In Nigeria, religion has historically played a significant role in our society, but it has never been a decisive factor for our national unity. Despite being a nation of diverse tribes and clans, our strength has always stemmed from our ability to unite in our diversity. This sentiment was beautifully encapsulated in our former national anthem, which proclaimed, “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.”

Looking back at the first and second republics, it’s clear that there was little to no glaring religious division in our politics. Leaders like Sir Ahmadu Bello, the premier of the northern region, and Sardauna of Sokoto, surrounded themselves with individuals from different religious backgrounds. His leadership exemplified tolerance, humility, and civility. Chief Obafemi Jeremiah Awolowo, a devout Christian, had close associates who were Muslims, and they worked harmoniously together. The same spirit of cooperation was evident in the tenure of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first president.

This culture of tolerance and cooperation persisted into the second republic. We witnessed Muslim-Muslim and Christian-Christian tickets for governors and their deputies, where competency, not religion, was the driving force behind voter choices. For example, in Lagos, Alhaji Lateef Jakande had Alhaji Rafiu Jafojo as his Deputy, and the result was peace and harmony.

Religious leaders

Ogun state had two Christian leaders, Victor Olabisi Onabanjo and Sesan Soluade, while in Oyo state, Bola Ige worked alongside Sunday Afolabi, both Christians. Ondo was Adekunle Ajasin Chief Omoboriowo as his deput to mention a few. This demonstrated that religious differences did not hinder the collaborative spirit among leaders.

However, during the turbulent era of the 90s, the military regime allowed religious matters to creep into our politics. This unwelcome development has had a lasting impact on our political landscape, with politicians now using religious affiliations against each other.

Despite these religious campaigns and calculations, corruption has not ceased, and the masses continue to suffer. It is clear that politicians who exploit religious divisions are often more concerned with their self-interest than the welfare of the people.

The Nigerian masses must wake up to the reality that religious division is a weapon politicians are employing to sow discord among us. Rather than allowing ourselves to be manipulated by these divisive tactics, we should demand that our leaders focus on providing the basic needs of the people and stop using religion as a tool for division.

It is evident that when it comes to their common interests, politicians at the top put aside religious differences and unite to serve their own agenda. The masses should be wise and reject the religious acrimony stirred up by politicians. It’s time to say “enough is enough” and stand united for the betterment of our nation

(Aare Olaseni O. Egbeemi, a Public Affairs Analyst and Social Reformist writes from Lagos)

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