NDD expresses concern over freedom of religion, belief in Nigeria

by Akeem Alao B.

The Network for Democracy and Development (NDD), has expressed concern over the state of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) in Nigeria.

In a statement jointly signed by its National Coordinator, Tajudeen Alabede, and General Secretary, Muhammad Jameel Muhammad, on Thursday March 3rd, 2022, NDD lamented the policy gap on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Nigeria.

The organisation cited different recent scenarios and cases of religious conflicts resulting in either injury or death of individual(s) being victimised.

One prevalent case of such nature is one which involved “harassment of Muslim women in hijab in different workplaces and institutions of learning in south western Nigeria and Kwara State and the critically reviewed video of a Muslim who claimed to have been denied a job opportunity solely because of his religious conviction brought to the fore the unsettling reality of religious bigotry in Nigeria.”

Further quoting the press statement, “The situation in Kwara State assumed a violent dimension on February 3, 2022 when a student, Habeeb Idris, was killed while ten others were injured when some stakeholders protested the discrimination against the use of hijab in a public school in Ijagbo town in the State.”

The organisation faulted the government for its notorious silence on matters stemming from such occasions of discrimination.

“In many cases involving discrimination on the basis of religion, reactions by government have always oscillated between inexplicable silence and the issuing of some ineffectual press statements. On a few occasions, ad-hoc peace meetings are facilitated by the government between affected religious communities.

“More often than not, concrete efforts towards creating awareness on FoRB are championed by religious and inter-religious groups.

“The policy gap and disposition of the government to play second fiddle by underplaying the imperative of giving effect to clear provisions of international and domestic laws amounts to a dereliction of duty.

“NDD, therefore, calls on the government not to abdicate its obligation on FoRB and/or outsource this to religious and inter-religious bodies.

“On the proposal for a peaceful coexistence,” the organisation said.

“Discussions about FoRB and peaceful coexistence should no longer be confined to conference halls, seminar rooms and pages of learned journals and newspapers.

“FoRB should now become a mainstream subject. A multicultural society like ours can only thrive and attain sustainable peace when citizens are sufficiently educated about the nation’s cultural diversity and learn to respect and accept people from diverse cultural backgrounds,” it added.

Suggesting ways to curb this morass, the organisation mentioned steps to take to address the policy gap.

“Among many other practical steps that should be taken by the government to address this policy gap, NDD considers Education, Advocacy, Mediation and Justice as most critical at this point.

“We believe that the most important point to start this new journey is the education system which embraces the largest percentage of the population.

“The curriculum for all levels of education should include courses on fundamental human rights, freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) and peaceful coexistence.

“In addition to formal educational institutions, the training of all civil servants at all levels of governance should include intensive orientation on the subject.

The organisation also posited that “public institutions should, as a matter of policy, embrace cultural diversity (…)”

“This way, Nigerians will have a clear idea of states, local government areas, communities, agencies and organisations that have embraced FoRB and respect for cultural diversity.

“In the same vein, the policy should compel all institutions for the training of religious leaders to include the teaching of fundamental human rights, freedom of religion or belief and peaceful coexistence as part of the requirements for the accreditation of such institutions by the government,” it stated.

As we transit into a global village and digital world, “NDD urges the federal government to mass produce copies of relevant international and domestic laws on fundamental human rights and freedom of religion or belief for free distribution to citizens in different languages.

“Electronic versions of these laws should also be available on the websites of appropriate government agencies. Information about fundamental human rights should not be a luxury.”

The organization then expressed their keen interest in the Kwara State Government “to take legal measures towards apprehending and prosecuting those who fomented the violence that led to the death of Habeeb Idris and offer adequate compensation to the families of all the victims”.

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