One of Nigeria’s leading archbishops says it would be “futile” to try to Islamize or Christianize the religiously diverse country of over 200 million people.

Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama said talk of such activity is an “antiphon” in the country, but that President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, had assured the Nigerian bishops that it’s “absolutely not true, and we believed him.”

Kaigama is the coadjutor archbishop of Abuja, the capital, and the former Archbishop of Jos, in the religiously mixed Plateau State. He served as president of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference from 2012 to 2018.

Speaking on Sunday to Vanguard, a Lagos-based daily newspaper, Kaigama said it is important for there to be “balance” between Christians and Muslims at the national level.

“This country is divided almost between Christians and Muslims. Whatever is being done there must be a sensibility, there must be a serious awareness on how to balance some things; is it a distribution of political offices? Is it the armed forces or security agencies and so on? There must be a comprehensive inclusiveness so that everybody should be a part of this country and perhaps that patriotism will begin to develop,” the archbishop said.

In Nigeria, Christians predominate in the south, while Muslims are concentrated in the North. In addition, there is a “Middle Belt” where the Christian and Muslim populations are more mixed.

In addition, the country is made up of more than 250 ethnic groups, and dozens of languages are spoken in addition to English, the official language.

This diversity had stunted the growth of a national identity in the West African state, with many observers noting that only the Nigerian soccer team serves as a point of national reference.

“When a southerner becomes a president and just to take care of southerners, we are not one country yet. Similarly, when a northerner becomes president and his priority is just to take care of northerners … We ought to be one nation, one people, one country,” Kaigama told Vanguard.

“It is a futile project to Islamize or Christianize the whole of Nigeria, we are over 200 million. God is not unwise to allow diversity,” he added.

“When people are elected into positions of authority, they should not be thinking about promoting narrow, parochial religious views or sentiments instead of reasoning in doing their work. Whether as a Muslim or Christian, if you are in the position of authority, it’s a call to serve Nigeria,” the archbishop said.

In 12 of Nigeria’s northern states, Sharia law has been implemented in full or in part. Kaigama noted Nigeria’s National Christian Elders Forum says Sharia and democracy are always strange bedfellows.

“Sharia is not a Nigerian law. It is an exclusive legal matter dealing with the mosques, and that is a private matter and it affects only Muslims. We Christians have our laws, and, for instance, the Catholic Church has the canon laws and we cannot impose that on any other person other than Catholics. So, this is how it should be,” the archbishop told the Lagos daily.

“When people are elected into positions of authority, they should not be thinking about promoting narrow, parochial religious views or sentiments instead of reasoning in doing their work,” he said.

“We need a change of attitude; we need an overhaul of mental, spiritual, moral orientation,” he added.

Kaigama said that when Nigerians get “our thinking right and our mentality is correct,” the country “will surprise the rest of the world.”

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