By Jerry Francis
Adherents of other religions in Akwa Ibom state have demanded from the Executive governor of the state, His Excellency, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, befitting halls for their worship.The worshippers who were drawn from different religions other than Christianity stated their request through an open letter which they addressed to the state governor.
Akwa Ibom state, south-south Nigeria, which was carved out from the old Cross River State, is dominantly a Christian state.
Acting under the auspices of The Citizens Forum for Freedom of Worship (CFFW), a non-governmental organization in the state, the group noted that their request became necessary following series of actions of the state government which have proven a glaring segregation against them, even when they are bona fide citizens of the state.
The group, which comprises faithful of minority religious organizations operating in the state, such as Eckankar, Islam, The Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crusis (AMORC), African Traditional Religion (ATR), and other religious bodies, made their position known Thursday, during a media chat at the St Patrick Primary School, Abak Road, Uyo. CFFW said they have decided to present their demand to the governor, stressing that the recent foundation laying for the building of a massive worship center for a certain religion without any reference and provision for them was according to them, an affront to the Constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
The text of press briefing read by the convener of the group, Otuekong (Dr.) Jeremiah Effiong Akpa-ube, on behalf of other faithful, read thus in bits : “Gentlemen of the Press. We call you here today to brief you on the series of injustice meted out on us by successive governments of Akwa Ibom State. We wish to state here categorically that though these injustices did not start today, the recent action of our governor, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, who has earmarked land and other resources, made possible by citizens’ monies in form of taxes, for the building of a massive worship center for a certain religion, Christianity, is the last straw that broke the camel’s back”.
While noting that they have been ‘stomaching’ other forms of neglect by the Akwa Ibom state government such as non-recognition during special occasions, the CFFW hinted that building a worship center with state resources for one religious body while neglecting others like them, was a sign of preference of a certain religion by the state over others which negates stipulations of the Nigerian constitution.
“We are here representing the neglected religions in Akwa Ibom state. Here, we have members of Eckankar, which of course you know is the religion of light and sound of God. We have thousands of members in this state. There are also the representatives of the Muslim Community here in the state where our indigenes occupy positions in their welfare board in this state. Let us also use this opportunity to correct the impression that Christianity is the most preferred in the world. Here, we have the representatives of the largest Rosicrucian Organisation in the world. It is known as the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, AMORC, with a vast number of followers in the state. The extent of their spirituality is incomparable.
“There is also the African Traditional Religion (ATR), which is unarguably the oldest religion in any part of Africa. We have adherents here too. This is just to mention but a few of religions being practiced today in this state. (We can’t list all of them in this press statement but they are all listed here in this letter that we are going to send to Mr. Governor.) We are pained today because even when we contribute to the development of the state in our respective capacities through payment of taxes, the state government still uses our taxes to empower other people through ‘preferred’ religion.
“Some of our members are heads of government parastatals, contributing our quotas to successful running of government. It is on the basis of this that we send this appeal to all our members in different fields to join our effort at demanding from the state government our rightful share of worship centers at the city center to enable us exercise our faiths in line with our belief system. This request has become necessary as all the religions in the state cannot use the government-facilitated worship hall, which by its nomenclature and inclination has been dedicated only to one religion-Christianity”, the statement noted.
It would be recalled that the Udom-led government of Akwa Ibom state had on Sunday, January 21, 2018, organized the foundation laying ceremony of 8,500 capacity International Worship Center. The ground breaking which was performed by the General overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, was witnessed by leaders of churches within and outside the state. It was not clear as at press time the amount set aside by the state government for the project, but unconfirmed sources within the Hilltop Mansion said the project could gulp about N10Billion.