• Mark, Atiku, others urge proper use of belief for development
From IHEANACHO NWOSU and TAIWO AMODU, Abuja
Former president of Ghana, Dr. John Kufuor has advised African leaders to use religion as a tool for development rather than divisive machinery to cause disaffection. Kufuor gave the charge yesterday as the guest lecturer at the 10th anniversary lecture of The Sun Newspapers that held in Abuja.
He admonished that for Nigeria and other African countries to overcome current security challenges, and chart a development path religion must be separated from politics. Other eminent leaders at the lecture shared Kufuor’s position on the proper use of religion as a tool to further the cause of democracy in the continent beset by religious crises that always have political trappings.
He spoke on “Religion, Strife and the Future of Democracy in Africa.” The former Ghanaian president noted that democratic rights and that of religion were inseparable. He, however, cautioned that politicians should not take advantage of it to cause strife among the people He lamented that conflicts arising from religious differences were holding sway in most parts of Africa, thus distracting the leaders from focusing on developmental challenges facing the continent.
He said: “As of now, however, there is no gainsaying the reality that conflicts based on religion are still with us. In Africa, the pursuit of freedom and self-determination have caused so much civil strife, decimated entire population and caused a lot of misery to our people. The former Ghanaian president cited Sudan where “religion sometimes appeared to be on a collision course with the state, or the state, using religion, appeared to be on a collision course with its people.” Kufour stressed that religion should strengthen democracy and not endangering it. “Religion should rather reinforce democracy,” he said.
He identified dogmatism and extremism as the cause of religious strife, recommending that efforts should be made to stop promoters of this style of religion. According to him, to tame the activities of extremists and religious bigots, the media must downplay issues that were capable of inflaming passion among people. He advised them to emphasize moves and actions that would promote peace, harmony and development. He said: “In considering the huge influence the media wields in human affairs around the world, we should not lose sight of the fact that some media outlets wield their influence not too positively for the social good. “It bears stating that it should be part of your professional ethics to exercise a high sense of social responsibility in the practice of your profession, so as not to become agents of destabilization in society.
“The media, as a mirror of the society, has a bounding role to play in ensuring that the positive, and not the negative aspects of humanity, are portrayed. The impact and power of the media in shaping the minds of the people make it imperative that they continuously emphasize what will bring peace, harmony and development instead of what will bring fear, anger and civil strife.” Referring to those hiding under religion to foment trouble, Senate President, David Mark said no religion is against peace.
He accused some people of taking advantage of the freedom of speech and movement that democracy offered to promote extremism. Mark noted that religion and politics were not compatible, condemning a situation where some politicians instead of campaigning on issues, rather spread religious falsehood and intolerance. The Senate president, who chaired the occasion, stressed that religious fundamentalism posed great threat to democracy both in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.
He advocated continual inter-faith dialogue to address some issues that were causing religious misunderstanding. According to him, such dialogue would help erase misgivings about different religions. He counselled that, “all religions must relate with one another with respect. All must include sovereignty and respect for human rights in their messages.” Echoing the Senate president, former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, urged political leaders to exercise restraint on religious matters as he declared that only failed politicians use religion to galvanize support.
He recalled his opposition to the introduction of Sharia in some states in the North when he was deputy to former president Olusegun Obasanjo. He also said he opposed state sponsorship of pilgrims. The former vice president, who was the special guest of honour, regretted that different parts of Africa had been torn apart by religious and ethnic-induced strife. He said: “This had been at a great cost to a continent facing challenges of poverty and natural disasters.”
He called on political and religious leaders to use the vast resources on the continent to cater for the needs of the people even as he re-echoed the view of Mark that all religions preach peace. Atiku admonished leaders, at all levels, to ensure justice and fair play in the handling of leadership issues, saying it would help reduce ethnic and religious distrust in the country. Earlier in his welcome address, former Abia State governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu praised the pioneer management of the company for putting The Sun titles on a sound footing. He said the newspaper would continue to strive to meet the aspirations and expectations of Nigeria. He said the motto of the newspaper, Voice of the Nation, would remain the focus of the management.
He thanked the Guest Lecturer, Dr. Kufuor for his untiring friendship with the people of Nigeria and other African states. Dignitaries, who graced the occasion include lawmakers, Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar III, over 15 ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic community, ex-governors, former ministers, party chairmen, media chiefs, top government officials and the academia.