President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday cautioned religious and traditional leaders against partisan politics, saying they risk losing their public esteem if they keep taking sides.
“Having witnessed the roles our religious leaders have been playing so far, I appeal to them to eschew partisan politics and appeal to their respective members to read the manifestos of each political party, discuss and pray for God’s guidance before casting their votes,” Mr Buhari said during an interfaith conference.
“Religious leaders should not be seen to involve themselves in partisan politics or political controversies. Otherwise they risk losing their status and public respect,” he added.
Mr Buhari met with religious leaders at an interfaith seminar in Abuja. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England, was present at the event and delivered a keynote. John Onaiyekan, leader of the Catholic Church in Nigeria, and Sa’ad Abubakar, Sultan of Sokoto, were also present, according to a dispatch from the State House Saturday afternoon.
He also extended the warning to traditional rulers, admonishing them to encourage people in their community to be critical of political party messages and reach an informed position before voting for candidates.
“On their part, traditional rulers are also requested to enlighten their subjects, encourage them to ask questions and seek clarifications before going out to vote.
“As your President, I will request that you encourage your subjects to come out and exercise their voting rights as responsible citizens. To all of us politicians, I ask that we discharge our political responsibilities with integrity, bearing in mind that we will one day give an account to God, the Almighty,” the president said.
The advice comes two days after some religious leaders helped settle a long-standing animosity between former president Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar. Mr Abubakar emerged presidential candidate of the opposition People’s Democratic Party, last Sunday.
Matthew Kukah, the Catholic Archbishop of Sokoto, David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church, and Abubakar Gumi, an Islamic scholar and cleric, were present during the historic truce at Mr Obasanjo’s residence in Abeokuta.
Whether Mr Buhari’s condemnation of religious leaders’ involvement in politics had anything to do with the role played by the religious leaders in settling the dispute between Messrs Obasanjo and Abubakar was not immediately apparent in his comments, but the presidency and the ruling All Progressives Congress have strongly criticised the reconciliation.
Some of the president’s supporters have also attacked the religious leaders for playing a key role in the reconciliation, which many saw as constituting a major boost to Mr Abubakar’s campaign.
Mr Gumi pushed back against such insinuations on Saturday, telling this paper that his intervention was purely on the basis of his faith as a true Muslim. Gumi wondered why the Buhari administration is not comfortable with the reconciliation of Chief Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar. He said all responsible leaders should encourage reconciliation at all levels particularly reconciling leaders in the overall interest of the society. Gumi said the Obasanjo and Atiku reconciliation is not the first one he led as a leader and cleric and said any group or persons that considers him worthy to advice or reconcile as long as it is in public interest his doors are open. He lamented why there was no noise, rantings and empty accusations of collecting dollars when on several occasions Muslim and Christian clerics visited Aso Rock while the same leaders at the Villa are insinuating mischief in their visit to Abeokuta. Dr. Gumi said those that are not in power naturally don’t have enough dollars to share and said dollars are now with the occupant of Aso Rock and asked reporters to contact clerics that visited the Villa in the past how much they also got.
Gumi who is also a medical doctor and retired army officer advised Buhari to be more democratic and accept dissenting views and opinions. He said people including clerics should be allowed to decide a political affiliation they believe will serve the interest of their people without the kind of intimidation that is happening today. He said no matter what his voice will always stand against injustice and maladministration and advice people the elect a candidate of their choice.