An International non Governmental Organization (INGO), Search for Common Ground has announced plans to establish peace and security clubs in Primary and Secondary Schools in Northern Nigeria as part of efforts to tackle insecurity particularly religious crises in the region.
The Senior Project Cordinator with Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Ms. Fatima Madaki, who disclosed this in Abuja at a high Level Technical Meeting on Advancing Religious Tolerance (ART38) in Nigeria, said the aim is to advance peace education especially among the younger generation.
Madaki who is the Cordinator of the ATR38 project noted that issues around religious tolerance borders around coordination and how to fine tune peace messages to specific target audiences.
She informed that already existing peace and security clubs in schools will be strengthened and out of school clubs for children who are not enrolled in school will be established to educate students on religious tolerance.
Madaki further explained that the meeting which consisted of religious leaders, legal practitioners and representatives of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) is designed to deepen conversation on religious tolerance.
According to her, the aim is to also help address hate speech among religious leaders, to have an understanding on how best to engage at the community level, and to strengthen messaging around countering violent narratives.
Madaki pointed out that some conflicts are often given religious colouration while they are political.
While reacting to president Muhamnadu Buhari’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia and the alleged Islamisation agenda, she stressed that tackling such narratives and the tension around it can be tackled through peace education.
She said, ” issues that come out strongly are issues around peace education, how to target young people, have them sensitized on religious issues and tolerance. Some conflicts are not necessarily religious, but the way they are presented to seem like issues of religious conflict, but they are not, we need to increase awareness.”
The project Cordinator further urged Federal Government to deepen engagement with religious institutions and religious leaders, and make them part decision making.
Also speaking, Ms. Elizabeth James, legal practitioner, regretted that issues on religion are often discussed only at higher levels.
According James, establishing peace and security clubs in schools will bring the issues to the grassroot.
She said, “the issue of religion should not be discussed at the higher level, we are going to start with primary schoolls and then Secondary schools, we will liaise with the ministry of education to work on their curriculum.”
She adeed, “One of the major things to start from the younger generation, if a child grows up with religious tolerance, knowing that irrespective of religion we are one, definitely the future will be better.
Speaking directly to the recent legislation to regulate preaching in Kaduna State, James said the reason why there is tension over the legislation is because government failed to educate the people on the law before imposing it on them.
She said, “Before creating a law, government ought to educate people in languages that they would understand on such laws. Looking at the recent law in Kaduna, some stakeholders have said it will have no effect, but the people won’t know unless they are educated to understand the purpose of the law and thats why there is tension.
“So, the government will have to involve the people let the people know why you do what you do.”
Also speaking, Mr. Rabiu Mohammad, a religious leader in the North streesesed that government has a strong role to play in reducing religious tension or crises. He advised government to also engage Emirs saying they are most respected and will be able to pass messages bordering on prace to the grassroot.
According to Mohammed, “Government has a duty and responsibility to monitor and regulate utterances and activities that religious leaders to ensure they are in conformity with the constitution.”
He also called for religious understanding and tolerance among every Nigerian citizens, he said, “if everyone will be allowed to practice their religion Independently, we will not have any problem.”
To this end, a representative of Lux Terra Leadership Foundation, a Civil Society Organization, Mr. Mike Utsaha, harped on the need for Nigerians to see beyond religious or cultural affiliation especially when choosing leaders.
Utsaha said appointing leaders must not be on the basis of ethnicity or faith practiced but on the ability of the individual to make good and responsible use of public offices to positively affect the people.
He siad, “looking at the issue of leadership in the National Assembly, so what if the Senate president and speaker are Muslims. Before now we had a house of representatives that was a Christian speaker and senate President but heavens did not fall, was it not the Same Nigeria?
“The questions Nigerians should rather ask is of what value will this person’s leadership be to me and not question his religion or faith.”