Building Bridges Across Faiths and Through Education In Nigeria

 

BY PROFESSOR KHADIJA MAHMOUD

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY AND COUNSELLING

AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY, ZARIA.

BEING A PAPER PRESENTED TO THE ALL-STAKEHOLDERS CONFERENCE

ON YOUTH EDUCATION AND NATIONAL UNITY ORGANIZED BY THE

DIAMOND-CREST FOR YOUTH EDUCATION FOUNDATION AT THE WOMEN

MULTIPURPOSE CENTRE, KADUNA, ON THE 10TH OF SEPTEMBER, 2011.

Introduction:

Nigeria has in the last two decades experienced fierce theatres of religious and communal conflicts which have virtually engulfed the northern part of the country. Contests between different ethnic, religious, economic, political groups have resulted in sporadic violence in which many lives and properties have been lost. Most of these violent conflicts experienced in the country in recent times have occurred in industrializing cities, urban and rural settings. The recent happenings particularly in the north are alarming. The continuous conflicts in Jos, Maiduguri, and other states like Kaduna, Gombe, Adamawa, Bauchi attest to this. Even the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja is not free from the insecurity that has bedevilled the country.

The post-election effect in Nigeria also speaks for itself. In most cases, the remote causes seem to be primordial and constructed around religious and ethnic identities. Violent conflicts in these regions have been found to be very contagious too, sometimes spilling into neighbouring states and leading to more loss of lives and properties. This widens the already huge gap of suspicion, distrust and ethno-religious intolerance existing among various communities in Nigeria. These crises have also resulted in heavy toll on the economy and social life of the people particularly in the northern states. Business in the affected states has been wiped out and investment opportunities lost. Schools have been closed down and the premises in some cases converted as accommodation for the displaced people. As a result of these incessant crises hunger and increased tension continue to mount across the country. The more worrisome part of it is that travellers are cut into the scenes and killed for what they do not have hand in. Women and children are usually affected in most of these violent clashes, even when they are

not parties to the initial scheming behind the clashes. In view of the magnitude, frequency and the destructive consequences of violent conflicts in this country, and urgent need to come up with measures that would dispel divisive tendencies and bring people together irrespective of their ethnic and religious affiliations is now paramount in Nigeria. So the question of building bridges among faiths and tribes cannot have come at a better time than now because the situation in Nigeria has gone do badly. To paraphrase in the language of Chinua Achebe, the centre can no longer hold a knife has been put on e what holds us together and Things Have Fallen Apart. On this note, the paper attempts to explain the nature of the phenomenon through the relationship between religion and faith and provide way forward through educational means for a better place in Nigeria.

NATURE OF RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RELIGION AND ETHNICITY

There is no doubt that a definite relationship does exist between religion as an aspect of ideology and social formations and ethnicity as an organized social unit (Hamman, 2002). An important aspect of this ideological element is of course linked to the people’s world outlook which is also embodied in their value systems and beliefs in various ethnic groups. Religion, as a system of beliefs and values for pragmatic social regulation and control can rightly be regarded as important hallmarks of ethnic group and other social formations, because they are necessary for group consciousness, focus and even survival (Hamman).

However, the relationship between ethnic groups and religion in Nigeria today, particularly in some part of the northern states, represents a different type of development which could be explained in what people observed to be an environment rooted in ideological poverty and the corresponding opportunism of the political elite. The contention here is that to some people, the extent of these ethnic and religious sentiments are being manipulated in Nigeria for political and economic advantage of some individuals or groups. This is clearly demonstrated by the level of inter-ethnic and inter-religious violence that characterize ordinary socio-economic and political disputes which can be resolved normally through the traditional institutions or established legal processes of the judicial system .

Other factors that can contribute to the present ethno-religious Can be seen further.

COINCIDENCE OF ETHNIC AND RELIGIOUS IDENTITIES AMONG COMMUNITIES

As a result of the coincidence of ethnic and religious identities and the differential economic success among communities, most communities suffer from inter-ethnic and religious conflicts which makes it impossible to spare an individual or group in conflict situations on the basis of religion or tribe because these elements coincide in him/her (Hamman, 2002).

