- Lalong: My reference to Pope was mark of reverence not ridicule
- APC Northern Christians insist on VP slot, submit protest letter to Buhari
- Lalong won’t resign as campaign DG, says APC group
Aggrieved members of the Roman Catholic Church, yesterday, subjected Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State to scrutiny over his reference to the Pope while defending his acceptance to serve as the Director-General of All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council for the 2023 election.
Lalong, while defending his new role of leading the APC’s Muslim-Muslim ticket campaign, said he is a Catholic with the highest Papal award of Knight of Saint Gregory and the Pope had not told him he was doing wrong for backing a Muslim-Muslim ticket.
However, Catholics, in reaction to the comment, want the governor suspended for dragging the Papacy and leader of the over one billion Catholics worldwide into Nigeria’s politics.
President of the Concerned Catholics in Nigeria, Dr. Ben Amodu, during a press conference in Abuja, insisted that Lalong must tender an apology for his publicly “blasphemous statement” about the Pope and the church.
Amodu said: “We are alarmed that Governor Lalong would elect to throw caution to the wind by dragging the revered Catholic Church into local politics in Nigeria for whatever it is worth.
“The reference to the Pope in his statement for accepting to serve as the Director General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council was made in poor taste and a puerile attempt to drag the Catholic Church into a matter that has no bearing with the Pope.
“It remains a shame that politicians would stop at nothing to win elections, even to the detriment of selling their birth-rights for a plate of porridge, as in the case of Lalong, who, after accepting to serve as the DG of the Presidential Campaign Council, elected to justify his actions using the name of the Pope.
“We find it hard to believe that Governor Lalong would find it morally convenient to drag the Pope and the entire catholic community into the APC politics of the Muslim-Muslim ticket.
“It is an act of aberrance in desperation to serve his paymasters, hence the despicable statement by Lalong in seeking justification for his actions, which falls within his rights, but not to the detriment of the collective sensibilities of other Catholics in Nigeria and around the world.
“The desperation of the APC in forcing its Muslim-Muslim ticket down the throats of Nigerians is alarming and more curious is the fact that Lalong, a practicing Catholic, who supposedly knows that the Catholic Church is not involved in partisan politics, still went ahead to insinuate that the Pope is in support of his decision, smacks a mockery of the revered Catholic Church.
“The Concerned Catholics in Nigeria find the statement of the governor distrustful and capable of causing a crisis of unimaginable proportion in the country in the attempt to distract and divide the Christian community that has been vehement in rejecting whatever narrative the APC wants to push forward in justification of its Muslim-Muslim ticket.
“It remains baffling for the Catholic Community that a supposed Knight would condescend so low to throwing everything he has held dearly over several decades because he wants to remain politically relevant after his tenure as governor of Plateau.
“We condemn such despicable conduct as it is not reflective of the stance of the Pope and the Catholic Church in Nigeria and around the world concerning the political permutations in Nigeria.
“Therefore, Lalong must tender an unreserved apology to the Catholic community in Nigeria for dragging the Pope into the murky waters of Nigerian politics.
“We are also using this medium to call for the suspension of Lalong from the Catholic Church for bringing the church into disrepute and maligning the name of the Pope for his advantage and that of his party,” Amodu stated.
BUT reacting, Lalong said that contrary to insinuations and misconceptions being imputed into his interview granted to State House correspondents at the Presidential Villa on Wednesday, where he explained that as a Catholic and a Papal Knight, the Pope has not told him that accepting the position of DG of APC Presidential Campaign Council was wrong, the statement was out of reverence and not disregard for the Holy Father, Catholic Church or Christianity.
Lalong said it was unfortunate that part of the interview has been excised and used by politicians for propaganda and misinformation about his personality, faith and political persuasion.
He said: “My reference to the Pope was to emphasise that as a Christian born and raised in the Catholic faith, accepting the assignment given to me by my party the APC, of which I am a founding member, does not in any way remove my faith in Jesus Christ or my commitment to the church in Nigeria. Those who know me can attest to my respect for the church, Christianity and spiritual fathers of all denominations. They know my modest contribution to the growth of the church in Plateau State, Northern Nigerian and Nigeria at large.”
He, therefore, reiterated that he has the highest regard for Christians and the church authority and will continue to work hard in promoting the interests of Christians and adherents of other religions based on love, justice, equity and fairness, which are encouraged in the Bible and the Constitution of Nigeria.
The governor, in a statement by his Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Makut Simon Macham, emphasised that though he understands and appreciates the concerns of Christians over the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as APC presidential candidate and choice the of vice presidential nominee, Senator Kashim Shettima, also a Muslim, the situation does not warrant Christians within the party leaving or refusing to accept responsibilities, because being within a system makes it easy to address grievances than being outside.
He also appealed to Nigerians irrespective of religious persuasions to unite and work towards addressing the major challenges of the nation by actively participating in the political process and ensuring they push forward their interests rather than allowing religious sentiments to override their desire to assess issues from a holistic perspective.
MEANWHILE, few hours to the close of the window that allows candidates to step down for political parties to exchange candidates, Northern Christians in the ruling APC from the North Central zone have asked the party to replace Tinubu’s running mate with a Christian from the region.
The window will close this week but protesters from the six North-central states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), are demanding for the office of the vice-presidential and not DG of the presidential campaign that was given to Lalong.
The protesters who assembled in Abuja from Ilorin, Makurdi, Lafia, Minna, Jos and other cities, demanded that the party swaps its vice-presidential candidacy with the DG position given to the geopolitical zone.
Gathered under the aegis of the APC North-Central Youths and Women Forum, they converged at the Unity Fountain before proceeding to the entrance of the Villa to deliver a letter of appeal and protest to President Muhammadu Buhari. The letter that was signed by Dauda Yakubu and 70 other stakeholders represented Benue, Nasarawa, Niger, Kogi, Plateau, Kwara and the FCT.
HOWEVER, the Presidential Support Council of the APC has said Lalong will not resign his appointment as DG of the Tinubu/Shettima Campaign Organisation. National Coordinator of the group, Kassim Muhammad, who was a former member of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly, stated this on Thursday in Lafia.
He said the Presidential Support Council had over 300 registered members, adding that Lalong had no reason to resign his appointment because he did not violate any known law in the country.
He said: “Lalong will not resign because he is a better Christian politician than other partisan Christian politicians and shall enjoy the support of so many youth groups in this campaign.
“We have an outgoing President who is a Northern Muslim, that is why some of us supported that power should shift to the South and being a Muslim myself, I supported Rotimi Ameachi to emerge as the presidential candidate but it was an election, and Tinubu won.
“Babachir Lawal and Yakubu Dogara supported Tinubu at the primary, Akpabio and Fayemi who are Christians, stepped down their presidential ambitions for Tinubu, who is a Muslim to emerge even when there were Christian aspirants in the race, and if their actions were on the ground that Tinubu was more qualified, then Lalong has not done anything wrong in accepting to be the DG of the campaign.”
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