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I greet you all with gladness and delight to be amongst you in this engagement; there is no doubt in our hearts that this gathering is a good one to help us re-establish the goodness in being in each others’ company. It is also not a secret, especially due to the forthcoming elections, that some groups are being tagged as religiously intolerant of the other; I hope that this gathering will help quell such unfair sentiments.

As our nation approaches, perhaps, the most crucial election in our history, all true patriots are called to deeper reflection of the basic ingredients that bind the nation together—these being our common freedom, peace and unity. This reflection is even more relevant in the face of the illegal postponement of the general elections—a feat achieved through various sinister ploys and with the sole aim of avoiding the will and verdict of the people. In all these, I feel the urge to communicate my personal vision and thoughts to the people of our great nation, especially on the question of religion, a sensitive matter for many citizens that has become the most frequently used tool by the ruling party.

I must add that no one is exempted from overzealousness where faith is concerned – just as the Christians believe so much in their cause, so also do the Muslims, as well as other religions in our country. However, those who deliberately disseminate divisive disinformation and attempt to stoke primordial sentiments using religion or ethnicity and create fear in the minds of people fail the standard of patriotism that this nation demands of them and deserves from them.

There are talks today about the fear of Islamisation or Christianization of the Nigerian state by my running mate and I, or by our party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is absolutely impossible considering that the Nigerian Constitution is clearly against elevating any religion to a state religion. That said, our religion or faith is expected to guide us, such that the good that we do transcend into good living conditions and to make life more abundant in our communities, states and the country at large. It seems though, that the exact tenets of our beliefs have been abandoned, but often revisited only for self-gratification.

I would like to solemnly declare that in spite of what our detractors say, I am not a religious fanatic of any sort and I have never been. In all my life I have never supported extremism of any kind, and nowhere in my record of service to our nation can this false toga, which political traducers have tried so hard to put on me, be substantiated. Indeed, it is very unfortunate and I feel extremely sad that I have to give this type of assurance at this time in our national life.

Let me reiterate that I, Muhammadu Buhari, have come as an individual to serve and not to dictate, and that as a president, – if given the opportunity – I nurture no ambition to Islamize the country, neither is my running mate, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo nursing any ulterior agenda to Christianize the country. Please be clear that no member of our team puts one religion above the other or one interest above another.

My background is in the army, and there is no doubt that the military is one of the most integrated pan-Nigerian institutions in this country. And even today, the military is one of the few national institutions that represent the pride of our nation’s possibilities in unity. Soldiers from every nook and cranny of this country come together, work and live together, entrust their lives to each other and integrate their families. It is a military where many of my dearest friends, from all faiths and parts of the country lost their lives defending the unity of our nation. That was the military I served in, and in the Nigeria military that I know and can speak of, it was impossible to be a bigot.

Just as it will be considered favoritism when someone is favoured based on his affiliations even when he is less worthy of the favour, so also is the graveness of favoritism when religious sentiments is brought into a democracy or into a highly sensitive issue as choosing the leader of an entire country.

In our Qur’an and Bible, we were never told that leaders were chosen because they were Jewish or Israelites, but because they have what it takes to liberate the people of God; because they have what it takes to make the people realize the intended goods and potentials for the growth and benefit of the society.

In most sincerity of heart, I urge you all to have a discerning mind; double check any individual who speaks about another person in ways derogatory to the dignity of a human being—surely, our faiths preach against back-biters and gossips.

I enjoin all of us to exhibit the virtue of tolerance; tolerance because where your strength gives way is where the strength of the other person begins—that strength is what you both need to forge ahead and it is the collective strength that we need as a people to build our nation.

Tolerance because the supporters of Shari’a are protecting their customs as the Shari’a law is synonymous with customary laws, covering customs of marriage, divorce and inheritance which cannot be forced on people who do not subscribe to it but expecting understanding from them in appreciation of their customs.

This tolerance should guide us because even in the south of Nigeria where there are no laws like the Shari’a, we still experience some level of lawlessness and jungle justice and in-human treatments. So it is not about the law; it is simply that we have lost the sense of dignity that should be accrued to the human person; we now only see religion, tribe, place of origin and so on when we look at our neighbours.

If we know the sacredness of the positions of leadership, we would wish only those after our hearts to assume such positions; those who have won hearts because of the genuineness of their intentions and deeds; those who will be quick to rise to your defense rather than deny the attack or ask for proof of attack.

I expect leaders to treat this position like a religion; knowing that they have been put there in trust that they will manage affairs well and make sure that no member of any community is neglected. Truth be told, any leader who continues to show signs of increased wealth while the people cried of hunger, has not been true to his faith.

Nations around the world are envious of our diversity. They covet the strength in our diversity, we should focus on having a leader who stands as a rallying point around whom people can gather; one who will mend fences and build bridges; so that when called to give account of stewardship, he can boldly say “not one of the people you have given me, have I lost in the course of our journey.”

Leadership is not a one-man show, so we have to work together; we must come together, putting religious sentiments aside and rise above the vicious lies of the propagandists; seeing those negative comments as nothing but a wicked mind trying to incite same wickedness in the generality of people.

I daresay that the prospects of elections are heated in themselves all over the world, so we do a great injustice to ourselves if we begin to insult the things that we hold dear and believe in.

I believe I am speaking the minds of most if I say that Nigeria and Nigerians are tired of the hopeless state and the hopelessness our country has been plunged into. We want to have faith in our leaders; as we do in our religion, a faith that will help us recognize the strength in our diversity and in the long run, unite us as a nation.

God bless Nigeria as we struggle again to build a united Nigeria in faith, service and good works.

Thank you.

General Muhammadu Buahri, GCFR

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