PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has denied that his administration has religious bias following what he said were accusations from some quarters.
Receiving a delegation of the Arewa Pastors Non-Denominational Initiative for Peace in Nigeria led by Bishop John Abu Richard, President Buhari said: “Some voices, for political or ethnic reasons, are making unguarded statements accusing the government and myself in particular of religious bias.
“Let me assure you, honourable clergymen, that this is far from the truth. In my career as a soldier, administrator, and politician, I have never veered from my oath of office.
“When I had the honour to lead a Military Government, there were more Christians than Muslims in the Federal Executive Council and the Supreme Military Council.
“This was not by design but I appointed people on their merit without the slightest bias. The present Federal Executive Council is also evenly balanced; again not by design but by respecting and rewarding individual qualities.”
The president called on religious leaders to work towards the broader goal of building a strong and unified nation, and avoid insinuations that could divide the populace, especially along religious lines.
He said religious leaders have the responsibility of creating an enabling environment for peace and development to thrive.
President Buhari expressed delight at the proposition to hold a one-day prayer and fasting meeting for the nation, April 26, 2018, assuring that he would direct the Inspector General of Police to provide adequate security for the gathering.
In his remarks, the leader of the delegation, Bishop John Richard, said more than 45,000 pastors in the Northern part of Nigeria had registered with the initiative to use their pulpits for the propagation of the gospel of peace, and shun political distractions.
He urged other pastors to support the administration as it works towards ending the violence in various parts of the country and avoid politically coloured sermons.
In a separate development, President Buhari has said the insistence on probity, transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors is to secure the future of the country for all Nigerians, especially the youths.
Receiving a Letter of Credence from the Head of Delegation of the European Union to Nigeria, His Excellency Ketil Iversen Karlsen, at the State House, President Buhari said his administration will continually promote the culture of honesty and integrity in service, which will guarantee a better future for the youth.
“Our insistence on probity is to encourage people to be accountable, and accept honesty as a lifestyle so as to secure the future of our youths,’’ he said.
The President said more than 60 percent of Nigerians fall into the age category of youths and deserve to inherit a stable and prosperous country that they can be proud of, adding that the government will work assiduously to prevent waste and the depletion of resources by corrupt Nigerians.
Buhari told the Head of Delegation of the European Union that Nigeria had been reluctant to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) among ECOWAS countries because of the need to protect the economy, especially the industries and small businesses that currently provide jobs for majority Nigerians.
The President noted that the signing of the agreement will expose the industries and small businesses to external pressures and competitions, which could lead to closures and job losses.
“We are not enthusiastic about signing the EPA because of our largely youthful population. We are still struggling to provide jobs for them, and we want our youths to be kept busy.
“Presently, our industries cannot compete with the more efficient and highly technologically driven industries in Europe. We have to protect our industries and our youths,’’ he said.
President Buhari, who commended the EU for its support for the rehabilitation of the North East, noted that the Nigerian economy was already being repositioned to attract more investments that will create jobs.
In his remarks, Karlsen said the EU will continue to support President Buhari’s administration in the key priorities it listed; security, economy and the fight against corruption.
He said the EPA was designed to accommodate and protect some economies that would find it difficult to compete.
“We are hopeful that there will be a signature on the agreement,’’ he added.
President Buhari also received Letters of Credence from the Ambassador of Italy, Dr Stefano Pontesilli and the Ambassador of Spain, Mr Marcelino Cabanas Ansorena.