The high rate of killings due to religious intolerance in many parts of the country is worrisome. Blessing Bature writes on the palpable apprehension among citizens due to the boko haram insurgence and the unity that is at stakem
More than ever before, contemporary Nigerian society is beset with religious conflicts that continues to threaten the fabric of the country’s unity. To a large extent one can say that Nigeria of the past could boast of religious flexibility and tolerance for many years but all that is lost, after gruesome stories relating to religion continue to rear their ugly heads, resulting in the loss of lives.
One can say that a curious feature of today’s Nigerian society is religious intolerance, most especially in the north and the middle belt regions of the country. In these places, religious fanaticism has been hidebound and its spread is unbridled. With a volatile environment, religious violence is unleashed on many innocent citizens of the region every now and then. So that for over four years now, cities like Maiduguri, Bauchi, Damaturu, Benue and Gombe, are bedeviled with fear as a result of the activities of boko haram.
This in turn, has led the people to a point of having very slim patience with their neighbors of other religion so that religious intolerance is the order of the day.
In the face of this, the national president, Two-faith Interreligious Organisation, Mr Hillary Iheanacho, believes that the future of the country which is in the hands of the youths, has to be redirected to healthier ways of looking at issues to ensure the survival of the country. This invigorated him to take this campaign to secondary schools as part of his contribution for a peaceful Nigeria to sensitise the youths of the need for a peaceful coexistence. “Religious freedom is a fundamental requirement for the freedom of any society,’’ he said.
From a sociologist’s point of view, Bryan Wilson, in his book, ‘Human Values In A Changing World,’ clearly observed that, ‘‘without freedom of religion and the right to disseminate one’s faith, there can be no rights of conscience and no genuine democracy.” And as a French court recently recognised, “freedom of belief is one of the fundamental elements of public freedoms.”
Thus, whether one is religious or not, every human being should be interested in the protection of religious freedom since religious intolerance poses a great threat to human rights.
Human rights apply to all irrespective of colour, gender, sex, religion, health status, dress, socio-economic status, etc. This threat is not simply because of the specific acts of fundamentalist groups which may be recognised as concrete violations of human rights standards; the real threat comes from the political aims or the political project that is at the heart of fundamentalisms, which is essentially to transform the way identities are ascribed and negotiated.
The human rights question is about us having rights as human beings. The fundamentalist claim is very different: it is about ascribing humanity on the basis of a certain religious claim which has to be legitimated by certain authorities, and which in turn lays down a whole set of other obligations and subject relationships with self and others to a certain kind of regime.
Religious discrimination, however, does not affect just religious minorities. Professor Abdelfattah Amor, special rapporteur on religious intolerance, of the UN Commission on Human Rights, considers that “no religion is safe from violation.” It is quite likely, then, that intolerance and prejudice are commonly faced by some religions where you live.
Confirming these fears, the director of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex, United Kingdom, observed: “All evidence points to the conclusion that religious intolerance is increasing rather than decreasing in the modern world.” Such increasing intolerance threatens.
Religious intolerance usually originates from the perceived superiority of one’s religion over the others. In simple terms, religious intolerance or fanaticism is the inability of an adherent of a particular religion to acknowledge, accommodate and accept the right of others to live by another faith different from his own. Invariably, such attitude is connected to the conviction that one’s religion is the only divinely ordained path to spiritual enlightenment and immorality in heaven. Consequently, a religious fanatic believes strongly that his religion is unquestionably superior to other religions. It is good to point out that being zealous for one’s religion is commendable and is to be expected, but where such zeal is wrongly channeled, it becomes dangerous for the life of the community and it is an abuse of human rights.
Nigeria, like many other countries, is a secular country going by her Constitution. A quick look at the 1999 Amended Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shows that in Section 38 (1) and also Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right: “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” Furthermore, Section 10 of the same Constitution states: “the government of the Federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as State religion.” It therefore bears restating that the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and no one should be victimised for their beliefs. The multiple religions in the country gives every citizen the right opportunity to choose which faith is convenient. Therefore, freedom of faith must be defended at all cost, even when those in authority are not convenient with it.
A country’s attitude toward religious freedom also greatly affects its reputation and international credibility. A report presented in 1997 to a meeting of the 54-nation Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe stated: “Religious Freedom is one of the highest values in the constellation of human rights, going to the very core of human dignity. No system that violates, or allows the systematic violation of such rights can lay legitimate claim to membership in the community of just and democratic states that respect fundamental human rights.”
Freedom of religion is like part of the foundation of a building. Other freedoms – civil, political, cultural, and economic – are built upon it. If the foundation is undermined, the whole edifice suffers.
Professor Francesco Margiotta-Broglio succinctly puts it this way: “Whenever religious freedom is violated, other freedoms are the next to suffer.”