By Okeoghene Akubuike
John Cardinal Onaiyekan has underscored the need for the Federal Government to show more commitment in addressing issues of social justice in order to achieve lasting peace in the country.
Onaiyekan said this during the opening ceremony of the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP) 2018/2019 Fellowship Programme on “Interreligious Dialogue and Mediation Certificate Programme’’ in Abuja on Tuesday.
According to him, the role of religious leaders in countering extreme religious views and ideologies, which were used to justify violent extremism and insurgency could not be over-emphasised.
The cardinal said that top level religious leaders have a great responsibility to lead the nation in the way of peace and harmony, adding that it must be a sustained and intensified effort.
He said that the message of peace must also be brought to the lower levels of local religious leaders, which was one of the aims of the fellowship programme.
“From much of my life as a young man in Nigeria, we lived in relative peace, people moved around freely, there was not this kind of polarisation, and government was in control of things.
“But we have a situation now that gives a great cause for concern and looking down the line you are afraid for the younger generation.
“The present situation of tension and conflict across our lines of diversities in Nigeria today needs us to make all the necessary effort to promote sincere dialogue, mutual respect and justice.
“That is why I am convinced that building interfaith cooperation and partnership are essential in advancing inclusive society; since peace can only be achieved when we understand, respect and accept our differences.
“Above all I believe that lasting peace also rests on our government doing its duty to show more commitment in addressing issues of social justice,’’ Onaiyekan said.
The cardinal said that the religious differences in the country should not lead to hatred rather Nigerians must learn to go beyond those differences and discover and celebrate the many common grounds of shared values and convictions.
He expressed the hope that participants would at the end of the programme return to their respective communities and replicate what they had learnt and keep spreading the message of peace, mutual respect and understanding.
“The troublemakers will continue to do what they know how to do best that is create a situation of chaos and conflict, but those of us who believe in peace cannot keep quiet.
“If we keep quiet the waves will be dominated by those who are warmongers,’’ Onaiyekan said.
Also, Sister Agatha Chikelue, Executive Secretary, COFP, in her remarks, said the purpose of the fellowship was to bring key religious leaders to explore cross cultural and religious dialogue and understanding.
Chikelue added that the three year programme would help improve the participants’ capacities in interreligious dialogue and mediation.
According to her, the 35 participants will receive certificates in Interreligious Dialogue and Mediation at the end of each fellowship programme.
She said that the programme would provide informative, interactive, educational and networking opportunities for the participants who are from different backgrounds in Nigeria.
One of the participants, Samat Mumuni, Women Affairs Secretary, NASFA, Worldwide, told the News Agency that she applied for the fellowship because she wanted to learn about mediation.
According to her, I want to know about mediation, how to settle problems amicably, I want to know about the other faith, I want to have a comparative analysis.
“I want a situation where I will understand my friends and colleagues; I want to be better informed so I can impact positively on my community.
“We have to start somewhere, you have to look for problems and find solution to it because when you have all this ethnic problems, religious problems you must find out why we have these problems.
“We need to better understand each other; we need to promote peace so that people can live in harmony. As a Muslim, my religion preaches peace, when you say Salaam-Alaikum it means peace unto you.”
Another beneficiary of the fellowship programme, John Gana, National Secretary, IRIGWE Youth Movement, Plateau, said he applied for the fellowship to expose him to other people and their religion.
“I come from a crisis ridden environment because of the incessant attacks we have been experiencing.
“So for me it is an opportunity to learn, get to know and be equipped with other skills and get engagement with people with other faiths, especially the Fulanis with whom we have been having issues.
“It is an opportunity to express myself and tell my own side of the story, but to also learn how the other person thinks and to learn why he is acting the way he is acting.’’
COFP is a Non–Governmental Organisation (NGO) established in 2O10 with the mandate to provide a platform for building and strengthening the processes of peace and social change in Nigeria and across Africa.
The fellowship programme was sponsored by GHR Foundation based in the US, other partners include Tony Blair Foundation for Global Change, VERITAS University, Islamic Education Trust among others.