…Religious Leaders by their Calling Should be Agents of Peace and Promoters of Unity and National Cohesion. Anything short is manipulation of religion for destructive purposes.
Jos, Nigeria – Monday, October 30, 2023
The Revd Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam, a prominent Nigerian peace builder and advocate, has issued a call for religious leaders across faiths to act more responsibly and shun issuing inflammatory statements from their pulpits either on Fridays or Sundays. Such misuse of the pulpit only divides Nigerians and consumes gullible listeners and followers along religious and ethnic lines.
Para-Mallam’s admonition comes in response to recent inflammatory statements particularly from some clerics of Northern extraction questioning the appropriateness of Ex-Governor Nyesom Wike’s appointment by President Bola Tinubu to serve as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), on religious grounds. The clerics had suggested Wike’s Christian faith disqualifies him from holding an office overseeing the FCT. Some of such deadly rhetorics, erroneously described the Nigerian federal capital territory as a “Hausa and Fulani enclave,” which historically and geographically it is not.
In a strongly worded statement, the President and CEO of the Jos-based peace building organisation, The Para-Mallam Peace Foundation reminds such clerics and all Nigerians that the position of FCT Minister belongs to every qualified Nigerian regardless of their tribe or religious affiliation.
The peace and social justice crusader who has never met or known Wike personally, apart from the pages of newspapers or television, stated that Muslim clerics calling Wike on account of his Christian faith ‘infidels’ is not only erroneous but dangerous hate speech that could instigate religious violence against innocent Nigerians. Para-Mallam reminds such clerics that Christians firmly believe in God and love Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Therefore, referring a Christian as an unbeliever is factually incorrect, provocative and risks inciting hostility against them.
Para-Mallam further called on such clerics to be more responsible with their public utterances and stop making loose comments that demean other faiths or suggest excluding qualified Nigerians from positions of national service and governance roles; on religious grounds.
“It beats my imagination that clerics use vulgar language to characterise the Hon Minister. This is strange and dysfunctional application of religion. To suggest that Wike being a Christian is therefore an Arne (infidel) is an intentional wicked characterisation of not only Wike but all Christians. It is absolutely wrong for any Muslim leader or Muslims to describe Christians as Arne. This is pure hypocrisy on the part of such Muslim Clerics. To describe Christians as Arne is not only unacceptable but hate speech borne out of hatred. Nigeria should be spared further agony by such unfounded miss-applied religious labelings.” He said.
He also reminded all faith leaders that Nigeria belongs to people of every tribe and creed. No ethnic group or religious followers can lay exclusive claim over national roles and institutions. Any thing to the contrary is religious grandstanding.
“Abuja belongs to all Nigerians. It is not the sole preserve or entitlement of any particular ethnic group or religious adherents. If the Gbyagis have shown accommodation of other ethnic groups, the rest of us should shun politics of provocation in the name of religion. Those making these inflammatory utterances should know better than to insinuate ex-Governor Wike cannot hold the office simply because he is a Christian from the South. Targeting Wike and other Christians who hold visible positions in the country is an act of disservice to the Nigerian State.” Para-Mallam said.
Para-Mallam urges clerics to act with wisdom, restraint and dignity befitting their offices when they are preaching or speaking to audiences.
“They should refrain from sermons which demeans other faiths or insinuating exclusion of qualified Nigerians from service because of their religion. We should all be tired of such antics. We become the laughing stock of the global community. Nigeria is blessed by excellent minds and brains. In truth these gifted individuals are found both in the north and south and also among Christians and Muslims. The age of using religion for manipulative purposes is gone forever in Nigeria.” He said.
The peace advocate explained that faith leaders have great influence, so their words carry weight hence the need for caution.
“They must avoid language that marginalizes, excludes, divides or incites hostility against any Nigerian on religious or ethnic grounds. In truth there’s huge groundswell of support for Wike and he is gradually being transformed into a national hero. Wike rises while his detractors are diminished. Every Nigerian is qualified to be Minister of the FCT. Wike should not and cannot be made an exception.” He said
In addition, Para-Mallam called on religious leaders to become positive voices of moderation, inspiration, reconciliation and unity. They should build bridges between faith communities, calm tensions, and advance shared interests for the common good of all Nigerians: Christians and Muslims alike.
“With Nigeria facing huge insecurity and socio-economic challenges, the country needs clerics to serve as forces of stability, progress and hope – rather than merchants of division and strife. Their platforms and influence should unite, not divide.” The Peace builder added.
Speaking on recent attacks and negative criticisms towards the FCT Minister, Nyesome Wike over allegations of ‘forming alliance’ with Israel to attack Gaza and the people of Palestine, Para-Mallam said such allegations are not only baseless but capable of setting the nation on fire. He goes on to note that in the past, Abuja has been governed by Muslim FCT ministers who also at different times hosted Israeli government officials and investors in the Nigerian capital.
“If hosting Israeli envoys in Abuja was not a problem when done in the past by Muslim FCT ministers, why should it become an issue now with Governor Wike simply because he is a Christian? This is the kind of inflammatory religious insinuations we must avoid for national peace and unity. Such tactics won’t scare Christians from relating with Israel. There are many Arab nations who do business with Israel. ‘Nigerians cannot be more Catholic than the Pope,’ as the expression goes.
It is on record that the Israeli ambassador’s visit to the office of the FCT was on carried out on the 3rd of October, 2023. “Why connect such with the unfortunate war going on in Israel/Gaza? This was days before the war started and the visit was not a secret visit but well covered by the media . . . In truth, does a minister of the federal republic of Nigeria have the powers to engage in diplomatic negotiations involving international actors in a conflict situation?” He stated.
With Nigeria facing enormous economic, security and governance challenges, Para-Mallam stressed that respected faith leaders must avoid statements that marginalize or incite hatred against any Nigerians on religious or ethnic grounds.
Instead, the leadership guru said, they should be forces for unity, progress, stability and hope – using their platforms and influence to build bridges, calm tensions, and advance the shared interests of all Nigerians regardless of tribe or creed.
“That is the Nigeria we must keep working and praying to build together.” He said.
He concludes by appealing to all religious leaders to promote tolerance, respect diversity, and pursue national healing. Avoiding inflammatory rhetoric and uniting Nigerians across ethnic and religious lines is vital for the nation’s peace and prosperity. Nigeria will rise again from the ashes of social injustice and discriminatory religious tendencies to becoming the envy of other nations in peace Co-existence. I believe in Nigeria and our current leadership trajectory will change for the BEST.