By; Sunday Ode, Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari admitted at the wekend that Nigeria had joined the Islamic Coalition against terrorism put together by Saudi Arabia.
He made the disclosure in an interview broadcast at the weekend on an international satellite news channel, Aljareeza.
He was asked whether Nigeria was part of it and he answered: “We are part of it 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.”
Asked whether he had suggested Nigeria’s membership of the coalition during his meeting with King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz during their recent meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Buhari replied in the affirmative.
Asked to explain how such coalition would work for Nigeria, he said he could not disclose the details to the media.
However, he added: “Well, that we mentioned under Lake Chad Basin Commission, our regional groupingcomprising 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.”
Pressed further on where joining the Islamic coalition served Nigerian security interest, he declared: “Certainly. 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.”
When his interviewer pointed out that since Nigeria was roughly evenly divided among Christians and Muslims and that some Christians were complaining that he was giving Islamic identity to Nigeria, the president wondered why such Christians had not gone to fight Boko Haram in the North or militants sabotaging installations in the 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,” he stated.
On whether he was trying to change the religious identity of the country, Buhari noted: “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 President’s admission of Nigeria’s membership of the Islamic coalition came a little under two weeks after an official Presidency statement seemed to suggest that Buhari had turned down the invitation to be part of the coalition.
A statement issued by the Senior Special Adviser to the President (Media and Publicity), Garba Shehu, during the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia had said that Buhari had pledged Nigeria’s support for the coalition even if it would not be part of it.
The statement had said that two leaders who engaged in extensive discussions on regional and global issues also agreed that terrorism posed a common threat to their states and would require close cooperation to prevail over the threats.
It observed that President Buhari who was making his first pronouncement on the invitation to join the coalition of Islamic states against terror spearheaded by the Saudis congratulated the Kingdom on its formation.
The statement quoted Buhari thus: “Even if we are not a part of it, we support you. I must thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the recent creation of a coalition to address the menace of international terrorism. Nigeria will support your efforts in keeping peace and stopping the spread of terror in your region. This is in consonance with our own commitment and on-going efforts in seeking to stamp out Boko Haram terrorists from the West African sub-region and Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC).”