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Promoting Inter-Religious Dialogue Through NIREC February 21, 2013

Posted by Ibompulpit in Government, News, Religion.
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NIREC is an acronym for Nigeria Inter-Religious Council. It came into being at the dawn of democracy in 1999 to serve as a platform for high level dialogue between Christian and Muslim leaders in the Country with the intent to promote public good and harmonious co-existence as well as deal with the recurring crises that are often attributed to religion. The progenitors are said to be His Eminence, Primate Emeritus of Methodist Church, Dr. Sunday Mbang, who served as the founding co-chairman and the late Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Maccido who was the President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and also a founding Co-Chairman of the Inter-faith body. The august group is made of 50 eminent members composed of twenty-five (25) Muslim leaders ad twenty-five (25) Christian leaders.

NIREC when it came was like an idea which time had come. Since the 80’s there have been more than 20 major religious upheavals in the country. These crises often stem from social, ethnic or political misunderstanding which predictably assumes a religious dimension. The touted religious conflicts are usually aspects of poverty, unemployment, insensitive governance that lead to massive corruption, impunity and social injustice. But NIREC by reason of its coming to being is designed to ameliorate these unhealthy turn of events and foist mutual faith between the two major religions. It is believed that NIREC can help Muslims and Christians to use religions for peaceful purposes and remedy the social situation caused by corruption, bad governance, illiteracy, poverty and superstition if the leadership of both religions are honest and sincere.

Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, NIREC in pursuit of the all important role of promoting good governance and peaceful co-existence between the two religions holds quarterly general meetings which are rotated across zones in the Country. And so the turn of the South-South saw the meeting berthing its anchor in Uyo between 11th – 13th February, 2013. The Government and good people of Akwa Ibom State played host of exceptional hospitality to these purveyors of peace in our seemingly tattered nation where life has become brutish on a scale never known before.

The auspicious meeting which according to Governor Akpabio was the reason for his not being in South Africa to cheer up the Super-Eagles in that final dwell with Burkina Faso shows the importance the Government and good people of Akwa Ibom State attach to the body and the prospects that NIREC would serve as an essential medium in addressing issues that affect the corporate existence of Nigeria and ensure the sustenance of the Country as an indissoluble and an inseparable entity.

That morning before the commencement of the quarterly general meeting, the leadership of NIREC paid a courtesy call on the executive governor of Akwa Ibom State, Chief Goodswill Akpabio. Led by the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar and President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, the Sultan who spoke on behalf of the group thanked Governor Akpabio for what he had done in the State: “Even a blind can see the uncommon transformation here. I want to thank you for opening your door very wide for this all important conference.” The Sultan stated that the body does not speak for government as it is not a government institution. He paid tribute to His Eminence, Dr. Sunday Mbang and late Sultan Maccido for conceiving the idea of NIREC.

Governor Akpabio called for sincerity on the part of the leadership stating that the wish of the group to Nigeria is what would be. He charged them to practice what they preach citing himself as an example of such pragmatism with his ADC being a Muslim from Bauchi, his Chief Security Officer, a Muslim from Kano and his Orderly who is from Kaduna. Governor Akpabio stated that he is the first governor in the State to have his Secretary to the Government of the State, SSG and Commissioner for Finance from outside his own tribe. He advised politicians not to practice the politics of the tortoise which thrives on subterfuge noting that the populace should support only the people who fear God. The governor enjoined the inter-religious council to be the fillip that would bring peace into Nigeria.

The National Co-ordinator/executive secretary of NIREC and former Vice-chancellor of Ilorin, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede expressed appreciation to Governor Akpabio maintaining that he has demonstrated the ideal of practicing what he believes in. He cited the case of the Emir of Kauzaure whom he said he was struggling to find accommodation for only to realize that he is the Chancellor of Akwa Ibom State University. He thanked Governor Akpabio for his sense of national integration.

