The rashness of elders

letterSir: There is an element of pettiness in some of the recent actions of the National Christian Elders Forum; a matter of concern given that endless nitpicking can easily morph into bigotry. Evidence of this can be seen in the lengthy commentary issued by the Forum following the Sultan of Sokoto’s announcement of the approved dates for the last Muslim Hajj rituals at Arafat and the feast of Eid el-Kabir that followed it.

The Nigerian state has been fair to the main religious groups in the matter of observance of their major feasts right from colonial times; a fact the (NCEF) knows quite well. There are a total of five days of public holidays each for Christian and Muslim religious festivals. Official publications such as government calendar annually list the dates – in the case of Muslim holidays this explanation is added: “subject to the sighting of the moon”, since Muslims operate the lunar calendar. The only authority to confirm sighting of the moon is the Sultan and that is what he did in that instance. It has been so for “the eternity” of Nigeria’s usually existence and has never been a source of contention until the advent of the Forum.

It is clear falsehood to suggest that there was a different system prior to the coming into office of the current administration in declaring public holidays for Muslim festivals.

The practice of extending public holidays where they coincide with weekends has been with us for a long time. The Olusegun Obasanjo administration tried to curb it but soon fell to the temptation again, as did its successors. It is not religious groups that are being favoured or are the beneficiaries of such extension, but primarily civil servants and workers in the organised private sector whom government courts with such gestures.

Elders forums in whatever grouping – political, religious, social or sporting –  are supposed to be islands of sobriety, acting as brakes on the impetuousness and rashness of usually less mature followers. Where the forum operates in the realm of religion, it is even more imperative that its actions and pronouncements are so as to foster understanding and tolerance between different religious groups, rather than fan the embers of conflict. The National Christian Elders Forum must be more mindful of this duty in a fractious country like ours. 
M. T. Usman



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