MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS NEED Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) TO SOLVE THE BOKO HARAM ISSUES IN NIGERIA. Part 2
As I reflect upon these questions and the moral dilemmas they engender, I cannot avoid coming to the conclusion that the first challenge we need to take up is the revamping of our value system and the imperative of moral regeneration of the nation. We must build a national consensus on the kind of values we wish to inculcate in our younger generations and popularize in the larger society and work collectively and assiduously to realize them.
I am glad that President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had, since his assumption of power, recognized the strategic importance of this undertaking and had pledged the commitment of the Federal Government to its realization. Unlike previous campaigns emphasizing form and procedure, we should focus, this time around, on personal and community values which would sustain our mutual co-existence and promote tolerance and understanding.
The second challenge, which must be addressed earnestly, is building sturdy bridges of understanding between Islam and Christianity and between Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria. Inter-religious dialogue should be serious and sustained and should be handled not by religious entrepreneurs who subsist on these ventures, but by the apex religious organizations involving all the significant strata of the nation’s religious hierarchy. We must not regard these dialogues as mere academic exercises. We must endeavor to carry the message of tolerance and mutual understanding, which these dialogues teach, to our mosques and churches.
The third challenge is the exercise of restraint on the part of politicians especially in the course of their campaigns and political mobilization. The message here is that one can ride to political victory by fanning the embers of religious and ethnic hatred and animosity but stand a good chance of being consumed by the resulting inferno.
Severe sanctions should also be imposed on politicians who promote religious intolerance both by the political parties and the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC]. It is also essential for elected officials to remain fair and equitable in the system of governance and in safeguarding the welfare of the community. Many of the grievances which contribute to communal and religious conflict are those related to equity and fairness and, indeed, the inability or outright refusal of local officialdom to promote them.
The fourth challenge is the fight against poverty and want, especially in the Northern states, to enable the residents of these states, Muslim and Christian, live decent and productive lives. The nine states in Nigeria with the highest incidence of poverty, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria are northern states. Jigawa State has the highest with 95%, followed by Kebbi (89.7%), Kogi (88.6%), Bauchi (86.3%), Kwara (85.2%), Yobe (83.3%), Zamfara (80.9%) and Sokoto (76.8%).
It is therefore not surprising that while the incidence of poverty stood at 54% nationally, the North-East zone recorded 72.2 percent, followed by the North-West with 71.1 percent and North Central with 67 percent. The other more disturbing phenomenon is the army of unemployed youth in our urban centers. With the systematic erosion of the industrial infrastructure of many of these cities, the problem may get worse unless urgent action is taken to overcome the challenge.
It is, therefore, important for government employment agencies such as the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to be adequately funded to engage these youth; while subsidized loans should also be provided for them to go into farming as well as to set up small-scale industries. The involvement of non-governmental organizations as well as Nigeria’s international developmental partners, in the campaign for job creation and poverty alleviation, will go a long way in ameliorating these problems.
The fifth challenge is the effective management of religious disputes and conflicts by the security agencies. Many of the major crises had humble beginnings, usually as minor disputes between individuals or communities, which were badly managed.
It is also important for security agencies to maintain their professionalism and neutrality in handling all aspects of religious conflicts and establish proper liaison with traditional authorities as well as religious leaders and scholars. It is also imperative for security agencies to monitor the activities of extremist religious organizations without antagonizing genuine ones.
The need for capacity building which will further sensitize and provide the requisite skills to the relevant security agencies to better manage this category of conflicts should also receive the urgent attention it deserves.
The sixth challenge is managing the fall-out of international crises, the religious implications of which the local environment is quite sensitive to. The Danish cartoon saga was one of them. While it is essential for Nigerians to imbibe the culture of peaceful demonstrations, and some progress is being made in this direction, it is also important for international organizations to open an active dialogue on religious rights and freedoms and on what constitutes proper behavior in a globalized, multi-cultural and religiously sensitive world.
The call for restraint and sensitivity becomes all the more critical especially in the artistic field, where the supposed victim has no right of reply. Moderation and toleration do not presuppose the absence of rights and freedoms. They pre-suppose individuals who possess unfettered rights and freedoms as well as the ability to use them but who choose to exercise them responsibly to avoid hurting the rights and sensibilities of others.
One of the key institutions in Nigeria that had played a pivotal role in peace-building and conflict resolution and still contributes quite considerably, especially in the northern states, to the sustenance of religious harmony, is that of Emirs and Chiefs. With centuries of experience at its disposal, the traditional institution not only managed the emirates but regulated the relationship between the emirates and other communities and provided the enabling environment, up to 1976, for the emergence of highly complex and cosmopolitan communities in the Northern states.
The Emirs and Chiefs had been able to record these achievements through a variety of institutional mechanisms that had survived up to this day. At the institutional level, mention must also be made of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council [NIREC] which, since the beginning of the religious conflicts in 2000, had played a tremendous role in peace building at the federal level. Formed by equal representation from Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [NSCIA] and Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN], it provides a veritable forum for Muslim and Christian leaders to interact, exchange ideas and work collectively to resolve problems between the adherents of the two major religions.
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