The formal opening ceremony of the 2019 General Assembly and National Executive Council Meeting of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) that held on Friday, November 29, 2019 at the National Mosque, Abuja, has come and gone. Yet, the lessons embedded in the activities of the day will continue to resonate for a long time. Two of the lessons of the occasions are that knowledge trumps ignorance and that bigotry in Nigeria is fuelled by lack of understanding.
At the event, themed “Islam and National Development”, both the President-General of the Council, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, who chaired the occasion, and the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami, dwelled on the need for accountability and service among leaders. They also highlighted the symbiotic relationship between Islam and development, especially as almost all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are consistent with the teachings of Islam.
But of all the speakers at the event, including the First Lady, Hajia Aisha Buhari, who spoke passionately on the need for leaders across board to improve the lot of the common man, the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, could be said to have stolen the show not only because he was the only Christian speaker there but also because of the profundity of what he said and how he said it. The interventions of the speakers that day provided a wide window to the refinement that comes with real education, not just acquisition of certificates that is glorified among many Nigerians.
In his goodwill message, the Vice President revealed that the church where he worships in The Villa is just a few seconds away from the President’s residence and precisely the First Lady’s kitchen, adding for comic effect that his audience should not ask him if he always checked at the kitchen after service or not. He also stressed that the President, a devout Muslim, would ask him about how the service went whenever he visited him on Sunday. He stressed the need for understanding and tolerance as demonstrated by the First Family.
Prof. Osinbajo quoted from the Qu’ran, Chapter 49:13, about the purpose of diversity: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous…” The message was clear that differences in religious, ethnic and political persuasions are just for the purpose of enriching our understanding.
It is this lack of understanding that constitutes a clog in the wheel of Nigeria’s progress. This is because if everyone were to understand religion, everyone would have the same attitude displayed by Imam Abubakar of Nghar village of Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State.
As the Vice President recalled, in June 2018, (precisely 23 and 24), Imam Abubakar provided shelter to hundreds of fleeing Christians from attacks in his house and mosque. He also confronted the attackers to whom he presented himself to be killed rather than those who he had chosen to protect. Prof. Osinbajo used the incident to drive home a message of tolerance and sacrifice among Nigerians.
“It is my view that the weight of ensuring that this country is on the right track is on our leaders. We should be our brother’s keeper no matter the religion. We should always be ready to make sacrifices for one another,” he said.
When Lord Denning said ignorance is a misfortune, he might have had Nigerians who create ethnic, religious and political tensions in the country in mind. If these characters were to be illuminated by understanding and discernment, they would realise that hatred is like taking poison of hoping it would harm the other person, as Nelson Mandela once alluded to.
Just as there is demonstrable religious harmony and peaceful co-existence in the nation’s seat of power, as revealed by the Vice President, Nigerians should also cultivate the spirit of live and let live and tolerate one another. Ultimately, it is the same humanity we share and the same race we belong.
For Nigerians to rescue Nigeria from the darkness of hatred and bigotry, the onus of the responsibility lies on responsible leaders to accept diversity, promote religious understanding, advance inter-faith engagements and advance good governance.