ABUSE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM; THREAT TO PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE OF CITIZENS- CCN
Chinwe Ugele, Umuahia.
The popular saying that “Religion is the opium of the people,” as postulated by Karl Max clearly captures the present day society especially Nigeria where different types of religious practices abound.
From time immemorial, the early men in the country were known to be traditional worshippers who paid heed to the “gods” of the land with all amount of seriousness and commitment.
The introduction of Islam and Christianity in Nigeria as well as other forms of religion further increased the number of faiths in the country.
It was therefore natural that the Nigerian government at the time recognized the multiplicity of religions in the country bound mostly by cultural affiliation to identify the nation as a Secular State where everyone is free to practice his or her choice of religion.
Even though there are multiple religious groups around, Christianity and Islam appear to be the most practiced in Nigeria with the Northern part being predominantly Moslems, while the Southern part is predominantly Christians. Traditional worshippers and Judaism worshippers with others are an infinitesimal number.
However, the increase in the number of religion has not over the years served the country any good, rather the fight for supremacy of one religion over others took centre stage pitching Moslems against Christians most of the time.
90% of all the crisis Nigeria has ever suffered have been linked to religion arising from intolerance, interference, disturbances, and hindrance and sometimes abse of freedom.
It is for these issues that the Institute of Church and Society of the Christian Council of Nigeria, Ibadan is leading the crusade on “Freedom of Religion or Belief.”
The body recently organized a workshop in Umuahia, Abia state with participants drawn from the media, the Parliament and religious bodies aimed at examining areas of conflict in the practice of religion and what can and must be done to reduce clashes, intolerance, and abuse of freedom.
The general secretary of The Christian Council of Nigeria, Rev. Dr. Yusuf Ibrahim Wushishi who declared the workshop open, said religious freedom helps to have a good and moral diverse society.
He went on to explain that “Discipleship today is not about the Bible but the character, religious freedom does not conflict the Christian faith but complements it.”
He stressed the need for citizens to coexist peacefully irrespective of religion.
For his part, the resource person, Very Rev. Segun Babalola pointed out the state of freedom of religion in the country wherein he listed, abbreviation of freedom, total hindrance of operation and abuse of freedom as the three phases.
He said people must be allowed to express their faith or belief without coercion/compulsion, interference, restrictions/hindrances, disturbances, etc since the nation has an existing law that allows citizens worship freely.
The issue of challenges confronting women and girls as they relate to FoRB were blamed on cultural and societal values which place the woman as a lesser being.
But in the course of the workshop, participants agreed that all human beings are equal before God.
A communiqué was drafted at the end to reflect the decisions reached at the workshop which included enactment of relevant laws to sanction those who abuse the FoRB, enactment of laws to control set up of worship centres.
Others are for the media to be sensitive in their reportage of religious activities, for religious leaders to avoid using inciting words and comments when preaching and also show considerations for other religious groups when planning their programs.