Religious leaders and fostering national security

In some quarters, they are regarded as vanguards of peace, unity and national integration. Religious leaders, also, often do not shirk their sacred responsibility of preaching and advocating, among other cherished societal values, good neighbourliness, tolerance and harmonious co-existence, among citizens.

As distant disciples of the revered and iconic Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) of Islam and Jesus Christ of the Christendom, religious clerics shoulder the heavy burden of canvassing inter-religious harmony among citizens of diverse religious creeds.

In a cosmopolitan modern-day Nigerian society, the gospel of harmonious living is not, and should not be served the masses alone. The leaders superintending over the affairs of the country should also be told the gospel truth. Even if their oxen will be gored.

The need for that becomes even pertinent judging by the fact that religion, many citizens believe, is one of the factors stunting the country’s socio-economic growth. Not only politicians, but Nigerians are quick to employ ethno-religious sentiments in furthering their vested interests or self-serving ambitions.

However, a departure from such a reprehensible and obnoxious attitude is needed at a time like this. It is one dimension of fixing Nigeria’s leadership conundrum, and in addition, bringing the nation out of its socio-economic quagmire. There is a dire need for an attitudinal reformation by all and sundry – both the rulers and the led.

Religious leaders in the country should welcome the challenge. Now is the time for them to take up the gauntlet. They should reinvent themselves as key stakeholders in the Nigerian project. They may lack the constitutional power to influence policy formations and also effect their Implementations.

But they should not remain docile. Amid the socio-economic turmoil confronting the nation, their voices of reason should start renting the air, and perhaps in a raucous tone. They should not waver in speaking truth to power, like some of them have been doing, since time immemorial.

Our religious leaders, definitely are concerned about the country’s lingering insecurity. But they have done little in recent years to help the government and security agencies tackle the menace. And that may be owing to the fact that they lack the instrument of coercion or the constitutional power to reign in criminals terrorizing citizens and the Nigerian State.

That, however, does not foreclose the opportunity for them to constructively and objectively engage security heads and service chiefs. Towards preferring lasting solutions to our security woes, they can individually or as umbrella bodies, visit our security heads, and on such occasions, cross fertilize ideas on ways to boost national security.

About a month ago, the Chief Imam of Abuja National Mosque, Prof. Ibrahim Ahmad Maqari did just that. He led a three-man delegation to the Defence Headquarters, DHQ, on a courtesy visit to Gen. Christopher Gwabin Musa, the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS.

To the best of my knowledge, Prof. Maqari’s visit was the first by any Nigerian religious cleric, to the DHQ. Coming at a time Gen. Musa is gradually settling down in office, but amid pervasive insecurity, the visit of the National Mosque Imam was one that should open the floodgate of similar adventures by our ‘Men of God’. Not only to Gen. Musa, but other Chief Executives of our security, military and para-military forces.

During his session with the Nigerian Defence Chief, Prof. Maqari commended the officers and men of the Armed Forces for their contribution to nation building. He also congratulated Gen. Musa on his well-deserved appointment and promotion by the Commander-in-Chief, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The renowned cleric, then emphasized the need for religious tolerance among citizens. According to him, peaceful co-existence among different groups in the country, is a fundamental necessity for achieving unity, and accelerated national development.

To build the capacity of Nigerian religious leaders on driving the peaceful co-existence agenda, Prof. Maqari disclosed that a Peace Building Centre has been established to train Islamic clerics, on ways to promote peace in the land, and among citizens.

Responding, General Musa thanked the National Mosque’s Chief Imam for the visit and applauded him for his ceaseless advocacy on the need for a peaceful Nigerian society. The CDS also acknowledged the roles of religious leaders towards building inter-faith tolerance, saying it will promote peaceful co-existence among citizens.

He further noted that unity and tolerance are crucial values required to ensure peace and tolerance in a multi-religious society like ours. If Nigeria desires to be a haven, where peace among its citizens will rein, then its leaders must collectively work towards achieving that.

It is heartwarming that Prof. Maqari and General Musa are thinking along that direction. But their meeting should not just stop there. It should go a step further. They should brainstorm on ways to implement the ideas shared during their parley, which can help tackle our existential security threats.

Other clergymen and Islamic clerics in the country should do the same. They should not hesitate in sharing their invaluable inputs to our security agencies, who are saddled with the onerous tasks of guaranteeing national security – which can only be achieved in an atmosphere devoid of violence. In that regard, they should be bold to speak truth to power. They should, however not forget to pray in their closets, for the nation’s security strategists.

Another thing they need to do is to impart sound religious knowledge, promoting good moral values, on their adherents and followers. They should condemn and caution their disciples from acts akin to religious extremism, as they are already manifesting in Boko Haram, armed banditry, and violent ethnic clashes, among others.

On their part, our security heads, service chiefs and in extension, the ruling class, should begin to see religious leaders in the country as partners in progress, working towards ensuring a safe, peaceful and secured Nigeria. They should not jettison the sermonizations of our bishops, pastors and Imams. The exhortations of righteousness by these men of God are truly celestial decrees, made by the Almighty Creator himself. Hence, they must not be dismissed flagrantly.

To hearken to the wise counsel by our religious preachers on how to build a prosperous and egalitarian Nigeria, the government, security agencies, the military, together with other persons saddled with the mandate of protecting teeming Nigerians and the nation itself, can afford not to have every other thing. Insofar they can summon the political will to genuinely act accordingly, when the stakes are high. Instead of playing to the gallery.

Mahmud, deputy editor, PRNigeria, writes from Abuja via [email protected].