Officials in Plateau State on Monday launched an interreligious council to study and solve conflicts that have persisted for decades, claiming thousands of lives in the State.
At least 1000 people were killed in Jos, the capital of the State, in the first religious clashes between Christians and Muslims in 2001. Several others were killed in at least five relapses, in addition to series of isolated attacks mostly in remote villages.
Most of the killings were not religiously motivated, said Director General of the Plateau State Peace Building Agency, Mr. Joseph Lengmang. However, “The conflicts often take religious connotations, making it difficult to separate religion,” Lengmang said at the inaugural meeting of the first interreligious council established by the State Governor, Simon Lalong last two months.
The interreligious council is expected to “promote the culture of interfaith dialogue as a viable mechanism for peaceful co-existence, understanding and religious tolerance in Plateau state, to work with different faith communities and other organizations that work across faith lines to expand respect for religious pluralism and freedom of religion or belief in Plateau state, to offer advisory services to the State Government on matters of religious practice as well as deliberate on reported cases of religious conflicts and proffer urgent solutions for government’s intervention.
Furthermore, the Council will work “closely” with relevant agencies of government to improve social cohesion as well as promote the agenda of Peace on the Plateau through healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.
But essentially, the Council will serve as advisory body to the State Peace Building Agency, a “critical foundation” for the attainment of the agency’s objectives, said its Chief Executive, Mr. Lengmang.
This is the first time the agency is officially working with an independent Government body to proffer solutions to violent conflicts in the State. But it is a “huge milestone and we are more than delighted and grateful to the Governor for the move,” Lengmang said.
“Government, religion on trial”
The interreligious council has heads of religious organizations from across the State as members, a “long awaited opportunity for religious leaders to contribute in governance,” said Co-chairman of the council, Rev. Prof. Pandang Yamsat.
Both Government and religion are on trial before the public court, Yamsat said at the inaugural meeting of the council. In his words, “Government is on trial by the Plateau Public Court because Government and its security outfits have been accused of being complicit in the growing security crises in Nigeria.
“The two religions that compose this Council are on trial by the same public court because they have been accused of being the source of the crises that have bedeviled the State since 2001.”
But recognizing the role of religious leaders in governance through the establishment of the council, Yamsat said will reduce “the much exploitation of religion for crafty and selfish political purposes instead of common purposes and the abuse of religion for personal gains instead of public benefits.”
This will however not happen, said Cochairman Sambo Haruna, the Emir of Wase, until members speak with sincerity and commitment to peace.
The inaugural meeting was expected to craft a direction for the Council, which might last till 2023.