A coalition of 22 Christian groups in Nigeria led by National Christian Elders Forum, NCEF, on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 said the declaration of September 12 as public holiday in commemoration of Eid-El-Kabir celebration by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, was the height of impunity.
A similar incident took place in July 2016, when Christian organisations criticised the extension of public holiday by the Federal Government over the non-sighting of the moon by the Sultan.
A statement issued by the chairman of NCEF, Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN), on behalf of the coalition and obtained by journalists in Abuja, said it was “very improper for the head of the Islamic faith in Nigeria to announce, declare, or extend public holidays.”
The statement entitled, “Is the federal government abdicating its responsibility?” was e-mailed to The Trent is reproduced below:
Following the controversy that surrounded the extension of the Eid-el-Fitri Public Holiday by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III in July 2016, we are amazed that there has been an escalation of the impropriety. According to Vanguard Newspaper Report of 3rd. September, 2016, “Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, has announced Monday, Sept. 12 as the Eid-El-Kabir Day, ….” This is contained in a statement signed by Prof. Sambo Junaidu, Chairman, Advisory Committee on Religious Affairs, Sultanate Council of Sokoto.
We unequivocally wish to state that it is very improper for the head of the Islamic faith in Nigeria to announce, declare, or extend public holidays. This is the function of the Federal Government and need not be abdicated. This kind of anomalous development has not been taking place in Nigeria until the advent of the Buhari Administration which has gone to great lengths to deepen religious divide and tension in Nigeria.
Again, we have no objection whatsoever to the Muslim Public Holiday but our concern is that in a secular society as enshrined in Section 10 of the Constitution, the responsibility of declaring or announcing a religious Public Holiday is vested in the Federal Government and such responsibility is sacrosanct.
We are not unaware of various manipulations and acts of impunity to transform Nigeria from a Liberal Democratic society to an Islamic Theocratic State. As we stated in our previous paper, the full membership of Nigeria in OIC, in 1986, by the Babangida Military Administration is tantamount to making Nigeria an Islamic state.
The nation is yet to resolve this unilateral imposition of one religion over the nation by an individual. We also conclude that the present distress in the nation, occasioned by religious intolerance and insurgency, from the development of Boko Haram to the evolving of fanatical Muslim assailants, like the Fulani herdsmen, derive from this unilateral and improper decision of the Babangida Administration. Even the sponsors and actors of the membership of Nigeria in OIC in 1986 were aware of the illegality of their action and as such, kept it out of public knowledge for 10 years until 1996 when Sultan Dasuki confirmed to the Pope that Nigeria was a full member of the OIC.
We wish to remind the present administration that religion is a very sensitive and emotional aspect of Nigerians.
The wisdom of the founding fathers of this nation to adopt liberal democracy as national ideology to accommodate all the divergent groups in the nation cannot be faulted. Any attempt to distort that delicate balance in the Nigerian society shall produce nothing but destruction and devastation as the nation is currently witnessing. There is still time for religious extremists to desist before they push Nigeria off the brink of the precipice.
We also wish to appeal to the international community to remain circumspect before interfering in religious issues in Nigeria. Even when the Pope visited Nigeria, he ensured that he visited both Christian and Muslim leaders. We condemn, in all totality, the recent visit of the secretary of state of USA, Mr. John Kerry in August. His visit was divisive, sectional and capable of misrepresentation.
Foreign nations should be careful not to send the wrong signal that Nigeria is an Islamic Sultanate with the Sultan as the Supreme Sovereign. Nigeria is not an Islamic Theocratic State. It is a democratic nation and authority is vested in the democratically elected federal government.
It is necessary to reiterate the call to the 386 indigenous ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to urgently convene a Conference to examine the emerging trend and threats in the nation and propose solutions that will sustain peace, progress and development in Nigeria. The ethnic nationalities are the “owners” of Nigeria and it is their responsibility to ensure that justice, equality, and fairness prevail in this nation.
Finally, we call on the federal government to rise to its task and cease abdicating its responsibilities to the head of a religion. We do not want what happened during the time of Abacha, when Sultan Dasuki was dethroned by Abacha to repeat itself. It should not be forgotten that apart from Christianity and Islam, there exist in Nigeria various forms of traditional religion that are the foundation of our culture as Africans.
The federal government should continue to play its neutral, non-aligned role in the best interest of the nation.
Meanwhile, we await the declaration of the Eid-el-Kabir Public Holiday by the federal government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.