The Director General of (NOA), Dr Garba Abari, said this during a workshop, organised for religious leaders on ‘interreligious and intercultural dialogue, in collaboration with the Africa Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL).
Represented by the Director, Special Duties and State Operation at NOA, Mrs Mette Edokobi, the NOA Chief said the training workshop was to reawaken the consciousness of religious leaders to the critical role that they must play in national peace building.
Abari described religious leaders as the most revered group of leaders in Africa and the world, adding that they have the vanguard role of curbing ethnic intolerance, hate speech, fake news and violent crimes.
“So this training workshop is targeted at religious leaders as part of efforts to equip participants with a clear understanding of how religious leaders can contribute to peace building.
”And what they need to do to enhance community resilience in line with their sacred calling to divine service,” he said.
According to him, the upsurge in ethnic intolerance, hate speeches and fake news in the country has reached an alarming and dangerous proportion, capable of heating up the polity and destroying the very fabric of the national peace and unity.
“Ethnic intolerance is usually intended to instigate hate, anger and acrimony with the main aim of causing disaffection, division, violence and even war among various ethnic groups who had coexisted peacefully for many years.
“Inter-ethnic disharmony is mostly driven by fake news and outright falsehood; distorted or alternative facts purveyed as authentic news intended to mislead people, cause disaffection, confusion and chaos.
“The advent of the internet, especially the social media, has encouraged the spread of inter-religious crisis in the country like wild fire,” he said.
He explained that religious bigots had elevated their pulpits for the sermonisation of ethnic hate rather than love and unity while ethnic warlords are deploying hate speech to pursue their selfish agendas.
He added that the youths who ought to deploy their creative energies for productive ventures and national development have become the prime bearers and promoters of inter-ethnic disharmony driven by hate speech and fake news.
He commended AFRICMIL for partnering with them, urging them to use their platform to educate religious leaders.
Speaking at the event, the Coordinator AFRICMIL, Mr Chido Onumah, said their overall aim is to promote peace and religious coexistence in Nigerians.
Onumah said the workshop is to empower religious and cultural leaders who play a teaching and guiding role in their communities to use Media and Information Literacy (MIL) to analyse their information and messages they pass across.
“If we train the religious leaders who will in turn train their followers and this will help change the narrative in promoting peace and inter-religious tolerance in the country.
“This will also create synergy and understanding among religious leaders,” he said.
He added that they have developed training manual to assist religious leaders and their followers navigate social media and overcome challenges.
“With this process, religious leaders and their followers will be equipped with the skills that will enable them critically analyse news media content,” he said.
Responding, the Chairperson, Jamatul Nasiru Islam, Women Wing, Benue State Chapter, Hajia Hauwa Isah, said that religious leaders should be positive in messages they voice out.
“They have voice and they should make sure that whatever comes from their mouth does not cause ethnic crisis.
“I do not see anything wrong in Christianity and Islam and we should tolerate one another with love and understanding,” she said.
She noted that the teachings and messages from religious leaders have changed the youths and society at large.
”People that look at Christianity as barbaric should stop and those that see Islam as barbaric should also stop,” she said. (NAN)