By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja
A coalition of civil society groups comprising Global Peace Foundation Nigeria, ADF International and Vision Africa, on Wednesday, called on religious leaders to speak out forcefully against those who would instigate violence based on religion, ethnicity, or other factors.
According to the organisations, doing so had become necessary in order to stem the drift of the country into an era of unprecedented crisis.
They explained that faith communities could no longer afford to remain quiet while Nigeria continued to drift along the cliff of crisis.
This was contained in a communique made available to journalists on Wednesday by the Country Director of Global Peace Foundation Nigeria, Rev. John Hayab.
The document was released on the heels of a twin programme – the Inclusive Security Dialogue and the Inclusive Youth Dialogue Against Electoral Violence – which were jointly organised in Abuja by the coalition.
The two programmes brought together religious, political, and civil society leaders in the country and over 300 youth leaders to discuss and collaborate on areas of mutual concern and potential solutions to problems facing Nigeria.
The communique read in part, “With awareness also that uncontrolled violence and the threat of violence lead to fears amongst faith communities, self-silencing of speech and other activities, and possible cycles of violence based on self-help, the dialogue resolved that;
“All forms of violence against persons must be criminalized and culprits prosecuted according to the laws of the land; promote freedom of speech, especially the right to complaint; ensure that all complaints are investigated and appropriate actions taken; and take precautions to stop the escalation of violence in any community.
“We declare and propose that religious leaders should do more to promote peace for their communities and speak out forcefully against those who would instigate violence based on religion, ethnicity, or other factors.
“Security forces should work more closely with local leaders to prevent violence and the threat of violence based on religion, ethnicity, and similar factors, and should more aggressively prosecute those who commit violence or make threats while also doing more to protect the victims of violence and threat.”
The communiuqe also observed that security issues too often fall along the lines of tensions within and between faith communities and that religious minority within local communities are often targeted for violence and marginalization.
It, therefore, added that the government must: “Continue to safeguard the security of lives and property, especially the lives of vulnerable groups and guarantee equality before the law in the dispense of justice
“Repeal and strictly limit laws that target individuals for the peaceful expression of their beliefs or that provide an impetus for violence and threats of violence against minority communities;
“Safeguard that all laws and practices follow the Constitution and international treaties to which Nigeria is a party.”
The coalition insisted that religious leaders must be actively involved in peace dialogue given the influence they wield in the community.
“Religious leaders need to honestly preach peace to their congregations and communities and work to promote mutual respect and understanding within and between faith communities.
“Nigerians should be accepted everywhere in the country way they are, irrespective of their faith traditions,” it added.
On the spate of political violence ahead of the 2023 elections, the communiuqe urged stakeholders to ensure the legitimacy and stability of the country’s democratic system of government.
It stated, “INEC must avoid poor coordination of any electoral process since a lack of confidence in an electoral system breeds violence; orient the youth on the dangers of electoral violence to democratic stability; support the active and positive participation of youth in the electoral process; and create awareness about the electoral process and make the collation transparent.
“The politicians need to desist from any inciting statements; call on their supporters to be peaceful and law-abiding; accept defeat in good faith and be magnanimous in victory for the common good of the nation and humanity in general; and put national interest above self and party loyalty.”
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