As the general elections draw closer, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, and the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, have warned political and religious leaders in the country to avoid acts and statements capable of precipitating electoral violence.
Both Abubakar and Onaiyekan gave the warning on Monday in Abuja at a joint press conference organised by the Interfaith Initiative for Peace, a pan-peace NGO co-chaired by them.
The two religious leaders made it clear that the use of “hate messages” and whipping up sentiments capable of igniting crises, must be avoided by politicians, especially as this month’s general elections draw closer.
They commended President Goodluck Jonathan, General Muhammadu Buhari and other presidential candidates for their recent signing of a peace pact, which has been tagged the ‘Abuja Accord’.
They harped on the need for politicians to avoid making inflammatory statements or inciting violence at the campaign ground or before, during and after the elections.
Onaiyekan explained that the IIP “is particularly concerned about religious factors in the elections” and expressed sadness that many politicians have not been able to resist the temptation to manipulate religion and the public psyche to attain their selfish interests.
In calling for free, fair and credible elections, Sultan Abubakar wondered why issue of credibility of election should predominate the polity when India that is far larger than Nigeria in population, does not experience the level of crises associated with Nigerian elections.
Said their Eminences: “This press conference is meant to provide an interfaith message to all Nigerians, based on our common religious grounds and shared spiritual values.
“We therefore call on Nigerians, Christians and Muslims alike, to live up to those genuine basic tenets of our respective faiths which we all share, among which are: belief in one God, honesty, kindness, solidarity, care of the needy, sanctity of human life, among others.
“Our special and passionate appeal goes to government and its agents charged with ensuring free, fair and peaceful elections, especially INEC and the security agencies.
“Do your duty well, with no bias for or against anyone. Yours is a sacred duty that is crucial for the well-being of our nation, for which you will be accountable to God for blessings or otherwise.
“We call on the contestants to respect the ‘Abuja Accord’ which they have signed in the presence of God and men.
“They should play according to the rule. Let the people decide in free and fair elections who will rule them.”
The Sultan specifically emphasised that the body was not replacing the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council, but to add a voice to the search for peaceful co-existence in the country.
He further added that religious leaders, being the moral conscience of the nation and voice of the voiceless, must always ensure the sanctity of human life, stressing: “Life should not be wasted by anybody.
“We shall continue to condemn insurgency in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
“We must take up these challenges as one big family.
“The forthcoming election should be seen as an event that should strengthen us all.
“We therefore call on all Nigerians of all shapes, beliefs, etc to come together and ensure we have violence and rigging-free election.
“We also call on INEC to exhibit high level of conscience so that losers can embrace the winners.
“We are really very worried and as religious leaders, we will not fold our arms and pretend all is well.
“All is not well.
“What we see in print and electronic media, advert, show that all is not well.
“We are adding our voices because we are worried.
“There must be a Nigeria because we can have leaders.
“If there is no peace, you cannot have leaders and election.
“Myself and Cardinal Onaiyekan have like minds.
“We believe in each others’ religion.
“We believe we must encourage each other.
“We need each other.
“Like I told Mr. President when he came to Sokoto, this is the time they come to us.
“After the election, we don’t see them again.
“So, I think politicians should learn to reach out to the masses always.
“That is the problem.
“So when somebody is bottled up, he exhibits some tendencies that are extreme.”