A former co-chairman of the Nigeria Inter-Relgious Council (NIREC) in Lagos State, Dr Abdullahi Shuaib, has urged religious leaders to prioritise messages of hope in their preaching to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the people.
He made the plea during a virtual ‘Faith Leaders’ Dialogue Forum’ organised by the Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace, in collaboration with Faith for Peace Initiative.
Dr Shuaib said considering the devastating effects of the pandemic on the socio-economic activities of the people, there was the need for religious leaders to provide spiritual tonic that would rekindle the hope of their subjects in God that with strong faith and prayers their loss would be replenished.
Dr Shuaib who lauded the initiative of faith based organisations by providing palliatives to less privileged said more would be necessary after coronavirus pandemic but in a more coordinated manner.
“They need not to duplicate their activities but complement one another. If one is addressing the economic aspects, others could look at the area of human and health development,” he said.
He called on religious leaders to see themselves as development partners in the area of provision of food to the people “as many are crying of hunger and the problem of hunger is deadlier than the coronavirus itself.”
Dr Shuaib called on NIREC to see to the establishment of an Inter-Faith COVID-19 Council that would coordinate the responses of the faith and inter-faith communities to the coronavirus crisis in Nigeria.
Contributing, the national president of the youth wing of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Apostle Nyeneime Andy, said the number of individuals tagging COVID-19 as a scam would have been reduced if the government had carried religious leaders along from the beginning, considering their influence and closeness to the people.
“The government should see religious leaders as partners in fighting the virus because of their influence on people. In fact, people would have taken the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 more seriously and the idea of the virus being a scam would be minimal if some religious leaders have been part of the task force,” Apostle Andy said.
Also speaking, the national amirah (president) of the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), Hajiya Halimah Jibril, noted that COVID-19 had made everyone become vulnerable and called on religious leaders to use their resources to empower the people.
“This is the time to use both zakaat and tithe to build individuals and to give hope to the hopeless,” Hajiya Jibril said.
In a remark, the executive secretary of NIREC, Reverend-Father Cornelius Omonokhua, noted that COVID-19 had challenged the faith and that was why the council considered prayers as essential as it beat all imaginations how a virus could shut down the whole world.
The chief host of the programme and executive director of Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace, Reverend-Sister Agatha Chikelue, described COVID-19 as no respecter of colour, race or religion as it has wrecked havoc on people’s livelihood.
According to her, there is the need for interfaith collaboration on how people could bounce back.