Thu. Jul 25th, 2024

Religious Intolerance: Enough Is Enough: My Governor Mallam Uba Sani, By Bako Abdul Usman

Kaduna State has had a long checkered history of violent clashes characterized as mostly religious crises. Persistently, political, ethnic and herders-farmers crises end up being given religious coloration. Examples of religious crises that quickly come to mind were: Kafanchan, 1987; Zangon Kataf, 1992; Sharia, 2000; Miss World, 2002; and post-Presidential election violence, 2011. Another burning issue that has further polarized the State along religious lines is that of Muslim-Muslim governorship pairing.

Sadly, the State, as regards settlement patterns, have been divided – with places that hitherto where mixed, when Sallah and Christmas festivities were jointly celebrated, have now been segregated along religious lines. Places like Tudun Wada and Rigasa that used to have a large number of Christian residents are now tagged Muslim areas. Likewise, Sabon Tasha and Narayi that had large Muslim residents are now Christian reserved areas.

The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Uba Sani, during a recent 1-day reflection meeting on Kaduna Direction on Peace-building, captured the scenario aptly. He stated, “as your Chief Servant, I am deeply worried by the ethnic and religious divisions in Kaduna State. I am the Governor of a State where all government’s actions or inactions are viewed from the lenses of religion and ethnicity.”

He further stated and aptly so that, “I manage a state where emotions run high at the slightest provocation or perception of injustice. We are captives of our past. A past marked by incessant conflicts, bloodletting, hate and distrust. But we must break loose from our unpleasant past. We must collectively free ourselves from the grip of conflict merchants and agents of retrogression. We must change the narrative and bring development and progress into the discourse.”

This brings me to the croax of the write up. In changing the narrative, the Governor should put his Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Religious Affairs to task on how to come up with a road-map to strengthen interfaith mechanisms in the State. This is in line with the statement of the Governor that, “our administration shall encourage and facilitate inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogue. Through that process we can build shared understanding and consensus on contentious issues for the benefit of our state.”

The mutual suspicion and mistrust along religious lines, deepened by the reactions as a result of the Muslim-Muslim governorship joint ticket, still persist. Therefore, the SSA should be mandated to come up with ideas in collaboration with relevant agencies and stakeholders with focus on interfaith dialogue and religious literacy exchange programs; scaling mixed religious festivals and celebrations; and sponsoring programs to teach about religious pluralism in schools.

In addition, strengthen existing interfaith working groups; initiate more campaigns that promote religious freedom and the right to practice one’s religion; sponsor media programs to reduce religious-based violence; and attract funding and support for interfaith initiatives, considering the scarcity of funds due to competing priorities of government. Similarly, the Kaduna State Peace Commission should be adequately funded to fully operationalize proactive and preventive measures in checkmating triggers of religious crises in the State.

Religious leaders should be encouraged to self-regulate themselves to check the spate of provocative preaching and peddling divisive narrative. They should be made to recognize and better appreciate their ambassadorial responsibility towards the peace and development of the State. Strong legal sanctions, to serve as deterrent to others, should be meted on preachers that have become conflict entrepreneurs and merchants. Thankfully, the Governor has already promised that, “we are determined to break the cycle of impunity. All those who want to test the will of the government would have themselves to blame. If you break the law, be ready to face the consequences.”

The Governor should consistently demonstrate in words, and more importantly, in action, fairness, equity and justice. This is because without justice there is no peace, and without peace there is no meaningful development. It is time for Kaduna State to be the reference for religious understanding, tolerance and harmony. Importantly, the Governor should ensure that mass-housing and market stalls are given in a way that Muslim and Christians are next door neighbors. This will contribute to bringing back the past glory of the State characterized by religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence.

Finally, we will hold the Governor to his words, that,
“I am a product of the human rights and pro – democracy movement. We have zero tolerance for discrimination. I will sustain our cherished ideals. With the support of the good people of Kaduna State, we shall build a state where no man or woman will feel oppressed. We shall build a state where no person or place will be left behind.”

Usman writes from Kaduna, Nigeria.

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