By; Bala B. Bitrus, Minna.
Governor Abubakar Sani Bello of Niger State and the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has disagreed over balancing religion and ethnicity in political appointments in the State.
The Governor said that his administration does not give in to ethnic or religious considerations in the appointment of persons for political offices.
The Governor argued that so far, his administration has relegated these two considerations in the political appointments made just as he justified his actions as having been borne out of patriotism and the need to underplay on the things that divides rather than build the state .
Speaking when he received the new leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Niger State chapter in the Government House, Governor Bello said religion and ethnicity have become two dangerous tools used often by some people to create anxious moments in the polity.
He told the Christian leaders who had requested for a more equitable representation in his government to reflect a good balance amongst the two major religions in the state that no such considerations were made in the appointments of persons into key positions in the state.
Without blushing or mincing words, Governor Bello said in no uncertain terms that “political appointments made were on merit and that there was nothing wrong with what had been done”.
But Christian group and Christians in the state have been arguing that the composition of State Executive Council, (SEC) and other political appointments so far made by the Bello’s administration have been lopsided to their disadvantage.
The administration has attracted criticisms from Christians and other ethnic groups particularly from the none Hausa speaking people who argued that the appointments made so far were so slanted on both tribal and religious basis against Christians.
Loaded with such complaints, the leadership of the CAN in the state had approached the Governor to redress the alleged marginalization. But the Governor in no – holds – bare, told the CAN leadership that his actions were guided by patriotism than sentiment.
The four key positions of Governor, Deputy Governor, Speaker, Secretary to the State Government (SSG), the Chief of Staff to the Government House as well as the State Head of Service (HOS) and members of the state executive council except one are all Muslims.
Governor Bello while defending his appointments, said he never considered religion or ethnicity in appointments he has made but rather he was more interested in people he could trust to work with him in delivering services to the citizens.
He argued that religiosity and tribalism were the two major ills bedevilling the country today. “These are the two major problems threatening the peace and survival of Nigeria today and these are the the phenomenon that are dividing us” he noted.”
“I did not allow religion and tribal considerations to influence my choice of people to be so appointed for political offices. But I made deliberate efforts to strike a balance” he said.
Bello added that all appointment so far made by his administration were based on merit and “my personal assessment of the persons I want to work with”.
He enjoined Christians in the state and the CAN leadership to move away from ethnocentrism, religiosity and such bigotry.
“I want to see us move away from such sentiments which are creating gaps and we need to build bridges across all divides. For me, I can appoint even five people from the same religion or tribe so long as they can deliver”.
The Governor lamented over the sudden slide to lawlessness and criminality in parts of the state and noted that the state was not known for such in the past.
He tasked religious and community leaders across the state to rise against the emerging ugly tides and expose those behind such developments.
“We were not like this before. Our security situations are getting out of hand and this is largely because we are now beclouded by primordial sentiments and therefore we fail to fish out people amongst us who have criminal and dangerous intentions”.
Earlier, the Niger state CAN Chairman, Rev. Mathias Echioda had reminded the Governor of the promises made during his reach out electioneering campaigns and the oath of office he took on assumption of office to be fair to all as a Governor and noted that the Christians in the state were only asking for fair representation in the government.
Rev. Echioda who had nonetheless commended the Bello led administration for the impact made so far in changing the face of the state within a short time in office, however regretted that the lopsidedness in appointments was like making one religion lord over the others.
While pledging the support of the leadership of the CAN in the state nay the entire Christians to programmes and policies of the administration, Echioda noted that both Christians and Muslims in the state have coexisted over the years amicably irrespective of their differences.
Echioda however appealed to Governor Bello to ensure sustenance of the peace enjoyed in the state over the years by evolving policies and programmes that would encourage sustainable peace amongst the diverse religious, tribal and political interests that make up the population in the state.