At any instance, this phenomenon creates problems of stereotyping and stigmatization of people and communities in the name of tribal or religious groups by their opponents and consequently facilitates divisive reactions that breed distrust, suspicions and hatred which are the most potent ingredients for inter-group conflicts and crises. This pattern of ethno-religious and economic dichotomy which breeds a lot of inter-group animosity is reflected for instance, in Plateau, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Taraba, and

Nasarawa states in varying degrees. Central to all of them, however, and providing the immediate excuse for outbreak of inter-group conflict are issues of land and territorial ownership and control and the status of citizenship i.e. being a ‘settler’ or ‘indigene’. These are matters that are hardly amenable to negotiations, bargaining or compromise just like the case of Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Palestine, to mention but a few. Communities therefore react without any qualms and set themselves at each other’s throat. This is because no party for such contests could compromise its tribe, religion, or territorial identity.

EFFECT OF ‘RESOURCE CONTROL’ SYNDROME

The gap in resource distribution in this country also has the tendency to serve as a catalyst to the ethno-religious conflict in Nigeria. Looking at the Nigerian communities, some areas are much better in terms of resource development than other areas which are left in abject poverty and under-development. Over the years, this issue has been given a great prominence in national discourse. This development was the result of the enormous pressure exerted on the federal government by the affected communities such as the oil producing states, which influenced the enhancement of their monthly allocation from the Federation Account.

One of the consequences of this development was that the other communities in the country also started to look inwards with a view to exerting pressure on the government to enhance their economic and social benefits as compensation for the resources derived from their states, while other communities that do not have strategic resources as such resort to attempts to take control of even inhabited lands occupied by estranged groups in order to maximize their economic advantage, thereby triggering off inter-group conflicts and crises. This is usually the genesis of the question of who is an indigene and who is a settler in some northern states and violence that accompanies it.

A vital steps needs to be taken to neutralize this poisonous effects on ethnicity and religion through mass education programme which can give the people an insight into the basis of their endemic underdevelopment and misery rather than getting on one another’s neck Coupled with the abysmal failure of some states and local governments to perform in spite of the huge resources at their disposal, it is not a wonder that the welfare of their communities under their charge can only deteriorate by the day.

INEQUALITY IN HDIS ACROSS RELIGION AND TRIBES IN NIGERIA

The status of development indicators in Nigeria according to the World Development Reports (World Bank, 2006 and 2007) paint a sorry picture of Nigeria’s development status compared to similar developing nations of the world like Malaysia, Brazil, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Kenya to mention but a few. Some of these indicators include the purchasing power of the country, level of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, prevalence of child malnutrition, primary school completion rate, gender parity ratio in education and employment, child and maternal mortality rate, HIV prevalence rate, skilled health staff, public expenditure, trained teachers, etc.

This backward status of Nigeria among other nations of the world cannot be farfetched in view of the security plight of the nation today. Nigeria can be described as deprived 0of peace and unity which is paramount for any nation’s development. However, even with this poor standing of the country among the nations of the developing world, Nigeria’s HDIs are not evenly spread across faith and tribes. These gaps can breed envy exploitation, corruption and make some people better in terms of resource control than others. The situation certainly can result into frustration, anger and violence as we can also see in the revolutionary uprisings in many other parts of the world i.e. the Middle Eastern countries, and even in the recent London riots by youths in Britain.

So, as long as these issues remain as pawns in the political games of this country as seen by some people, will crises and conflicts based on these primordial considerations continue to afflict the country.

The solution to the problem again lies in an even and well-articulated development that can capture all regions, faiths, and peoples of Nigeria. More importantly, because the interests of the majority of the Nigerian citizens have for long been artificially kept narrow as a result of parochialism, selfishness and dishonesty of some in the Nigerian leadership.

TACKLING GAPS IN HDIS WITHIN NIGERIA TO ACHIEVE PEACE AND HARMONY ACROSS FAITHS AND TRIBES

The following can be considered;

  1. PREVENTING EDUCATIONAL GAPS

It should perhaps be stated at the outset that education is a means of minimizing inequalities.

