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Monday, December 13, 2010

THE ASO VILLA CHAPEL

Sunday April 26th witnessed a dinner to mark the 10th anniversary and award night celebration of the Aso Villa Chapel in the Presidential Villa, Abuja. I don’t want to go into the semantics of christening the building a chapel as against a church; of course there is a marked difference between the two; nor will I digress to question the ever-changing appellations of the Ecumenical Centre to the National Christian Centre; I will not even ask why not the National Church? This piece is to praise, and not bury.

The Muslim leaders in Nigeria have a lot to learn from their Christian counterparts. You cannot but appreciate the fearlessness of the Christian when it comes to commitment to his creed. Think what you may, the position he occupies will not debar him from attending Christian ceremonies to support, give succour to fellow Christians and show gratitude to his Maker for elevating him so high above many of His creatures. He is proud of the faith he professes, in public or private – in the name of Jesus...; Hallelujah!

Compare the above to the attitude of some Muslim leaders of abhorring the adding of the prefix of Alhaji or Malam to their names, just to keep religion at bay. They will not show their faces in Islamic functions; their representatives would be there. They endeavour to maintain a  great distance between them and anything Islamic until such a time that they will be out of office. After the monotonous ‘protocol’ in commencing public speeches in Nigeria, the addresses of some Muslim leaders are devoid of bismillah, let alone inshaa Allah. It is only when they are overthrown, sacked or retired that they come out of the closet.

Recently, a Muslim philanthropist with interests in many companies in Nigeria and abroad sent assistance/relief materials to victims of the Jos carnage and ethnic cleansing through the Plateau state governor Jonah David Jang. He could not send his support to the National Mosque, Abuja, were there was a fund for that purpose, nor could he take it to Jama’atu Nasril Islam in Jos, or, better still, submit his donations to the Sultan of Sokoto, who spared no effort, due to his eye-witness experience of the extent of damage on Muslims, in using his goodwill to garner support for the victims. If the support of this Muslim philanthropist  had passed through the right channel it would have gone a long way in lessening the grief on his Eminence's heart as he, the Sultan, could have offered more handsome relief materials to numberless of Muslims maimed, displaced and expelled from their homes. But our Muslim donor chose to ‘make his donations official’, non-partisan, non-Islamic; and so he gave his financial and material support to ‘Radovan Karadzic’ for fair distribution to the ‘Bosnian Muslims’.

How many times have you seen a Muslim president or First Lady in an Islamic function? Yes, Mrs. Maryam Babangida, of blessed memory, Mrs. Maryam Abacha, and Mrs. Titi Atiku, have all left their marks in organising and participating in Ramadan Tafsir Sessions, and in sadaqah and lending to Allah a godly loan. One can assert strongly that the spouses of these noble daughters of Islam have lagged behind in the procession of faith during their tenure. Giving out zakkah, supporting Islamic causes in secret, and sending representatives to Muslim gatherings was not enough. Physical appearance in Islamic functions when you were in power, as we see Christian leaders do, would have been better.

To the current First Lady I have a message: Do more in following the footsteps of your predecessors in Islamic activism, and tell your husband, (may Allah strengthen and grant him quick recovery), to show more concern to his own, and deen. Align yourself with Allah’s deen in prosperity; He will be with you in adversity! ‘Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you.... If you ask, ask of Allah; if you seek help, seek help of Allah. Know that if people were to gather to benefit you with anything, they would benefit you only with something that Allah had already prescribed for you, and that if they gather to harm you with anything, they would harm you only with something Allah had already prescribed for you. The pens have been lifted and pages have dried.’ (Hadeeth no 19 in Annawawi’s 40 Hadeeth Collection)

The mosque at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, was the precursor of the Aso Villa Chapel, but how many of the Muslim principal officers at the Villa, including the C-in-C, or V.P (as the case may be) pray or prayed in the masjid? But we cannot ask the same question concerning the Chapel because former President Obasanjo and now the Acting President would be there with their retinues and other members of the flock for worship; the national television stations beaming the service via satellite to the whole world. Indeed the Aso Villa Chapel has been put to maximum use – thanks to the vision of the initiator, former president and commander of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, General Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, who was rightly commended during the ceremony by the Acting President, Goodluck Jonathan ‘for building a befitting Chapel in the Presidential Villa where prayers could be offered for leaders.’

Another lesson for Muslim leaders from the Aso Chapel anniversary was apparent knowledge of Christian leaders in the scriptures. It does not matter if what we heard from the Acting President was the creation of his speech writers. What was important was that, though an Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan quoted copiously from the ‘Christian’ Holy Bible. “Making reference to Apostle Paul in the scriptures, 1 Cor. 3 V 6 ‘I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow,’ Jonathan said Obasanjo planted the seed and many watered and God has been blessing it.”

This Aso Chapel anniversary has now put to rest the controversy over political Islam or political Christianity in Nigeria. No sane person would ever call for the separation of religion (Islam or Christianity) and politics in this country, because, the two, subject to who is occupant of the State House, are inseparable! Also, the anniversary has precluded Nigeria being a secular state – a nation devoid of God. Our constitution said in the Preamble that we are an ‘...indissoluble Sovereign Nation under God...’ We have both a mosque and a chapel at the inner recesses of the Presidential Villa, the seat of power. During his speech at the occasion under discussion the Acting President urged ‘men and women to come together in prayers to help the present administration in tackling urgent matters affecting the country especially the issue of good governance, peaceful co-existence, credible electoral system and combating corruption.’

A secular nation would have nothing to do with a chapel or a mosque at government level; such a state has no place for last Sunday’s ceremony or even the presentation of The National Altar which we were told was a ‘compendium of the history and activities of the Aso Villa Chapel.’ So, Nigeria cannot have ‘an Altar’ and still be a secular state at the same time. Rather, Nigeria is, and should be rightly described as, a multi-religious state, where everyone is allowed to practise the religion of their choice. Section 10 of the 1999 constitution that states: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”...does not negate the practice of any religion by the people of Nigeria. It only means that the state shall not favour one religion over another and make it the state religion.
“I strongly believe that human effort alone cannot translate our goals and aspirations into concrete realities,” Mr. Jonathan said. I completely agree with the Acting President – we need God; we cannot do it alone.
I hope that both the mosque and the chapel would serve as rehabilitation clinics for our leaders, cleansing them of avarice and seeking illegal ways to hold on to power by all means necessary; a region of solitude where they go in, and come out better beings with more consciousness of God and tenderness in their hearts towards us.
Former President Obasanjo said at the occasion that ‘he was tremendously blessed and inspired while attending services at the Chapel during his tenure.’ You see, what more shall I say?

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