ECOWAS Parliament: Religious tolerance panacea to regions development, integration
By Adoba Echono
The need for a sustained effort in interfaith dialogue in West Africa has been emphasized following the wave of religious intolerance, which has hampered the Economic Development of the region.
A Professor of International Relations at Kaduna State University, in North West Nigeria, Professor Usman Mohammed, made the call during a paper presentation titled,“ Religious Tolerance and Stability: key factors to peace and development in the ECOWAS region.”
Professor Mohammed 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 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 formidable 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.”
According to Professor Mohammed, “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.”
Commending Nigerian government in its drive to find lasting solution to security challenges in the country, Professor Mohammed emphasized 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 Community Parliamentarians, Professor Mohammed emphasized the need for them to engage their constituencies in regular dialogue on peaceful co-existence.
The Scholar also harped on equity and justice to be displayed by 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 are 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. Secondly, the 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 their 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.”
Professor Mohammed 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.
On media reportage, 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 to avoid stereotyping of a particular region. The press should stop practicing yellow journalism. Spreading the message of genuine friendship and sincere love should be your aim. Why 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.
Meanwhile, the Representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission in Cape Verde, Dr Samuel Lamptey, has tasked the region on religious tolerance that it can only foster development and integration of the sub-region and guarantee peace and security.
Lamptey stressed that religious intolerance poses a threat to the region’s development and integration programme.
He pointed out the need to address the root cause of extremism and also prevent radicalisation, saying that this has become necessary if the region is to achieve its cooperation and integration agenda.
Dr Lamptey disclosed that the Commission has put in place numerous programmes and actions to promote peace and regional integration in West Africa.