By Tunde Adetunji, Abuja.
Amid rising ethnic agitations in some parts of the country, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has called on Nigerians to tolerate each other and display understanding because there is strength in unity.
Saraki spoke when the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the 19 Northern States and Abuja, led by its Chairman, Rev. Yakubu Pam, visited him at the National Assembly in Abuja.
His meeting with Christian leaders who pointedly asked for a law by the National Assembly to guarantee freedom of worship for all faiths, and a re-introduction of religious education in the school curriculum, came as reports appeared in the online media that Arewa Youths, who started the latest tension, are meeting to take on Governor Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna State for ordering their arrest.
The Youths had given Igbos until October 1, 2017 to move out of the northern parts of the country or face their wrath. The Arewa youths are angry at agitations by some Igbos asking for a Biafra nation out of Nigeria.
Another group, the Middle Belt Youth Council, however welcomed the south-easterners to the Middle Belt, insisting they were not part of the Arewa, a description of northerners.
But at the meeting with Saraki, the Northern CAN delegation appealed to the that the Senate to intervene to stop attacks on places of worship in some parts of the North.
In statement by Saraki’s Special Assistant on Print Media, Chuks Okocha, the Senate President said: “Let me through you appeal to all our people for tolerance and understanding. I want to appeal that we preach tolerance. I believe that it is our responsibility as leaders, to impress on our people to be very tolerant and let us seek unity.
In another development, the Federal Government has warned Nigerians against making statements that are capable of undermining the country’s peace and security.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, urged Nigerians to feel free to reside in any part of their choice across the country, saying the government has the capacity to maintain law and order.
He said there is no reason for any Nigerian to feel unsafe anywhere in the country, warning that the government would not tolerate any threat to the unity, peace and security of the country under any guise.
”There is zero tolerance for actions and speeches capable of inciting one part of the country against another, and the security agencies are fully on the ground to deal decisively with any individual or group that engages in incendiary activities,” Alhaji Mohammed said
He therefore advised all Nigerians, irrespective of where they reside, to go about their daily activities without fear.
Saraki also appealed “to everybody that we should in our speeches and actions work for the unity of the country, because you made reference to some of the issues but this is not about who is right or who is wrong, we should always ask ourselves that what can we do to unite our people and mend the fault lines.
“This is very important. I am hopeful, that we are only going through these challenges because of the state of our economy and I believe by the time the economic recovery plan of the present administration begins to yield fruits, some of these issues will fizzle out,” Saraki said.
On the economy, Saraki said: “I believe by the time we address the economy, by the time we get the economy right, it will eliminate all these tension. Until we get there, we must make sure that we have a country where we are all working together.
“Let me assure you that things that are of concern to you are also of concern to us. And the 8th Senate has shown that in most of our deliberations, we put Nigeria first. The challenges we have in Nigeria are not selective as to which part of the country a person comes from.
“The economic challenges do not discriminate against Muslims or Christians, nor do they favour Northerners against Southerners. I think with that, there are lessons. The economic hardship affect all of us and we must unite to jointly eliminate those challenges.
“However, we should not lose faith because as religious leaders your disposition affect will affect your followers. You must have faith that this country belongs to all of us. We all have rights. We will ensure that we respect that. We must have faith that this country will continue to grow from strength to strength. I plead for your understanding and tolerance,” he said.
Earlier, the leader of the delegation, Rev. Pam, expressed concern over the series of agitations by some interest groups who are calling for restructuring and raising allegations of marginalization.
“I heard this morning that some people are asking some people to leave the Northern part of the country. This kind of comments and utterances should not be encouraged,” he said.
He further said, “To us, the hour has come for government to take a second look at the causes of these agitations so that all sides can be given a sense of belonging in the scheme of things in the country. We need all hands to be joined together to move this country forward.”
On the frequent clashes between herdsmen and farmers, Rev. Pam said, “Cattle rearing is a private business and as such herders should be educated on the modern way of handling their cattle rearing business so that their cattle should not be let loose into farms of the locals in different parts of the country in order to put an end to frequent clashes between the herdsmen and the local farmers”.
He also lamented the incidence of forced marriages against under aged girls, saying, “We want to make an appeal that the Senate should look into this social problem so that it would not lead to break down of law and order in some parts of the country especially from those considered to be victims of this social malaise,” he said.