The Governor of Plateau State, Simon Lalong, has said his reference to the Pope while speaking on his appointment as the Director-General of the APC Presidential Campaign Council on Wednesday, was taken out of context.
Mr Lalong, a Catholic, had told the State House Correspondents after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari that the Pope was not against his appointment to market a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of the ruling APC ahead of the 2023 election.
“The Pope is not angry with my decision to be the DG of the Muslim-Muslim presidential campaign.
“I came back home and Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) welcomed me at the airport.
“The next day I addressed stakeholders of Plateau and I told them why I’m accepting and then there was jubilation, all of them accepted” he said.
Shortly after, some aggrieved members of the Catholic Church, at a press conference in Abuja, asked Mr Lalong to tender an unreserved apology for dragging the Pope into politics.
President of the Concerned Catholics in Nigeria, Ben Amodu, said the governor caused the head of the Catholic Church global embarrassment with his ‘unguarded’ remarks.
But in a statement on Thursday by Makut Macham, his media aide, Mr Lalong said his comment was not meant to ridicule Christians.
He said he remains a devoted Christian with a stellar record of contributing to Christianity in the entire North.
He said it was unfortunate that part of the interview he granted was excised and used by politicians for propaganda and misinformation about his personality, faith and political persuasion.
“My reference to the Holy Father 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 and universally.
“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 and can testify to it,” the statement said.
He reiterated that he has the highest regard for Christians and 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 Holy Bible and the Constitution of Nigeria.
Mr Lalong further stated that although he understands and appreciates the concerns of Christians over the emergence of Muslim, Bola Tinubu as APC presidential candidate and choice the of Vice Presidential nominee Kashim Shettima also a Muslim, the situation does not warrant Christians within the party leaving the party or refusing to accept responsibilities because being within a system makes it easy to address grievances than being outside.
Besides, he said, the emergence of Mr Tinubu was not on a religious basis as even Christians voted for him during the APC primaries.
He 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 wholistic perspective.
Mr Lalong has come under intense criticism since he was appointed as the DG of the APC campaign council last week.
The joint ticket of Bola Tinubu and Kashim Shettima, both Muslims, generated an outcry from people within and outside the ruling party, particularly Christian leaders from the North.
Mr Lalong is the only Christain governor of the APC in the North and many believe that he was picked to head the campaign council to assuage aggrieved Northern Christians in the party.