Promoting peaceful co-existence through inter-religious education
DEEP knowledge of various religious and ethnic backgrounds in the country has been described as a veritable tool to promoting peace and harmony among Nigerians.
Former Vice Chancellor, University of Ilorin and Executive Secretary, Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC), Professor Is-haq Oloyede, disclosed this at a forum organised by the Obafemi Awolowo University Muslim Graduates’ Association (UNIFEMGA), Lagos chapter forum, recently.
Oloyede, who was apparently irked by the lingering effects of ethnic conflicts on university education in the country, said there was urgent need for dialogue and understanding to bridge the gap in the education system. He said: “Nigeria is a plural society in terms of its multi ethnic and multi-religious nature.
The country has more than 400 ethnic groups and two major religions (Islam and Christianity). It is unfortunate that the country’s cultural diversity is politicized and exploited by the elite in such a way that retards the nation’s growth and progress.”
As a scholar and Muslim leader, Oloyede also noted that it has been clearly established at various meetings of the Nigeria Inter-religious Council that the major cause of religious crisis in Nigeria is that many adherents of the two major religions in the country – Islam and Christianity – do not have sufficient information on what each other’s religion preaches. “The Muslims are poorly educated about Christianity and the Christians are poorly educated about Islam.
The reason is that there is limited opportunity for exchange of information between the adherents of the two religions. NIREC was established to deal with this problem.
“We believe that our students benefit significantly from education that takes place within a diverse setting. In the course of their university education, our students encounter and learn from others who have backgrounds and characteristics very different from their own.
As we seek to prepare students for life in the twenty-first century, the educational value of such encounters will become very important, not less, than in the past,” he said.
Oloyede however said that the ethnic and religious conflicts in the country affect all aspects of Nigeria’s national life, most especially resource allocation and management of public institutions.
“The problem has produced several bloody crises across the country in addition to the 1967-1970 Nigerian civil war. The national crisis negatively affects higher education in terms of how ethnic groups compete for the location and management of Federal Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education and Colleges of Agriculture.
The university system is the most contested,” he lamented. Emphasising on the ethnic interests, Oloyede noted that the aggressive competition between the diverse groups in Nigeria for the control of the universities have significant roles to play in elite formation and recruitment due to the fact that the institutions generate local employment and economic regeneration.
Nigeria today has 40 Federal, 39 State and 59 private universities, making a total of 138. But the university don believed that the conflict of interest with respect to locality and tribalism makes the need for fostering the culture of dialogue and understanding a major national project for Nigeria to develop its university education.
According to him, dialogue, understanding and tolerance is easier achieved where vice chancellors adhere strictly to the rules in governing the universities, adding that where the system is manipulative, both students and staff would expect their narrow interests to be served by the university administration.
He also stressed the need for universities to invest more in academic and cultural activities that could help to make the diverse groups in the university system to work together.
If a well coordinated dialogue and understanding is promoted, he said tension would reduce in Nigerian universities and the institutions would be better placed to contribute to inter-cultural dialogue once the intensity of the elite-driven ethnic and religious conflicts in the country is reduced. .