The imperatives of religious tolerance

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Tinubu Shettima
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“Intolerance has been the greatest enemy of our progress.”-S. Radhakrishnan

As Nigerians move towards the 2023 presidential election, the importance of the values religion and tolerance are becoming clearer in our national politicking. This is so much that many Nigerians are enthusiastically interested in not only in the religions of the presidential candidates and their running mates but are also passionately willing to know the antecedents and history of the various contestants in terms of tolerance to the religions other than their own. The issue has taken such a big dimension in the national political discourse that many people now considered it as an important criterion in making a choice of who to vote for or to vote against in the forthcoming presidential election in 2023.

Whilst these considerations between religious tickets and tolerance are apt and lawful, it is very imperative to awaken the consciousness of the generality of Nigerians to the fact that historical antecedents of the people concerned in terms of tolerance to other religions other than their own is of greater and extreme importance in knowing the inclinations, propensities and tendencies of the various presidential contestants. In the words of the revered H. W. Beecher, “Nothing dies so hard, or rallies so often as intolerance.”

It is good to note that the extant Nigerian constitution vests so much powers in the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that the historical antecedents of the presidential candidates in terms of tolerance to other religions other than their own should be considered over and above the nature of tickets that are being wielded or brandished by the various political parties and/or their candidates – be it Christian/Christian ticket or Christian/Muslim ticket or Muslim/Christian ticket or Muslim/Muslim ticket or traditional religion/any other religion ticket.

It is a very well known fact that those who fail to learn from history allow history to repeat itself. Taking a cue from this, it is incontrovertibly and documentarily established that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a Muslim by faith and also an Alhaji, married a Christian woman, Oluremi. Ahmed Tinubu is living harmoniously with his Christian wife of many decades. He, evidentially, even supported the woman to attain the apogee of her Christian faith by becoming a Senior Pastor in her church. On the other hand, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a Muslim by faith, married a Christian woman by name Titilayo from Osun State in the South western part of Nigeria. Alhaji Abubakar Atiku converted Titilayo to Islam and changed her name to Aminat. Alhaji Abubakar Atiku also married another Christian woman from Anambra State in the South Eastern part of Nigeria, Dr. Jennifer by name, a staunch and devout member of the Catholic Church before marriage to Alhaji Abubakar Atiku. Atiku converted Jennifer to Islam and changed her name to Jamila. In the words of Sri P. Sidney, “Among the best of men are diversities of opinion, which should no more, in true reason, breed hatred than one that loves black should be angry with him that is clothed in white for thoughts are the very apparel of the mind.” Having done the same act of conversion of people from Christianity to Islam twice, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku has convincingly, incontrovertibly and loudly announced his aversion and intolerance to Christianity to the whole world…the religious colour of his ticket cannot change this fact. According to Frederick the Great, “All religions must be tolerated, for every man must get to heaven his/her own way.”

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The significance of these real life events of the above-named presidential candidates is to highlight the practical and demonstrable tolerance levels of the two personalities, and to also highlight the importance of tolerance over and above the nature of combination of the religious ticket that any candidates may be holding or brandishing.

It is pertinent to state at this juncture that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) has well established positions taken about religion, to wit: Section 10 states that: The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.

Sections 15 (1)(2) state that: (1) The motto of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress. (2) Accordingly, national integration shall be actively encouraged, whilst discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethnic or linguistic association or ties shall be prohibited. Section 38 (1) states that: Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching,practice and observance.Section 42 states that: (1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnicgroup, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:- (a) be subjected either expressly by, or in the practicalapplication of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or (b) be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions. (2) No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.

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Against the backdrops of these constitutional provisions, it is incontrovertibly true that changing the religion of a person from one to another on the mere advantage of marriage is not only a grave violation of constitutional provisions but also the desecration and denigration of personal liberties of such individuals whose faiths were changed by another person. A greater advantage, such as the position of the President, will surely bring out a worse manifestation of intolerance, bigotry and fanaticism in the perpetrators of such atrocities, not only on his wives but also on all his subjects.

It therefore behoves all Nigerians to be conscious and awake to their liberties and not to submit themselves to the cheap cajole of Muslim/Christian ticket in the hand of a man whose antecedents fulfilled all the conditions for religious extremism and fanaticism, including forceful conversion of others to his own religion. Benjamin Franklin had warned in 1755 that: “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” John Philpot Curan of Dublin in the United Kingdom also posited that: “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God gave liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he breaks, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and punishment of his guilt.”  Thomas Paine is his dissertation on first principles of government taught the world in 1795 that: “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” And, President Thomas Jefferson also stated that: “It behoves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.”

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Furthermore, whilst the media is filled with the pictures and publications of Alhaji Shettima, the former governor of Borno State and the running mate of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, with various categories of priests and bishops of various Christian denominations, Dr. Okowa, the incumbent governor of Delta State and the running mate of Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, is yet to show the world his pictures and publications with Muslim clerics in his State or any other States in Nigeria. Other candidates in the forthcoming elections are also clearly lagging behind in this way.

  • Comrade Olusesan Daini, the Chairman, Igbogbo/Bayeku LCDA, Lagos State, writes from Igbogbo, Lagos State, Nigeria.

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