July 22, 2024

Inter-faith leaders meet in Ibadan, discuss ways to conduct peaceful general elections in 2023

Leaders of the Institute of Church and Society, Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), Faith for Peace Initiative (FPI), Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) and Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) discussed the 2023 general elections.

This was disclosed in a statement released after the meeting held on Thursday November 3, 2022, at Samonda, Ibadan, Oyo State.

The statement was signed by Very Rev Kolade Fadahunsi, Director of CCN; Director FPI, Malam Tajudeen Alabede; Alhaja Rafiah Idowu Sanni of FOMWAN and Rev Dr Mrs Uzuaku Williams, National President, Women’s Wing of CCN.

According to the statement, the one-day consultative meeting discussed how to promote peaceful co-existence among people of different faiths and achieve peaceful general elections in 2023.

The consultative meeting which featured selected Christian and Muslim leaders was hosted by Director of the Institute, Rev Kolade Fadahunsi.

The duo of Malam Tajudeen Alabede, Director of Faith for Peace Initiative (FPI), and Very Rev Segun Babalola, PhD, Chaplain of the All Souls’ Chapel, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State served as facilitators at the meeting.

Participants had robust engagement on a number of issues that are relevant to the building of the bridge of understanding among people of different faiths as the nation approaches the 2023 general elections.

The meeting expressed concern about the poor appreciation of the utility of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) by many religious leaders in Nigeria.

It also noted that dearth of commitment to inter-faith engagement by many religious leaders makes inter-religious harmony a difficult task.

The meeting condemned politicisation and weaponization of religion, stressing that it portends a great danger for Nigeria.

“Public institutions with the mandate to promote national integration towards the achievement of peaceful co-existence among Nigerians have not lived up to expectation,” the leaders said at the meeting.

They maintained that fake news, hate speech, politicisation of narratives and unprofessional practices are rife in the media space.

The meeting, therefore, agreed that religion played a vital role in the country’s politics.

“Religion is a way of life. The meeting underlines the multi-religious nature of Nigeria and rejects the colour of secularism with which some citizens erroneously paint the nation.

“In specific terms, Nigeria is not a secular state as the 1999 Constitution of the Federal of Republic of Nigeria (as amended) did not declare the country as such,” they said.

Leaders at the meeting reiterated the importance of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in a multi-cultural society like Nigeria and urged religious leaders to embrace FoRB as a tool for peaceful co-existence in the country.

They said, “Religion should serve as the conscience of the polity. To this end, religious leaders should use their moral authority to serve the interest of the whole nation by promoting positive values, exemplary leadership, good governance, social justice and equity, national integration and peaceful co-existence.”

They added, “Plural democracy offers choices to the people. It is, therefore, not the duty of religious bodies and leaders to interfere with internal decisions of political parties or use these to put pressure on the nation’s already fragile social fabrics.

“In the same vein, political leaders should embrace politics of inclusion rather than politics of patronage.

“They should show sensitivity to and respect the religious plurality of the nation and project this both in politics and governance.”

The meeting further maintained that as servants of the people, political leaders should show a great sense of stewardship and accountability to the people who elected them and avoid using religion as a divisive tool to shield them from this great responsibility.

They implored religious leaders to place God at the heart of their preaching and avoid sensationalism, warning them to avoid using their hallowed pulpits for partisanship.

According to the leaders, inter-religious dialogue is a potent tool for peaceful co-existence. They, however, cautioned religious leaders who participate at such forums to exhibit sincerity of purpose and serve the true interests of their respective faith communities.

“The leadership of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) should consider ways to make the Council operate as an autonomous inter-faith body that would not have to rely on government for survival,” they said.

They encouraged religious bodies to take up the responsibility of funding the activities of NIREC.

“NIREC should activate its state and local chapters across the country and consider integrating African Traditional Religions into the Council.

“Religious organisations at all levels should build synergy and establish independent inter-religious groups to promote national integration and peaceful co-existence in their respective communities,” they stated.

The leaders charged Nigerian youth across religious divides to establish youth inter-faith platforms in order to promote FoRB and foster a culture of respect for people of other faiths. “National Orientation Agency (NOA) should step up its activities and make good use of its unrivalled presence at all levels of government to deliver on its mandate of promoting national values and national integration, among others.”

It was observed at the meeting that to facilitate balancing of news reports, religious organisations should invest in media engagement.

“The attitude of accusing the media of bias without constructive engagement is counter-productive.”

“To stem poor understanding of the role and workings of the media among Nigerians, government at all levels as well as religious and civil society organisations should embark on mass education on media literacy.

“Broadcast media houses should be circumspect and professional with the type of people they engage as analysts and on-air personalities on their platforms,” they said.

While suggesting a reasonable degree of regulation of the social media in Nigeria, the meeting states that every media practitioner, irrespective of their area of practice, should be certified by a relevant professional body.

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