President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday rallied Christian leaders in the country to remain united and shame those stoking the fires of ethnic and religious conflicts in the country for their short-term political gains.
Receiving members of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) from the 19 Northern states and Abuja led by Yakubu Pam, at the Presidential Villa, the president reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to bring violent conflicts in Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara and other flash-points to a decisive end.
He urged the Christian community to complement government efforts by working firmly for a united and strong Nigeria.
‘‘Government can achieve lasting peace only with the sincere and active cooperation of communities, religious leaders, youths and other stakeholders.
‘‘These include the media in whose hands lies the power to frame, shape the perspectives and narratives which influence the thinking of millions of people within and outside Nigeria.
‘‘Let us collectively shame those who are stoking the fires of ethnic and religious conflicts for their short-term political gains.
‘‘This country belongs equally to Christians and Muslims and even those who claim ignorance of God,’’ the President told the Christian leaders.
Condemning the recent killings in Benue, Zamfara and lately Plateau, which he described as ‘‘wicked, condemnable and completely unacceptable acts’’, the president stressed that Nigerians are religious people and no religion or culture accepts the killing of people for any reason whatsoever.
‘‘This is why we must all rise as one to condemn these vile and wicked acts to ensure that all the culprits are brought to justice
‘‘We owe it to the memory of those who lost their lives in the violence in Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba, Zamfara and elsewhere since 1999 to bring the conflicts to a decisive end. I assure you that we will do this.
‘‘Let me make it clear that even a single life lost in any part of the country is one too many. I came to office vowing to ensure the protection of lives and property, and I remain committed to this despite the challenges we have experienced,’’ Mr Buhari said.
He also used the occasion of the visit by CAN Northern leaders to enumerate some steps taken by his administration to check the recurring violence in some parts of the country.
‘‘In recent weeks, we have beefed up Operation Safe Haven in Plateau State, with the deployment of extra Special Forces from the Defence Headquarters.
‘‘Besides, we currently have no fewer than three special military intervention forces in the troubled zones.
‘‘Operation Safe Haven to secure Plateau State, Operation Whirl Stroke 1 (OPWS) to secure Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa and OPWS 2 to secure Zamfara and Kaduna States.
‘‘These forces are supported with investigative and intelligence gathering capabilities from the Nigeria Police Force, Department of State Services and other agencies,’’ he said.
Acknowledging that it is the full responsibility of government to deploy law enforcement agencies in troubled spots, the president noted that creating the platform and mechanisms for dialogue remained a collective effort for all citizens.
He told the Christian leaders that the military and police have arrested hundreds of suspects across the various flash-points in the region and several prosecutions are going on, noting that there have been a number of convictions.
‘‘Nigerians are right when they say they want to see more convictions and I would like to appeal to the judiciary to help us fast track these cases,’’ he said.
President Buhari also condemned insinuations that his government has done nothing about the recent killings.
‘‘When some, for clearly political purposes, attempt to suggest that this government is doing nothing about the killings and that I, being Fulani, must be encouraging these satanic acts, it seems to me that there is no limit to the evil in the minds of men.
‘‘Otherwise, how can anyone in their right minds suggest that I, as an elected president even with substantial votes in the affected areas, will for any reason do harm by an act of omission to those same people?
‘‘Secondly, the problems in all these areas, as you all know, are historical. There is no administration that has not had to contend with killings in these same areas over the years.
‘‘Indeed, in 2001, you may recall that after thousands were killed in Plateau State, a State of Emergency was declared and a governor was replaced by an administrator,’’ he said.
Earlier in his remarks, the leader of the delegation, Mr Pam had enumerated some demands from the Christian community in Northern Nigeria, including an urgent review of the nation’s security architecture; rebuilding of communities ravaged by the attacks and provision of adequate security for farmers in the region.
The cleric, among others, also challenged the Federal government to encourage herders to acquire land for ranching across the country as a means of private business investment.