Contrary to previous suggestions, President Muhammadu Buhari has confirmed that Nigeria is now a part of the Islamic Coalition Against Terrorism led by Saudi Arabia. He said this in an interview aired on Al Jazeera Television which is believed to have been recorded in Qatar when the president visited the country after his trip to Saudi Arabia.
When asked whether Nigeria was part of the Islamic coalition, Buhari gave a positive answer, his reason for dragging Nigeria into the coalition being that there are terrorists in the country who claim to be Muslims. According to Buhari;
We are part of it (the Islamic coalition) because we’ve got terrorists in Nigeria that everybody knows which claim that they are Islamic. So, if there’s an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism, Nigeria will be part of it because we are casualties of Islamic terrorism.
He said this referring to the Boko Haram terrorist group whose destructive operations has resulted in the death of thousands of people since they began in 2009.
Nevertheless, Buhari further defended Nigeria’s membership of the Islamic coalition as he said it is only right to join since members of the Boko Haram sect fighting in Nigeria have claimed they are Muslims even when their activities are anti-Islam, adding that the Boko Haram group had already announced their loyalty to ISIS. He said;
I’ve just told you it is the Boko Haram itself that declared loyalty to ISIS.
ISIS is basically based in Islamic countries. Now, if there’s a coalition to fight Islamic terrorism, why can’t Nigeria be part of it, while those that are fighting in Nigeria as Boko Haram claim to be Muslims? But the way they are doing it is anti-Islamic.
However, when asked how being a member of the Islamic coalition would be of benefit to Nigeria, Buhari refused to talk about it saying it was not right to to expose the details to the media.
As he said:
Well, that we mentioned under Lake Chad Basin Commission, our regional grouping compromising Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Benin and we dedicated a certain number of troops to be deployed in our own sub-region and I don’t think we have to tell the press the details of that.
When confronted with the fact that Nigeria has large populations of both Muslims and Christians and that some Christians are complaining that he is giving Islamic identity to the country by his actions, Buhari wondered why the Christians who are complaining have not deemed it fit to confront members of Boko Haram in the North-East or militants in the South-South.
Why can’t those Christians that complained go and fight terrorism in Nigeria or fight the militancy in the South. It’s Nigeria that matters, not the opinion of some religious bigots.
The President went ahead to refute the information that he has plans to change the religious identity of the country saying;
How can I change the religious identity of Nigeria? No religion advocates hurting the innocent and just because the Muslims are the ones that claim to be Boko Haram and they are killing innocent people whether in the church, in the bus or in the market place, then I will just sit and look at them because I too am a Muslim? Islam is against injustice in any form.
The resolve of President Buhari to get Nigeria involved in the Islamic Coalition announced by Saudi Arabia in December, 2015 seems to have been made after his meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, although a statement released by his spokesperson on February 23rd, just about two weeks ago, revealed that the president was reluctant to accept the invitation to join the coalition offered to him by the Saudi King during their meeting when he visited Qatar as he said, “even if we are not a part of it, we support you.”
This decision has shown how much the President disregards public opinion considering the fact that very many Nigerians and groups have called on him, asking that Nigeria should not be a party to the coalition. One of these groups is the Christian Association of Nigeria which had in December, 2015, cautioned against joining the 34-member coalition, called ISMAT. According to a statement by Musa Asake, the General Secretary of the Christian group as quoted in Vanguard;
This singular gesture of the Buhari government betrays so much, and tends to confirm our fears that underneath everything this government is doing, there is an agenda with strong Islamic undertones, aimed at undermining Nigeria’s pluralistic character and neutrality regarding government’s affiliation to any one religion.