Participants in a workshop on ethno-religious conflict and peace journalism in volatile societies, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, proffer multiple reasons for rising ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria.
By Clarice Azuatalam, Port Harcourt
One key reason Nigeria is entangled in ethno-religious conflict has been traced to multi-ethnic and religious composition of the country.
This reason was canvassed recently by Mr Boye Salau, Business Editor of Nigerian Tide Newspaper at a workshop in Port Harcourt, Rivers State of Nigeria, with the theme :”Ethno-Religious Conflict and Peace Journalism in Volatile Societies: The Role of the Media in Rivers State, Nigeria”.
Salau explained that with about 400 ethnic groups which belong to several religious sects existing in the country and with Christianity and Islam being the dominant ones “it is not unexpected that Nigeria would have a fair share of ethno-religious conflict.”
Salau also traced other causative factors to “growing religious extremism, real and perceived domination of one ethnic group over the other, ignorance, lack of tolerance and awareness and recurrent political tensions.”
Speaking at a workshop organized by Center For The Study Of African Culture And Communication (CESACC), Catholic Institute Of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt in collaboration with Onaiyekan Foundation For Peace (COFP) ,the Business Editor of Tide newspaper also noted that the phenomenal ethnic and religious intolerance in Nigeria has given birth to some ethnic militias across the different geographical areas of the country.
He also said that due to the “emergence of these ethnic militias and the deep divides among the various ethnic groups, religious intolerance has become violent and bloody with more devastating results, using the ethnic militias as the executors of ethno-religious agenda.”
Salau explained that where conflicting groups define themselves along ethno-religious lines, ethnic identity or religious preference , “it would create sharp differences and lead to social tensions in the society.”
In his incisive paper,Salau painted a sad picture of two ethno-religious conflicts that had occurred in the Oyigbo area of Rivers State and posited that media reports had been lacking in accuracy on the two incidents.
To eschew conflict in the state, Salau urged the media to be circumspect, fair and balanced in the reports they present to the reading public, adding that “by supplying credible information to the public, the media can help in managing conflicts and promote peace in the society.”
While noting that the mass media has the social responsibility to manage or de-escalate conflict through accurate, objective and unbiased reports, he further recommended that the authorities should always oblige journalists with prompt and adequate information.
He also urged governments, through security agencies to provide enough safety for journalists in conflict zones as well as give them access to necessary information.
Additionally, he advised government to avoid the temptation of censoring news or gagging the media in a conflict situation as “doing so might create room for rumours, propaganda, hate speech and speculative journalism.”
In an opening remark, the Convener of the workshop, Rev. Fr. Dr Gerald Musa noted that there are ethno-religious conflicts in some parts of Africa such as the Old Sudan, Central African Republic and Nigeria.
Musa said that in all these areas, media organizations have played crucial roles in the conflicts by being mediators of peace or perpetrators of violence and therefore “the workshop is aimed at providing journalists with necessary knowledge about social responsibility and peace journalism.”
While admitting that ethno-religious conflicts are not common in Rivers State, he stated that “it was clear that the October 2020 #EndSARS protest was hi-jacked by ethnic and religious bigots in Oyigbo Local Government of the state.”
The workshop convener also explained that some journalists in the state who were not familiar with ethno-religious conflicts had little skills in reporting such conflicts, and pointed out that it was for that reason that the workshop is aimed at reminding and enlightening journalists and students of communication about the need for high ethical and professional standards in reporting conflicts.
The workshop, he further stated “accentuates the social responsibility of reporters in fostering public dialogue and in representing all voices equally”, in order to promote peace through news reporting.
The Rector of CIWA, Very Rev. Fr. Jude Asanbe said that the world could live in a better place and urged journalists to drive the peace through their reports.
Asanbe who was represented by Rev.Msgr. Joseph Faniran, described the theme of the workshop as apt adding that the conference came at good time and at a good venue.
The Rivers State Commissioner for Information and Communications, Mr Paulinus Nsirim urged journalists to guard their utterances to avoid escalating crisis.
Nsirim who was represented by the Director of Publications in the Ministry, Mr Val Ugbomah also said that Rivers State has been existing peacefully with all the various ethnic groups that live in the state and urged the participants at the workshop to ensure that they report accurately.
The Rivers State Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr Stanley Job Stanley who emphasized on the need for training of journalists also advised them to ensure their safety while on the beat.
Stanley who decried the existence of quacks in journalism in Rivers State also informed that the NUJ under his watch is collaborating with the Police to deal with such persons.
He further commended the Convener of the workshop, describing the theme as very apt in view of what is happening in the country now.