Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has observed that true leaders play down religion to cater for the issues that concern the welfare of all citizens.
He said such was the attitude of first republic leaders who he observed touched the lives of everyone regardless of religious or ethnic background.
Osinbajo was speaking at the opening session of the General Assembly of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Abuja on Friday.
Osinbajo said “Decades ago in this same country, it would not have been a major topic. Leaders in the first republic did not consider religious intolerance as a major national issue, they were more concerned about the issues that touched everyone regardless of religion or ethnicity; they were concerned about providing food, shelter, education and decent livelihoods. But today, no true leader can ignore the threat that religious bigotry and intolerance poses for the development of our nation. That is just the way it is.
“But it is my respectful view that the burden of ensuring that faith promotes national development as opposed to impeding it is on leaders. This is the challenge I pose to you today.”
Drawing on the Biblical teachings of love and compassion by Jesus Christ, the Vice President challenged all leaders in the country to learn from the Good Samaritan who showed compassion to a stranger where even religious people failed. and Imam Abubakar who saved Christians from being slaughtered in Plateau State.
Osinbajo said: “All leaders and this is my challenge to you today, need to learn from the simple, but deeply profound actions of the Good Samaritan and Chief Imam Abubakar. Both of them showed great love and compassion. They were not concerned about the race or religion of those whose lives they saved or whose properties were destroyed. All that mattered was that they were flesh and blood like themselves. They were simply ready to make any sacrifice for another human being.
“We are at a historic juncture in the existence of our nation. Here and there are religious and tribal tensions. Many are beating the drums of ethnic and religious superiority. Some even seek to divide the nation into ethnic zones. “Yet our constitution speaks in the clearest and highest terms of our national commitment to the equality of all Nigerians regardless of ethnicity, religion or status. It speaks of the imperative of all individuals and governments to respect the rights and dignity of every Nigerian. “Our constitution speaks of freedom of worship, the liberty to belong to the faith of one’s choice and even change that faith without consequence.
“But constitutional declarations mean nothing unless there are men and women ready to make the personal sacrifices to bridge the gap between rhetoric and constitutional ideals. Such men and women are not usually very many. But they do not have to be many to make a difference.”
Osinbajo regretted that whereas a particular Muslim state governor was rebuilding churches burnt during the crisis in his states, some declined to approved certificates of occupancy in theirs.
“Yet there are States where Governors refuse to grant certificates of occupancy for the building of churches or places of religious gathering in outright violation of the constitution they swore to uphold,” he said.
He noted how tolerant President Muhammadu Buhari has been citing an example of the worship in Aso Rock villa.
According to Osinbajo, “Every Sunday, my family and over 100 Christians attend service in the Chapel at the Villa. The Chapel is located in the premises of the President and his family. It is located a few seconds away from the First Lady’s kitchen. Sometimes when I see the President on a Sunday morning, he asks me whether the service is over already or I am escaping from the service! That is the sort of tolerance that we need in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society and it is the duty of leaders to show that sort of example.
“It is the courage of leaders to live up to the ideals of their faith and their sworn commitments that invariably build nations. Leaders must live up to the commitments to which they swear, especially political leaders.
“Nations are built by the sacrifices, the hard work of leaders who do not care even if they are condemned by persons of their own religion or ethnicity, so long as they are confident that they act in obedience to the oaths they swore and to the Almighty God. Such men and women are few, but the profundity of their actions invariably transform communities and nations as they bend the arc of history in the direction of unity, peace and progress.”
Osinbajo remarked that the challenge of nation-building was not the noise of the religious bigots and nihilists, but “it is the silence and inaction of leaders of different faiths who know better, those who say and do nothing, and to whom we appeal today. Your words and actions may make the difference between peace and tragedy.”