For the first time in northern Nigeria, a Muslim state governor has accepted an invitation to a church revival programme during which he called for unity and peaceful co-existence between the country's Christians and Muslims - writes Lekan Otufodunrin.
Ibrahim Shekarau is the governor of Kano State, one which practices Islamic Sharia laws, and which earlier this year experienced clashes between Christian and Muslims in the predominantly Islamic-populated north of the country.
On 15 November 2009, a Sunday and the Christian Sabbath, Governor Shekarau attended a gathering in Kano organized by the Pentecostal fellowship of Nigeria.
"The governor's presence at the revival and his disposition is a watershed in the struggle to restore peace and religious harmony in northern Nigeria," said the general overseer of the Deeper Life Bible Church, Pastor Williams Kumuyi, who was a speaker at the meeting.
Hundreds of Christians have been killed in the past in anti-Christianity riots involving Islamic extremists in Kano, a predominantly Muslim state.
Nigeria's population is almost evenly divided between Christians, who live mainly in the south and Muslims, who make up the largest segment in the north.
Speaking in both English and the local Hausa language and making references to the Bible and the Quran, Shekarau maintained that both Islamic and Christian teachings are centred on love, good conduct and service to humanity.
"Living strictly by the teachings of the holy books, there should be no need for rancour or intolerance. Christians and Muslims ought not to fight one another," the governor stated.
Though he is one of the northern governors who presides over Islam's strict Sharia laws, Shekarau said his presence at the programme, "which was unthinkable years ago", was a demonstration of his administration's respect for people of all religious backgrounds.
"I am not only here to listen to your preaching but also to preach myself," Shekarau told the Christian gathering. "This is an inescapable reality about the progress we have made together to guarantee peace, love and religious tolerance."
Pastor Kumuyi praised the governor for his stance in seeking to ensure peace among people of all faiths and urged him to help promote religious harmony in the state and the northern region of the country. "Kano State is in dire need of peace, and the last six years represent a long struggle for peaceful and harmonious co-existence among the various ethnic and religious groups," said the pastor.
The chairperson of Kano state's chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Bishop Zakka Nyam, also commended Shekarau for his leadership style and said that actions such as preaching at the Christian gathering would restore "lost glory" to the state.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]