President Muhammadu Buhari, on Saturday, said electoral victory in the country is not measured by one’s religious affiliation or ethnicity.
The president also said but for God and the use of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) during the 2015 general elections, his victory would have been like his previous attempts in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
The president spoke, in Abuja, during the closing ceremony of the interfaith conference on religious harmony in Nigeria: towards the 2019 general elections convened by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III and the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan.
In attendance were former Heads of State, Generals Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalami Abubakar; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Walter Onnoghen; Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Muhammad Musa Bello.
Also in attendance were the National Security Adviser, Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd), the Archbishop of Canterbury and keynote Speaker, Archbishop Justin Welby, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev’d Samson Ayokunle, Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, members of the diplomatic corps, amongst others.
President Buhari, who digressed from his written speech, said in 2003, in his efforts to reclaim his mandate, he was in court for 30 months, spending 27 months at the Court of Appeal where the chairman of the panel of judges was his former classmate and an indigene of Katsina State.
The president further said the same classmate and kinsman whom they practised the same religion, ignored a minority report written by an Igbo man who was a member of the panel and went ahead to deliver judgement against him.
President Buhari also said he had to go all the way to the Supreme Court where a Hausa-Fulani man from Zaria, a Muslim, was the Chief Justice of the Federation and his case was dismissed.
In 2007, Buhari said, again, he was told that he was defeated and had to go to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeal and the Chief Justice of the Federation then was a Muslim from Niger State, Justice Idris Kutigi, but his case was dismissed.
The president also recalled that in 2011, he again went to the Supreme Court and after about eight months, with a Chief Justice of the Federation, the late Justice Dahiru Musdapher, a Fulani man from Jigawa State, his case was dismissed.
He said when Nigerian journalists accosted him after the judgment and asked him what he was going to do, the president said he told them that it was by his choice that he went into partisan politics and simply said “God dey.”
“In 2015, I tried again. I thank God and technology. PVCs were introduced and card readers. So, nobody could rig me out. I found myself here,” President Buhari said.
The president submitted that from what he went through in the political development of the country, it is a very good lesson that the question of religion and ethnicity had no place in politics.
Speaking earlier, the president said very soon, political campaigns would commence, leading to elections in February 2019, saying that it is his hope and prayer that the nation will even perform better and see to a peaceful conclusion of the process without the negative use of religion and ethnicity.
He appealed to religious leaders 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.
The president called for the discharge of political responsibility with integrity, bearing in mind that one day, account will be rendered to God Almighty.
“I am proud to say that our country has moved on. The era of free money, lack of transparency and accountability is over. We deserve continuity; we deserve a better future for the coming generations.
“I sincerely hope 2019 will move us closer to these goals and so, I look forward to a peaceful, fair and credible elections come 2019,” Buhari stated.
In his keynote speech, Archbishop Welby said the desire for peace is universal, but it is not unconditional.
He said peace required justice, adding that when people are attacked, they are not satisfied if there is impunity.
“And neither the impunity following attacks, will the violence continue from generation to generation. We have learnt that in our country,” Welby said.
Welby further said when he hears Nigeria is facing problems whether in terrorism, economic hardship, the death of farmers and herdersmen; he is deeply distressed and mourn as if they were members of his family.
Welby said the call to reconciliation required leadership, even as he said that the African continent needed leadership.
On his party, Onaiyekan said it was his conviction that the original sin holding the nation down is selfishness, adding that the situation had unfortunately become the primary objective and moving principle of the nation’s political life.
“Selfishness at all levels: personal, family, tribe, region and even religion. This is at the root of corruption, violence, disloyalty and the win at all costs and by all means syndrome at elections.
“If we continue this way, good governance, genuine democracy, national unity, peace and prosperity for all Nigerians will continue to elude us,” Onaiyekan said.
In his remarks, the Sultan said religious harmony is very important for peaceful coexistence, adding that there must be understanding before the nation can collectively move forward as a country.
The Sultan noted that it is only God that can give power to whoever he pleases and also take it from him without even prior notice.
“Progress and development would continue to elude us if acrimony, mistrust and back biting are being promoted.
“However, we succeeded in securing the commitment and trust of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Police and other critical stakeholders that would be involved in the electoral process.
“We had similar efforts in 2015 and it resulted in peaceful election that led to surprise defeat of the incumbent president in 2015. We hope that peace and tolerance will envelop the forthcoming elections,” the Sultan of Sokoto said.