LAGOS, Nigeria, 27 August 2000 (Newsroom) â€“ U.S. President Bill Clinton, during what may be his last official visit to Africaâ€™s most populous nation, urged Nigerians to learn to live together despite their religious differences.
“Is it possible for the Muslims and the Christians here to â€¦ find a common ground?” he asked members of the National Assembly on Saturday. “Can we find peace in Jerusalem between the Muslims, the Christians and the Jews? Can we find peace in the Balkans between the Muslims, the Orthodox Christians and the Catholic? Will we ever bring an end to the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland? â€¦ I hope the answer would be, “Yes.â€™”
Thousands of Nigerians have died in ethnic and religious conflicts in the 15 months since democracy was restored to the former British colony. Much of the bloodshed has occurred in northern states where Muslim political leaders have pushed to fully implement Sharia â€“ Islamic law. Nigeriaâ€™s constitution permits Sharia only in domestic matters such as marriage and inheritance.
Nine northern governors have acted to insert Sharia into the penal code, however, introducing penalties such as amputation, public flogging and beheading. While those states have insisted that Christians would not be affected, Islamic prohibitions against liquor sales and insistence on separate public transportation for men and women have been applied to all residents, regardless of religion.
Since religious riots in Kaduna killed hundreds of people and destroyed churches, mosques, shops and homes in February, thousands of Christians have fled Muslim-dominated states in the north. The country is about evenly divided been Christians and Muslims, with the north predominantly Muslim and the south dominated by Christians.
In Kano, Islamic militants on Saturday protested Clintonâ€™s visit and demanded that Sharia be implemented in every state where Muslims are in the majority. Many carried placards with Arabic and English inscriptions that also accused President Olusegun Obasanjo and Clinton of trying to prevent its implementation. Some burned the American flag and Clinton in effigy.
Clinton, meanwhile, reminded the National Assembly that Americaâ€™s strength lies in its diversity and urged Nigerians of every ethnicity and religion to learn to work together. Nigeria, he added, plays an important peace-keeping role on the continent. Without the West African nation, he asked, who will fill that role? “Nobody,” he answered to thunderous applause.
Nigeriaâ€™s religious and ethnic diversity should be a blessing, not a curse, he continued.
“It is a great opportunity if we can find unity in our common humanity,” he said, “if we can learn not only to tolerate our difference, but actually celebrate our difference, if we can believe that how we worship, how we speak, who our parents are, where they came from are terribly important.”
On Sunday, the Rev. Israel Akanji urged President Clinton to play the role of the Good Samaritan and help rebuild Nigeriaâ€™s struggling economy that is heavily indebted to the West. In a service at First Baptist church in the federal capital of Abuja, according to the Guardian newspaper, Akanji told Clinton, “What the people of Nigeria expect even from the people we owe is the disposition of the good Samaritan with the follow-up command: â€˜Go thou and do likewise.â€™”
Copyright Â© 2000 Newsroom.
Used with permission.