Following the wave of religious intolerance and its attendant ripple impact on Economic Development and Co-operation in the West African Sub-region, the need to embark on a deliberate and sustained efforts of interfaith dialogue cannot be treated with levity.
This is according to a professor of International Relations at Kaduna State University in Nigeria, Professor Usman Mohammed during a paper presentation titled “ Religious Tolerance and Stability: key factors to peace and development in the ECOWAS region.”
Mohammed was speaking at the ongoing delocalised meeting of the ECOWAS Parliament on committees on Education, Science and Culture; Health ;Telecommunications and Information Technology, in Praia, Capital of Cape Verde.
He cited Ghana as a good case in point whom for many decades, has demonstrated the possibility of harmonious inter-religious co-existence through individual and communal efforts .
“ Ghana remains a rare model and evident justification that religious tolerance and harmony is a possibility and is capable of ensuring peace and stimulating development through decent and formable interfaith dialogue because religious devotees in Ghana are more than those who claimed not to belong to any religion.
“Such initiative to ensure peace and societal harmony can either be communal or individualistic. Right from the past to the present, there have been deliberate and conscious individual and collaborative efforts , to ensure and enhance religious tolerance , harmony and calmness in Ghana.”
In his words: “You cannot have peace where you don’t build it. You have peace where the foundation is there already and then you continue to build on it . So in that light, it is not uncommon to find members of African traditional religion, Christianity and Islam living together. Thus Ghanaians irrespective of their religious background have consistently collaborated in seeking lasting peace, reconciliation, harmony in their county.”
While appreciating the Federal government of Nigeria in its drive to find lasting solution to security challenges in the country, Professor Mohammed emphasised the need for the government to redouble their efforts and avail themselves of all means including but not limited to engaging the group or groups in meaningful dialogue.
He called on secular Non Governmental Organisations , experts on interfaith dialogue and negotiators to intensify their efforts as facilitators of dialogue and mediators of conflicts between conflicting parties. He also cautioned them against gratifications as they would be tempted to follow the dictates of their financiers.
For the Parliamentarians, he emphasised the need for them to engaged their constituencies in regular dialogue on peaceful co-existence.
The Scholar also harped on equity and justice to be displayed by the various levels of government while law and order must be applied. He said Government at all levels should avoid discrimination and marginalisation of people when dealing with developmental projects and religious matter in community.
“Again some of the problems of religious intolerance is as a result of lack of deliberate good governance. First, there could be group of people that there is no justification for visiting violence on them , and so they also visit violence on you . Second, widespread disparity on income and standard of living. You have a lot of squalors. Those people in the squalors will go to your churches and mosques, and they will hear you say ‘we are all equal,’.”
“They will just be looking at you and be saying , look at this one , how we are all equal, how? In residence we are not equal, in schooling we are not equal, in fact the opportunities we have for jobs are not as equal as theirs own and their children; in health matter, in the kind of food they eat , look at their skin , look at their bodies, they are all obsessed , we have ulcer, we are skinny and they say we are all the same.”
Prof Mohamed therefore cautioned that such action is a recipe for violence even within the same religion.
He further appealed to the government to attend to communities whose interest have been threatened and undermined as religious intolerance could also be as a result of an emotional appeal or vested interest to exploit others by appealing to their sentiments and religiosity.
There was also emphasis on attendance of interfaith religious activities by community members as such action could booster harmony and peaceful co existence.
The media was not spared as Professor Mohammed frowned at some sensational reportage of the press and urged members of the fourth estate of the realm to always embark on professional journalism.
“ Sometimes the media becomes a big issue in the way they handle religious crises in the country . You must Promote professional journalism and balance reporting, avoid stereotyping of a particular region . The press should stop practicing yellow journalism. Spreading the message of guinea friendship and sincere love should be your aim. Where is the press celebrating a Christian or Muslim in a dire consequence?. That is a bigger picture of friendship and love from a different constituent,” he advised.