Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has described the 83-year-old Muslim Cleric, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar, who saved the lives of hundreds of persons fleeing from attacks by suspected bandits in Yelwan Gindi Akwati, Swei and Nghar villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau as a hero.
The people were fleeing from attacks by suspected bandits.
Osinbajo's spokesman, Laolu Akande, in a statement on Thursday in Abuja, said the vice president gave the commendation when he received the cleric at the Presidential Villa.
The vice president received Abubakar; the Village Head, Damafulul Mangai, and other community leaders and a delegation which included diplomats from the US, UK and the European Union.
Abubakar, who is Hausa and the Chief Imam of a mosque in Yelwan Gindi Akwati village, in the Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, alongside his assistant Umar Abdullahi, who is Fulani, saved the lives of over 200 persons when suspected bandits attacked communities in the LGA.
The reported attack took place on June 23, 2018, on Yelwan Gindi Akwati, Swei and Nghar villages in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State, where scores of persons were killed by suspected bandits.
Abubakar reportedly hid and rescued over 200 persons who fled from nearby communities, inside the mosque and in his personal house, until the attackers left.
Many of those the Muslim Cleric provided shelter for were from the Berom ethnic group which are predominantly Christians.
Reports indicated that Abubakar, on defending "my guests", insisted that the attackers would have to kill him if they refused his pleas not to attack those he was hiding.
At a point, the Imam was said to be on his knees and then rolling o the floor to appease the attackers.
Describing Abubakar's act as heroic, the Vice President said that the Imam had done so much more to promote peace by his singular acts than most politicians could do and so deserves all the commendation and high honour.
Osinbajo urged politicians to avoid using religion and tribal sentiment to create division among people, noting that Abubakar had demonstrated to leaders that the way to resolve whatever conflict was not by violence, but a demonstration of love.
"I commend you for your wonderful act.
"Imam Abubakar has demonstrated one of the most courageous acts any man can possibly do, by offering his own life, for those who are not people of his own tribe.
"I have heard a lot of stories in our country, but this is one of the most compelling stories.
"The love an individual can show for others not from their own tribe or religion, especially in a society like ours where tribe and religion often come to play."
The Vice President urged all Nigerians despite tribe and religion to eschew bitterness and embrace peace and harmonious living.
"It is far easier for people to create religious tensions between Christians or Muslims through their acts or words.
"And in a community where people have lived together in harmony and peace for so long, it shows how much a little of such tension created, in a matter of hours, can destroy harmony and peace built over the years."
Before the attacks, the community had reportedly lived in peace.
Osinbajo said that most people in Nigeria did not see the differences in tribe or religion, but it was easy to stoke religious tensions and divisions.
According to him, one must be careful of those who want to play politics and create differences using religion and tribe as no tribe or religion is superior to another.
"When people have been wronged, it is always easier for people to accept that revenge or vengeance is the right approach.
"But as you know, vengeance breeds bitterness and hatred and doesn't solve the problems created, but causes more deaths and harm."
The Vice President said it was wrong for anyone to kill in the name of religion, noting that Abubakar's incredible act of courage in saving others passed a message to both Christians, Muslims and others of different tribes and religion.
He said that Abubakar sent a message to Muslims and Christians alike and other ethnic groups that their own lives were as valuable as his own life.
"This is a very powerful message. Also, by keeping them safe in a mosque, a sacred place; he sent a strong message to Muslims that other religions and lives are equally as important to God.
"The Imam did not preach this by word but by deeds, love, by putting his life on the line to make a point. That clearly demonstrates to all of us that it is un-islamic to maim or kill people in the name of religion.
"Like President Muhammadu Buhari said, anyone who says "Allah Akbar", and then goes to kill someone either does not know his faith or is insane. It is the same in the Christian faith.
" The gospel of Jesus Christ says we must first love, even our enemies and those that despitefully use us. And anyone who preaches something different is certainly not speaking from the Bible or the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
"President Buhari also said during his meeting with the Catholic Bishops that all through his life as a public servant, he believes that people should be judged by their character and how they behave, and that everyone must have a right to worship God the way they chose."
The Vice President further said the Federal Government would look at further ways to improve the communities in Barkin Ladi, and others affected by ethnic/religious crisis.
"We will look at how the Plateau State government and the Federal Government can help in the rehabilitation process.
"Government has been doing this in phases, to restore areas devastated by crisis. But we would look at ways to help further," he said.
Abubakar, as well as his deputy, Abdullahi, were recently honoured by the US Embassy in Nigeria, for the heroic deeds.
Osinbajo said that Abubakar should be celebrated everywhere in the world,, adding that he was happy that the US Ambassador had honoured him with an award.
In his remarks, Abubakar, who spoke through an interpreter, thanked the Vice President, noting that he did not want it publicised.
He said however, that he felt that God chose him to do what he did to be used as an example.
The Imam said he told the attackers at some point that they had to kill him first before harming his 'guests'-that statement dissuaded them.
"I pleaded with the attackers in the mud and rain not to harm my guests.
"By God's grace, no one was hurt. God created mankind differently but he wants us to live together in peace and harmony, and not harm each other. Such incident (the attack) is rare in my community, but I hope such does not happen in my village again," he said.
The visit of the delegation at the instance of the U.S. deputy Chief of Mission, comprised of the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington; Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, David Young.
Others are the U.S. Embassy official, Kathleen Fitzgibbon; and the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Bernhard Schlagheck(NAN).