God is teaching us some lessons — Religious leader

Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP) in collaboration with Faith for Peace Initiative (FPI) has charged Nigerians to recognize that God, through this pandemic, is teaching the citizenry some lessons, urging all to come together to fight this common nemesis.

This was part of the recommendation at its online Faith Leaders’ Dialogue Forum on the theme, Role of Faith and Inter-Faith Communities on Post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery, a webinar held recently.

The Forum which had the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), Rev. Fr. (Prof.) Cornelius Omonokhua, as the Keynote Speaker, Dr (Imam) Abdullahi Shuaib, CEO, Jaiz Charity, and Development Foundation and former Co-Chairman of NIREC in Lagos State, as the Lead Discussant, Sr. Agatha Chikelue, Executive Director of COFP Foundation, as the Chief Host was convened and moderated by Tajudeen Alabede, a COFP Fellow and Director of FPI.

The forum, while affirming that COVID-19 does not respect faith, gender, race, age, social status, and other demographic realities, said religious leaders have a critical role to play in combating the social and economic challenges of COVID-19 pandemic.

In a communique at the end of the event, the group lamented Faith Communities are not represented in the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19 and, therefore, urged the Government to do the needful by recognizing the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities as development partners and patriotic allies in the fight against COVID-19.

It also appealed to both the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities to do more in lifting the hope of our people by harnessing the power of faith for the common good and, as a result, step up their complementary role in economic development and poverty alleviation as we all grapple with the effects of COVID-19.

“In playing this role, the Forum urged the Faith Communities to place emphasis on Joint Community Action by the leaders of both faiths at all levels; this way, the Faith Communities would work together, complement each other and share resources and experiences as we all face this common challenge to our humanity.

“The Forum observed that the Faith Communities are not represented in the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19 and, therefore, urged the Government to do the needful by recognizing the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities as development partners and patriotic allies in the fight against COVID-19 as religious leaders are the closest set of leaders to the citizens.

“The Forum, while recognizing that COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the crisis of governance bedeviling the nation as it has shown the gross inadequacies in our governance system with massive deficits in health, education and other sectors, called on the Government to seize this opportunity to review the governance system so as to make it more effective and efficient as well as to prepare the nation for any future challenge of the scale of COVID-19crisis.

“While noting that, even prior to COVID-19 crisis, more than 82 million Nigerians were living on less than one dollar a day, the Forum called on the Government to provide an enabling environment for the creation of jobs on a massive scale, offer interest-free loans to citizens, provide incentives to employers of labor and start-ups, ensure transparent management of the intervention schemes, reduce non-essential spending and invest more in essential services such as health, education, technology, security and other services that would support decent livelihood by Nigerian citizens.

“To combat the hunger challenge occasioned by COVID-19, the Forum advised that conscious efforts should be made by Governments and the Faith Communities to encourage Nigerian youths to take to agribusiness.

“The Forum appealed to the private sector, as the driver of the economy, to develop services and products that could catalyze national productivity and socially-inclusive economic recovery.

“The Forum urged religious leaders to be more fervent in admonishing their followers to turn to their respective scriptures to find comfort at this difficult time, promote safe practices, build trust between the people and the government, embark on a sustained campaign on discipline at both the personal and social levels, dissuade people from politicizing the pandemic and other common challenges, discourage waste, both individually and collectively, foster compassion towards vulnerable members of the society,

encourage the consumption of locally produced foods and goods and monitor government spending and application of resources for capital projects.

The forum also encouraged the Faith Communities to collaborate on charitable initiatives while efforts should be made towards deploying Zakat, tithe and charitable donations to attend to the needs of vulnerable citizens and embark on strong advocacy on financial literacy among their members in order to facilitate the utilization of non-interest social and commercial finance instruments for short-term, medium-term and long-term interventions.

It called on religious leaders to intensify efforts to promote religious tolerance and harmony in order to create an atmosphere of peace and tranquility which is necessary to attract foreign investments and allow for free movement of goods and services across the country; in the same vein, the Government should do more to protect the citizens as the recent lockdown has led to an upsurge in cases of rape and other social vices.

It also called on NIREC, as the coordinating body for Inter-Faith matters in Nigeria, to rally religious leaders to take their social roles more seriously and facilitate the establishment of an Inter-Faith COVID-19 Council that would coordinate the responses of the Faith and Inter-Faith Communities to the COVID-19 crisis in Nigeria.

The Forum commended the efforts of governments at all levels, especially President Muhammadu Buhari, State Governors, and members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for providing leadership at this difficult time.

It also hailed inter-faith communities and the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) for supporting the government’s efforts towards stemming the health and socio-economic effects of the pandemic on vulnerable Nigerians.

The forum also lauded corporate organizations and public-spirited individuals for their efforts at
alleviating the effects of the pandemic and in managing its spread; as well as Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace (COFP) under the leadership of His Eminence, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, for providing the platform to unite people of different faiths for peace through dialogue.

Other facilitators were Very Rev. Kolade Fadahunsi, Director, Institute of Church and Society (CCN), Ibadan; Alhaji Kamor Disu, Executive Chairman, Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), Lagos; Very Rev. Fr. Bulus Karis Lukas, Director of InterReligious Dialogue and Vicar General (Admin), Kaduna Archdiocese, Catholic Church; Hajia Halimah Jibril, National Amirah, Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN); Apostle Nyeneime Andy, National President, Youth Wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria (YOWICAN); Mallam Sani Suleiman, National President, National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO); Mrs. Mary Asibi Gonsum, President, Catholic Women Organisation of Nigeria, Jos Archdiocese; and Mrs. Fatima Abubakar Madaki, Senior Project Coordinator, Search for Common Ground.


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