The National Inter-Religious Council, (NIREC) is not meeting or nearly moribund because the present government says it hasn’t got the resources to fund such meetings, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN), Dr Supo Ayokunle has said. Dr Ayokunle was speaking Tuesday in Abuja at the closing day of the National Conference on Protection of Holy Sites attended by topflight religious leaders and peace practitioners.
Reacting to comments at the proceedings of the conference on how NIREC is not functioning as expect, the CAN leader said he had taken up the issue with the Sultan of Sokoto up to the point where Professor Ishaq Oloyode, the Executive Secretary wrote to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. They wrote to us to say that they have no money, he told his listeners at the conference. “The present government is the one everyone should appeal to so as to make it work”, he said, warning against the danger of such position because a government that doesn’t have money to fund peace would have money to fund peace enforcement.
He said no matter how bad the state of the economy might be, that shouldn’t be a good reason for the position of the government, especially in the context of what he observed to be disturbing handwriting on the wall in respect of the state of the nation.
Taking up the matter from where Dr Ayokunle stopped, Cardinal John Onaiyekan who spoke next called on religious leaders to go ahead and resume the meeting on their own if government persisted in the argument of no money. Confessing his ignorance of such position on the part of government and, by extension, stalling the meeting of the inter-religious body, he said the body was not formed by the government in any case and that the religious leaders could still hold meetings without government funding once they took it out of luxury places such as the Sheraton hold. “We can even meet under a tree. Let’s not allow money to be too important”, said the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, insisting “we don’t have to meet in Sheraton”. He agreed with the CAN leader that government that has no money to fund peace would end up dealing with violence.
Dr Ayokunle who later endorsed the idea of a universal code guaranteeing protection of holy sites which was the subject matter of the conference said holy sites not only bring faithfuls closer to God, they are also sources of economic viability. He cited what countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel were reeking in from tourists all over the world.
He expressed displeasure with what he noted as the tendency of politicians and policy makers turning into strangers to their faith once they get into power. “They separate their political practices from their faith so that their faith has no impact on their political practice”, he observed, asking faithfuls to shout from left to right to impress on such people to retrace their footsteps. He equally carpeted law enforcement agencies for standing by or not being there when holy sites are being vandalised.
His injunction is for all religions to join hand in fortifying holy sites and therefore look forward to where God is at the centre.