regardless of sect. "What we need is a strong purpose of commitment to the ideals of our major religions. As Muslims you must stand by the tenets and teachings of Islam. Let us do the right thing always.
"We have problems not because we are a different set of people. We have problems because we have deviated from the true paths of our religions as Muslims and Christians. We must go back to our books and follow the teachings of our leader and always do the right thing," he said, even as the Chairman of the occasion, Prof. Shehu Galadanchi stated that the conference was timely in view of the need for peaceful co-existence between adherents of different religions.
"Islam promotes security and this conference will find the best solution to the problem of insecurity."
Furthermore, the Secretary General of the World Muslim League, Dr. Abdallah Al-Mohsen Al-Turki asked leaders to consider dealing with problems being faced by the people.
"Leaders should ponder on the major problems that are facing their followers and shun decisions that could endanger the lives of the people," he said.