Wide disparities between access to education and quality of schools in Nigeria today cannot be in the interest of equity in education because of what the experience of these disparities mean to the unhappiness and lack of wellbeing and deprivation of the people. The blueprint for egalitarianism and equality in Nigeria education indicates respect for equity, and the fundamental rights of every Nigerian child. Simply put in the words of the National Policy on Education (FRN, 2oo4) is the respect for the worth and dignity of the individual, cutting across faiths and tribes in Nigeria.

The level of ignorance in some parts of Nigeria is still high. Problems of street children, education of the Almajiris, the destitute, the prostitutes, etc., are all important issues that need to be addressed seriously by the government. These people should be provided with relevant education like the skill training acquisition to change their lives for the better and integrate them into the larger society.

  1. SUSTAINING GENDER BALANCE IN EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENTS

There is need to pursue and ensure that gender balance in relation to education and employment is given adequate attention. The girl-child should be properly educated and not inhibited in any area of study and allowed to practice in her chosen profession and trade which is a necessary collar to national development. Many talented females particularly in northern Nigeria are lost to their areas of talents and are married off at young age. So, to ensure effective participation of all in the development process, there is need to support gender equity in education, employment etc. in Nigeria. Women need to be empowered to maximize their potentials so as to become agents of change in the society.

The present administration has started taking the right step in the right direction by giving women 35% seats in federal appointments. This should also be reflected at both state and local government levels. The percentage of women’s involvement in government affairs should continue to rise to diminish the gender barriers in developmental efforts. Improvement on the life of women as mothers will go a long way to impact positively on their mode of raising their children especially in controlling them during conflict situations.

  1. TACKLING YOUTHUNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEM

Our training and working environment is less conducive and this has greatly affected the quality of training and various jobs in Nigeria. This is likely to be the most important reason why secondary school graduates or even university graduates have not been able to impact meaningfully on the nation’s development as reflected in the World Development Indices. Also, the gap between employment aspirations and actual opportunities is indeed getting wider every day and this will continue to lead to high employment rates (AJEYELEMI, 1981). These and other factors like the population explosion, rural-urban migration and the industrialization policy have also contributed to the problem of unemployment in Nigeria. These redundant young persons are frustrated, having nothing doing to earn a living and many have resorted to criminal activities and easily drawn by air of conflict and violence as alternative option for survival. In addition, unless the new UBE Act is faithfully implemented such that there is greater interaction between education and the world of work and unless government Industrial policies change towards rural development and the creation of more job opportunities for the ever increasing manpower being produced, Nigeria will continue to be faced with a very explosive school graduates [problem now and in the future (Balarabe, 2009). This situation is certainly dangerous in view of the involvement of our youth in high scale violence and conflicts Nigeria is witnessing recently.

  1. DETERIORATION OF THE SECURITY SYSTEM

The level of personal and group insecurity in Nigeria today is simply alarming evident in the broad day armed robberies of banks and individuals, sporadic kidnappings,, violent inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflicts, the remotely controlled suicide bombings of public places including police stations and resorts. The question on every body’s lips now is why are the security agencies unable to contain these forces in the country even when a substantial portion of the annual budget of the federal government goes to the security agencies?

The gravity of the situation is disturbing when we remember that the chief executives of the three tiers of government in the country, namely; the president, the governors, and the chairmen of the respective local governments are also the chief security officers at their respective domains. The members of the Security Council at these levels are drawn from the policed, the army, the national security service (NSS) and the traditional rulers. All decisions on important security matters at these levels are taken by these councils and they have at their disposal the various security agencies of the country to maintain law and order, but this proved abortive. Then this situation to my mind begs for the security agencies of this country to be x-rayed so that all grey areas in their formations and capabilities are properly remedied bearing in mind the complex heterogeneous and culturally diverse nation like the Nigerian Federation. To achieve this, a serious look into the security affairs of this country can help contain ethno-religious problems in Nigeria, Provision of state security outfit can go a long way to complement the efforts of the federal security.

