By Marie-Therese Nanlong
The federal government has been called upon to use information and communication technology as a tool to change the behavior of opinion moulders especially religious leaders as they have the capacity to substantially reduce the occurrences of violent conflicts in the society.
The Coordinator, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy, AFRICMIL, Chido Onumah at a Town hall meeting on inter-religious and intercultural dialogue held on Monday in Jos, Plateau State noted that as persons whose opinions matter, it is necessary to educate and empower religious leaders on the use of social media rather than trying to pass a law to regulate the social media.
Speaking at the event which also saw the launching of training materials for religious leaders on promoting peace in the age of social media, Onumah through his organization’s Senior Programme Officer, Godwin Onyeacholem acknowledged that though the potential for religious crises is obvious in this age, religious leaders should be made to recognize and respond to groups that use the internet to promote stereotypes, preach religious extremism and promote violence.
His words, “Religion is important in Nigeria’s social and political relations so much that in some cases, access to jobs, education and key appointments could depend on which religion one practices. Although the Nigerian society is greatly polarized along a variety of fault lines, none threatens the peace and stability of the country more than religion.
“Divisive and hate speeches are regularly delivered by preachers and the faithful feel no restraint in physically carrying out the demands of these messages which are mostly extreme and in some cases, violent. More than ever, this is the time religious leaders should be made to recognize and respond to groups or individuals that are using the internet to promote violence.
“The government by trying to pass a law to regulate social media, that is not the way to go. There is urgent need to use media and information literacy as a tool to change the behavior of opinion moulders such as religious leaders in the society. Today’s meeting is to formally present a training manual developed by AFRICMIL to help religious leaders and their followers to navigate the social media, overcome the challenges and promote peace and religious coexistence in Nigeria.”
Also, the Director General of National Orientation Agency, NOA, Dr. Garba Abari, the representative of the Christian community, Dr. Zakka Peter and the representative of the Muslim community, Sheikh Ismail Adam who spoke at the event cautioned against religious intolerance.
Abari through the Plateau State Director of NOA, Bulus Dabit said, “Criminals take advantage of religion to do what they want to do, criminality is in the heart of insecurity. Communities are so protective of criminals and do not want to expose them, communities music resolve to profile criminals and expose them.”
Dr. Peter added that “Social media is being used to foster disunity in the land” and urged religious leaders in attendance to “take the meeting seriously and avoid giving wrong and misleading teachings to our followers,” while Adam who is the Deputy Chief Imam of the Jos Central Mosque stressed that “Islam and Christianity do not support hate speech which includes reading, writing or doing anything that incites violence.”
He however maintained that “Freedom of speech and association has been abused in Nigeria and most of those using the social media have no guidance.”