This Day (Lagos)

20 February 2013

Nigeria: Mark, Kufour, Condemn Use of Religion for Political Gains

Religion and politics took centre stage at a public lecture delivered at the 10th anniversary of the Sun Newspapers, as the Senate President, David Mark, accused those he described as failed politicians for bringing religion into politics.

Also, the former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, described the introduction of the Islamic legal system, Sharia, in some northern states as political.

In the same manner, the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, blamed politicians, whom he said have vaulting political ambition for using religion to divide society and subjugate other people with the intention of lording it over them.

According to Mark, who was the Chairman of the occasion, "A criminal is a criminal; there is no Christian or Muslim about crimes. It is only failed politicians that bring religion into politics. Any politician that emphasises religion in politics is a failed politician. Bringing issues of religion into clearly political issues will not help democracy to grow in Nigeria and Africa."

The Senate President who blamed the religious crisis in the country on the handiwork of religious fundamentalists, said: "I want to emphasise that although fundamentalism can undermine democracy, religion in general has the potential for reducing the intensity of conflicts and promoting good citizenship and democratic cultures."

Mark called for dialogue in addressing religious crisis in the country, saying: "There is need for dialogue. Christians and Muslims must engage in interfaith dialogue. All faiths must work with each other with respect, and amicably resolve inter-ethnic and inter-faith conflicts.

"All religious leaders (Muslims and Christians) should increasingly include popular sovereignty and defence of human rights as part of their message. Equally important, our attitudes as political leaders should be guided by basic religious moral principles which are pivotal for democracy and better initiative for good governance to thrive.

Religious moral principles are inevitable for our nascent democracy," the President of the Senate explained.

According to Mark, "Religion in that sense can be the glue that binds together these two sides. Religion is a potential force for mobilising, reshaping and inducing moral actions which guides people to define democratic values and good governance in Nigerian society."

In his comments, Atiku said when some politicians in the North introduced the Islamic legal system; Sharia, he told former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the introduction was merely political, but some clerics branded him, 'Reverend Abubakar'.

He said that some politicians used the Sharia as an instrument to win election, explaining that it was not the case in the old northern Nigeria.

According to the former vice-president who lamented the effect of religious crisis in Nigeria and Africa, "The cost to Africa in terms of human lives, property, productivity and trade is clearly enormous. And this is a continent that continues to be weighed down by other developmental challenges including poverty, disease, unemployment, drought, low productivity due to lack of infrastructure and near insignificant contribution to world trade.

"There is an urgent need for us as a people, as a continent to quickly and decisively tackle these conflicts whether they are religious or otherwise not only to stem the needless waste of lives and property but so that we can also focus on developing our human and material resources to provide our people better lives.

"Let us encourage our people to acknowledge our differences but to see these differences as a source of strength, as basis for pooling together, for unity, for peace and for development. In doing so we must always try to do what is just and fair to all. And, as leaders, we must avoid trying to score political points with the very serious security challenges facing us but rather show responsible leadership and commitment in searching for solutions to them wherever that search takes us," Atiku said.

In his lecture titled, 'Religion, Strife and the Future of Democracy in Africa,' the former President of Ghana, Kufuor, said that: "Religious rights are a subset of democratic rights, and are therefore inseparable..., asking: "How have religion and democracy existed in Africa.

According to Kufuor, "It would appear down the millennia that conflicts tended to emanate from the tendency of a religious group believing that people who did not share in its religious faith were people not favoured by its god, and therefore should be treated as outcasts.

"Hence, for example, the differentiation between the Jews and the Gentile, Muslim and Infidel, Christian and Atheist, Hindu and the Untouchable. This has been the major source of conflict as far back as man can remember.

"To compound this canker, man in his vaulting political ambition, has also been known to use religion to divide society, subjugate other people and to lord it over them."

On the way of this, Kufour said: "if what is transpiring in North Africa and some other parts of the world may serve as an indicator of what the future holds for mankind, then humanity may come to hold sway, and religion would rightfully become less and less divisive of society.

"The more social evolution gives pride of place to such individual assertion over religion, the more tolerant we will all become, and the safety valve for minimising conflicts will be realised. As of now, however, there is no gain saying the reality that conflicts based on religion are still with us."

He blamed most of the religious crisis in Africa on those he described as dogmatists and extreme doctrinaires, explaining that ordinarily, religion should be personal affairs between man and his creator.

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