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Angry Nigerian President Obasanjo lashes out at religious leaders over violence
Updated May 23, 2004 - 2:33:00 PM

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President Olusegun Obasanjo Photo: MGN Online
LAGOS, Nigeria (PANA) - Seemingly frustrated that his government’s efforts to curb Nigeria’s spiraling sectarian and communal violence has not yielded the desired results, President Olusegun Obasanjo has vented his anger on religious leaders in central Plateau, which has been a hotbed of such crisis since 2001.

On the heels of tit-for-tat killing by Muslims and Christians in the state, the president recently visited affected areas to meet with religious and political leaders and fashion out a permanent solution to the crisis, which has claimed hundreds of lives in the Christian-dominated state alone.

Ending the crisis became urgent after it sparked reprisal attacks from Muslims in the northern city of Kano, where the police said 30 persons died after two days of violence that targeted Christians and non-indigenes. Christian leaders put the figure of the dead at 600.

Instead of the president’s efforts getting big play, it was his angry exchange with the religious leaders that made local newspaper headlines. Writing under the headline, “Obasanjo berates religious leaders, calm returns to Kano,” the private Guardian newspaper said the president was angered by questions from the local leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI).

“Mr Chairman of CAN, you are talking absolute nonsense, and don’t provoke me,” the president reportedly retorted when asked by the CAN chairman, the Reverend Yakubu Pam, why he did not visit the state when suspected Muslim militants killed dozens of Christians who took refuge in a church.

In what was seen as a reprisal attack, suspected Christian militants killed 67 Muslims early this month. Muslim leaders put the number at over 300.

“You have the audacity to say that you did not hear anything from me. Did I hear anything from you? What meaningful thing have you contributed to make peace in this state other than you being chairman of CAN? CAN my foot!” said Pres. Obasanjo, a southern Christian.

He also did not spare the JNI secretary-general, Sheik Abdulaziz Yusuf, who asked him whether he was really interested in the unity of Nigeria in view of the endless crises across the country. Saying his record showed him as an incurable believer in Nigeria’s unity, the president noted: “I have fought for it. I have almost died for the unity of Nigeria. I had been imprisoned for it. I don’t think anybody needs any evidence of a Nigerian who is more committed than myself.”

The private Punch newspaper reported that the president later left the venue of the meeting in anger, and quoted the Reverend Pam as accusing him (Obasanjo) of coming to Plateau with an agenda. Rev. Pam said the CAN leadership in Plateau had lost confidence in the president’s trouble-shooting ability.

“The same people who cooked up the crisis in Kano have been going to him and deceiving him by telling him all kinds of lies. They want recognition because they are idle, but I am a man of God and I have a lot of things to do. This is the first time I am seeing a leader abusing a pastor, an ordained man of God,” Rev. Pam said.

There is a growing frustration in Nigeria over the endless violence, which human rights organizations estimated has left more than 10,000 dead since 1999, when the country returned to civilian rule after years of military dictatorship.

Nigeria’s 130 million people are almost evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, though the country also has a sizeable number of animists and atheists. The adherents of the various beliefs live peacefully together in most cases, but analysts said attacks and counter-attacks between the largely-Muslim north and the Christian south are pushing the country to the edge.


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