Playing the Religious Card at National Conference


President Goodluck Jonathan is under pressure to send more names of Muslims delegates to the on-going national conference in response to the protest by Saád Abubakar, sultan of Sokoto, who led a delegation of Muslim leaders to Aso Rock Presidential Villa, on the issue

|  By Olu Ojewale  |  Apr. 28, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

SA’AD Abubakar, a retired brigadier-general and sultan of Sokoto, is not known as a controversial figure. Hence, when he led a delegation to President Goodluck Jonathan recently on what he called ‘marginalisation of Muslims’, regarding the number of delegates at the ongoing national conference, the president gave him a listening ear. For this reason, it is believed that President Jonathan may soon send the names of more delegates to the conference to tilt the balance. This was disclosed by Namadi Sambo, vice-president, while speaking at the 50th anniversary lecture of the umbrella body of Nigerian Muslims, the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, on Sunday, April 13.

“On the imbalance in the number of Muslims and Christians at the national conference, I want to confirm that Mr. President has directed that positive action be taken on the matter,” Sambo said. Besides, the vice-president disclosed that President Jonathan had also agreed to a recommendation to appoint a special adviser on Islamic affairs. The president’s action was informed by the complaint of Abubakar, who led a delegation of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa to protest the alleged marginalisation of Muslims in the composition of the 492-member national conference.


Speaking at the event, Abubakar, who is the president-general of JNI, repeated his allegation that Muslims were being marginalised by the Jonathan administration, particularly in the representation at the national conference. “We have discussed with the government on the national conference and how to make it a success. We don’t want another jamboree; we have been giving advice to our leaders; it is left for them to take the advice or jettison it.”

He insisted that the idea was not to turn Nigeria into an Islamic state. “Nobody can Islamise Nigeria; if Allah wanted it so, he would have made everybody a Muslim. So also with Christianity. God would have made everybody a Christian  if he wanted it to be so,” he said. The Sultan, therefore, stressed the need for the people to set aside ethno-religious differences and be committed towards the peace and development of the nation.  He said further that the JNI’s criticism of certain policies of the present government was a wakeup call for government and those in leadership positions “to do what is right.” He said JNI’s action was not aimed at fighting the government or any group or religion.

During the March 26, JNI delegation to the Aso Rock Presidential villa,  President Jonathan reiterated the commitment of his administration to be fair and just to all Nigerians irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliation. Ishaq Oloyede, secretary-general of the NSCIA, who was a member of the delegation, told  State House correspondents after the closed-door meeting, that the president had informed them that the administration did not “deliberately marginalise” the Muslims as reported in the media and promised to address the alleged lopsidedness in the composition of delegates to the ongoing national conference.

According to him, the delegation was in the villa to consult and complain to the president on the feeling of marginalisation by the Muslims as majority of delegates to the national conference were Christians. “What we came to discuss with the president is to consult with him and we are happy we consulted with him, and he has given us reasons to re-assure the delegation that Muslims in Nigeria are not deliberately marginalised. He has asked us to convey the feelings of the government, the genuineness of the government, the fairness of the government to the entire populace. The president said that if there are issues that are not as they ought to be, they were not definitely deliberate,” Oloyede said.


But the fear being expressed in certain quarters is that the issues facing the country are more serious than fighting over religious representation. Some Nigerians feel that the protest by the Sultan was a subtle way of using the religious card  to manipulate the conference in favour of the North. “I see arrogance. I see harassment. I see it’s either our way or no way by the same group who felt the country belongs to them only – the people who are holding this country by the jugular at this conference.  The same way they have been behaving since the creation of the Nigerian state is the same way they are aggressively exhibiting their character at this conference. But gone are the days when any part of Nigeria can be intimidated, can be coerced or harassed into submission. The majority of Nigerians have realised that 50 years of their domination, albeit illegally, has come to an end.  They must sit down now and discuss. The odds are not in their favour. The threat of boycott or walkout will not change anything. We are all equal before the law. We are all equal before God,” Adekunle Odunmorayo, a public commentator, said.

As if that was not serious enough, Idris Kutigi, chairman of the national conference, provoked a protest by Christian delegates  when he formed the habit of using some Arabic phrases before his speeches. Leading the criticism was Tunde Bakare, a pastor and general overseer, of Later Rain Assembly, who said it was insensitive of Kutigi to use Arabic phrases to begin his speeches bearing in mind the multi-religious nature of the country and its people. Challenging the conference chairman Bakare said: “Mr. Chairman, yesterday you said something at the inauguration of the conference and I did not understand; today again, you said it. I think you should pray in the way all of us understand because if I stand up and say, ‘Praise the Lord,’ we will turn this place into a church service.”

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