RESPECT FOR ALL TRIBES AND FAITHS OF NIGERIA THROUGH EDUCATION.

The recognition of education as an inevitable instrument for effecting national development is epitomized in its role not only as a sector in development parallel to industry or agriculture, etc., but as an activity that sustains and accelerates overa;; development, national stability, efficiency and progress. Education for the respect of all people and faiths is one of the objectives of national unity and stability for effective. This can be achieved through the following among others.

  1. ROLE OF THE FEDERAL, STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS.

There is need to reorient the national security to respect all people and faiths in Nigeria. By this, policies must be put in place to ensure that the dignity and importance of all faiths and tribes are protected. The laws of the state must be respected, perpetrators of violence should be exposed and they should be made to face the wrath of the law. By way of motivation, the federal government should be able to honour deserving states with special awards in recognition for their peaceful coexistence for purpose of national strength and development. There is also the need to provide scholarship to our youths who are idle who are vulnerable to crises, cutting across all faiths and tribes nationwide, just as with the case of the Riverine boys who have benefitted in their hundreds from various training programme abroad.

Government sponsoring periodic inter-cultural fair at which inter-groups coexistence is equally desired.

  1. ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITIES

Higher institutions like the universities should continue to provide training to help members in the society and their immediate communities to increase their knowledge and skills and promote their levels of literacy so as to reduce ignorance among the Nigerian populace. An indication from a survey study revealed that there is overwhelming desire for continuing education by state governments and the general public (Dukku, 1993), so universities should assist in training and uplifting the educational levels of the working populace especially among post primary school leavers who did not have opportunities for further formal learning and who are the most vulnerable in terms of crises and conflicts. Higher institutions countrywide should initiate relevant training programmes and support them. School enrolments and staffing for various employments in both public and private sectors should cut across all tribes and faiths.

  1. ROLE OF SCHOOL CURRICULUM

Relevant courses at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels should reviewed to meet the needs of the Nigerian people in terms of respect for faith and tribe. To ensure that the curriculum is followed, the inspectorate divisions for all levels of education should be strengthened to be able to carry out their jobs efficiently. School psychologists as well as guidance counsellors in all institutions of learning should be

Strengthened and focused to train their students to work hard to promote peaceful coexistence in their schools and their immediate communities. Material development for schools such as textbooks at all levels must ensure equity in tribal and religious representation. Teachers should take up this challenge in classroom teaching and ensure balance representation of religion and tribes in the context of teaching and learning; this will make learning easier and can promote respect and dignity for one another.

  1. TRAINING ISSUE

Conferences and workshop attendance must be available for parents on their parenting their wards. Hospital staff, religious clerics and security agents need to be trained and sensitized periodically on the need to bridge the gap between faith and tribes in Nigeria, This is because a lot have been said about tribal and religious sentiments among hospital personnel, particularly among the nurses, among worshipping houses and even among the security forces in their operations, This ugly situation must be prevented among the perpetrators. They must have a change of heart and attitude if Nigeria is to move forward.

  1. ELECTRONIC AND MEDIA PUBLICITY

Electronic and other print media like the mobile phones, street posters and academic papers as well as various other forms of publications should be strive to educate the public through the best means possible to promote unity and peaceful coexistence among the diverse nature of the Nigerian populace. The role of the NGOs in this direction cannot be under-estimated.

CONCLUSION

The problem of violent conflict and crises of ethnicity and religion poses for Nigeria are real and dangerous. It seems that some individuals and groups tend to capitalize on this phenomenon to feather their nests at the expense of lives and survival of whole communities in this country. The point has been made that unless the gaps created in Nigeria’s HDIs is bridged and viable option for re-directing the communities and states is taken in terms of respect for religion and ethnicity for the development and progress of Nigeria, these will continue to elude them. The need to campaign for the respect for all faiths and tribes through educational means cannot be overemphasized; if the present and future generations of this country that are vulnerable to the menace of violence are not to be wasted and National Unity is to be attained.

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