Beyond  Muslim-Muslim Ticket: Tinubu’s one year of religious inclusivity

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By Philomina Attah, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

When President Bola Tinubu decided to run for president on a Muslim-Muslim ticket alongside Vice President Kashim Shettima, it ignited a firestorm of controversy.

In a nation like Nigeria, where both Muslims and Christians hold significant demographic and cultural weight, this decision raised alarms about the potential exacerbation of religious tensions.

Critics had earlier argued that the exclusion of a Christian vice-presidential candidate might lead to feelings of marginalisation and discord.

Upon assuming office, the President made it a priority to balance his cabinet with diverse religious representations to prove his critics wrong.

Observers are of the view that over the past year, Tinubu’s administration has taken notable bold steps towards promoting religious harmony through balanced appointments, supportive policies, and interfaith dialogue.

According to them, he has ensured that the appointment of Christians and Muslims, among others, to key positions, are done in a relatively equitable and fair manner to allay any initial fears of religious marginalisation.

They say that this deliberate commitment to inclusivity is designed to carry everyone along to alleviate their fears and to further demonstrate that his administration represents all Nigerians, regardless of their faith.

Many posit that over the past 12 months, for instance, President Tinubu’s administration has highlighted policies promoting religious tolerance as a cornerstone of its governance strategy.

For many observers, the President’s initiatives of supporting interfaith dialogue and peace-building efforts have been central to these policies.

By fostering understanding and cooperation between different religious communities, they argue, the administration has sought to create a more harmonious national atmosphere.

For instance, in his public statements, President Tinubu has consistently emphasised the importance of national unity, while downplayed religious differences and focusing on the commonalities that bind Nigerians together.

His administration has actively engaged religious leaders from both Muslim and Christian communities, encouraging cooperation and mutual respect to reduce tensions.

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Corroborating this viewpoint, Rev. Fr Kenneth Agwu, the Editor-in-Chief of the Good Shepherd Newspaper, a publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja, said that the Tinubu government has promoted religious harmony in Nigeria in spite of the initial controversy surrounding the Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Agwu noted that the president had appointed individuals from various religious backgrounds to key positions in the government to assuage any pre-election frayed nerves.

“This, to some extent, has ensured fair representation across different sectors. For instance, the appointment of ex-Rivers Governor, Nyesom Wike, as FCT Minister is innovative.

“Tinubu’s administration’s symbolic acts such as his active participation in major religious events and the holidays of various faiths to show respect and solidarity have gone a long way to bring about religious harmony.

“Earlier this year, for instance, he appealed to religious leaders to refrain from vilifying or denigrating the nation in their sermons, thereby publicly condemning acts of religious intolerance and violence,” Agwu recalled.

Speaking in the same vein, Mohammed Eze, Deputy National Legal Adviser, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, said that Tinubu’s policies have promoted religious harmony, notwithstanding the initial misgivings that trailed his riding to power on the back of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

Eze, an Abuja-based lawyer and Igbo Muslim from Enugu State, lauded Tinubu’s strong support for interreligious interventions like the Nigerian Inter Religious Council, NIREC, a government-supported platform for the two most dominant religions in Nigeria.

“It is a place where they brainstorm on the way forward and how to ease understanding and make extinct the extremism that is seen in certain quarters, whether among Muslims or Christians,” Eze stressed.

Rev. Fr Lawrence Emehel, Secretary of Inter-Religious Dialogue at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), said that Tinubu’s government has strengthened religious tolerance in the country.

He, however, urged the government to be more deliberate in supporting the youths, especially the NIREC Youth Forum, adding that there was no harm in the government being part of NIREC, except taking over or controlling the body.

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“The government should rather support it directly or indirectly since most programmes involve youths. The youth wing of NIREC is filled with vibrant youths who raise a lot of awareness and arouse the nation’s consciousness to the importance of tolerance.

“These youths are Christians and Muslims working actively together to promote religious tolerance, peace, and dialogue.

“When an article is posted on the internet, go to the comment section. You will agree with me that youths have more engagement,” Emehel said.

A recent development, when Vice President Kashim Shettima, a Muslim, inaugurated the board of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) has been described as novel and commendable in advancing religious harmony.

Inaugurating the Board at the Presidential Villa, Shettima reinforced the administration’s resolve to uphold religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, stressing that Nigeria’s strength lies in its diversity of faiths.

He recalled President Tinubu’s promise when he assumed office that his government would have no place for discrimination.

The vice president vowed that there will be no discrimination under the Tinubu-led government, saying “Nigeria is what it is because it is a nation of God, stressing that spirituality was of prevailing interest”.

Shettima urged the new NCPC board members to be unifying figures dedicated to promoting interfaith harmony through compassion, justice, and mutual respect.

The vice president assured that the Tinubu’s administration was fervently committed to ensuring that interfaith harmony remained the ultimate priority.

“Regardless of anyone’s position, the place of faith in the nation is not only critical but provides a framework for comfort among citizens and for the stability of the nation at large.

“Our duty is to provide a safe haven for members of each faith and uphold the rights and freedoms in our constitution.

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“We can only emerge stronger and be more resilient as a nation through dialogue, empathy, and reconciliation,” Shettima said.

Mrs Asabe Musa, a trader in Lafia, Nasarawa State, expressed support for Tinubu’s inclusive appointments, as well as his engagements in interfaith dialogue.

She, however, noted that notwithstanding Tinubu’s encouraging, courageous, and genuine efforts towards ensuring religious harmony during his first year in office, this has not been without its challenges.

According to her, religious violence and tensions have continued to plague parts of the country, and these challenges underscore the difficulty of achieving lasting religious harmony in a nation as diverse as Nigeria.

“Scepticism remains among some Christians, particularly those concerned about the initial Muslim-Muslim ticket.

“They continue to fear marginalisation, and so this calls for more tangible actions to address religious violence and discrimination,” she said.

Mr Bala Dogo, a lawyer, agrees that Tinubu’s first year in office, has been marked by a concerted effort to foster religious harmony, in spite of the initial controversy which trailed his choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket.

He said that through his inclusive appointments, policies promoting tolerance, and active interfaith dialogue, Tinubu has made significant strides in addressing religious tensions.

“While challenges persist, the administration’s commitment to unity and its engagement with both religious leaders and youth groups underscore a proactive approach to achieving lasting peace and understanding in Nigeria’s diverse religious landscape,” Dogo said.

Observers are, therefore, of the view that President Tinubu has in his first year in office, succeeded to a large extent, in ensuring religious harmony in Nigeria.

They noted, however, that the quest for a lasting religious harmony in the country continues to be a complex and critical endeavour, which he should address differently for best results as he enters his second year in office. (NANFeatures).

**If used, please credit the writer and News Agency of Nigeria

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