In his contribution, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayodele Joseph Oritsejafor thanked the Governor for the landmark achievements in the State. He said when he listened to the Governor, he was stirred in his spirit noting that he wished that others could follow his example by making their states home for all. He submitted that Governor Akpabio’s action demonstrates that there lies the greatness for Nigeria. Pastor Oritsejafor maintained that NIREC is a veritable tool that can build unity in our Country. He charged all to genuinely foster unity so that we can speak truth to power and demand accountability. The President of CAN cautioned that as they talk at the meeting, they should be frank, truthful and precise in the faith that the outcome would help government.

At Ibom Hall grounds where the general meeting commenced amidst huge attendance, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammed Sa’ad Abubakar said that the more we sit down to talk, the more we would build understanding noting that dialogue is the best option in any conflict. He re-echoed Governor Akpabio by stating that we must strive actively to do what we preach. The Sultan asserted that religion has a great influence on the followers advising religious leaders to strive harder in shaping the attitudes of their adherents through exemplary behaviour. The President-General of Islamic Affairs submitted that no religion teaches violence noting that while bombs are exploding in the north, kidnapping and armed robbery are rife in the south. He cited the over 200 cases of kidnappings in Delta State in 2012 and over 400 rape cases in Lagos in the same period demanding that all of them should be treated as criminal activities.

The Deputy Governor of Delta State, His Excellency, Prof. Amos Ituama who represented the Delta State Governor, His Excellency, Emmanuel Uduagham on behalf of the South-South governors thanked the progenitors and conveners for realizing that unless such a body is in place, our country may be pulled apart. The Governor said that we have a basis for remaining together which is more valuable and viable than discord noting that such corporate interest is even captured in the constitution.

The guest lecturer, Prof. Sam Egwu of University of Jos who delivered a paper entitled: “International Relations and Terrorism” observed that religion helps in everyday reality. According to him, it helps to grapple with the issue of destiny, issue of existence, issues of justice and equity. He lamented our reversion to the Hobbessian days of fear, nightmare where life was short and brutish maintaining that NIREC can reverse the trend. The university don noted that recently the United States has taken terrorism to the point of State policy warning other countries not to join U.S. because of possible backlash.

Prof. Sam Egwu identified the global challenge of terrorism asserting that the boundary between terrorism and violence is not very clear. He, however described terrorism as the systematic use of violence intended to cost life or serious bodily harm in order to intimidate an unarmed population. He isolated regional patterns of inequality, poverty as causes noting that they should be of concerns to all. The erudite scholar identified North East and North West regions as the most hit referring to Huttington’s study which argued that the source of conflicts are often cultural and religious differences. He charged the leadership of both religions to intensify dialogue to deepen good governance and tolerance.

NIREC in its communiqué at the end of the meeting in Uyo appealed to political, religious and traditional rulers to desist from making inflammatory and divisive comments that are capable of heating up the polity. It further appealed to Muslim, Christian and traditional leaders to make concerted efforts to dissuade their followers from intolerance. It recommended sustained interfaith dialogue amongst adherents of major religions. It also amongst others called on the government and the private sector to make efforts at creating employment for the teeming youths while urging government at all levels to promote good governance and remain accountable to the people.

The Akpabio administration has been fervent in its call for the re-invention of our collective sense of nationhood. Governor Akpabio has at different fora stated that even though Lord Lugard did not consult our forebears before effecting the amalgamation in 1914, we have a mandate to keep the country as one. The policies of his administration are rigidly tied to this nationalistic belief. For instance the free, compulsory and qualitative education policy in the State is opened to all Nigerians resident in Akwa Ibom State. When the administration extended a revolving loan to Christians through the State leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria, it also did same to the Muslim community. It is on record that the administration donated money to the Muslim community to facilitate its procurement of Certificate of Occupancy as well as build its mosque. It also sponsored about 250 Muslims on pilgrimage to Mecca.

There is the need for all of us to internalize these examples if our quest to build a virile nation is sincere. The persistent rumour and sometimes seeming truths that our elites are involved in the sponsorship of sectarian violence constitute a negation of our aspiration towards nationhood. Nigerians should look forward to celebrating the centenary with pride having overcome the temptations of disintegration and dismemberment. We must subscribe our collective sense of entitlement to this country by ensuring that we keep it as one nation of abundant opportunities and great possibilities. That is the Godswill Akpabio example.

Joe Iniodu is a public affairs analyst.