By Nseobong Okon-Ekong
The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Samuel Brownback, has urged Nigerian political office holders, representatives of civil society and religious leaders to avoid amplifying ethno-religious tension in the country and to focus on peacebuilding.
At a one-day national youth dialogue on ethno-religious tolerance organized by the U.S Consulate General Lagos, in partnership with the African Youths Initiative for Crime Prevention (AYICRIP), Ambassador Brownback, who met with a group of religious leaders during a recent visit to Nigeria in June, commended increased inter-faith engagement and dialogue in Nigeria, but noted that the country can do more to protect citizens’ right to religious freedom.
“When I visited Nigeria in June, I met with communities from all different faiths located all over the country and heard about how interfaith groups and people from every religion have come together to begin stopping the violence at the community level, which is a great starting point,” Brownback said.
“However, we need to do better than just achieving tolerance; we need to truly care for each other. The people who stand for peace do not do this because they are from the same ethnic group, or because they share a common religion. They believe the lives of everyone are sacred,” he added.
U.S. Consul General John Bray, who opened the event, reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting initiatives that promote peace and admonished Nigerians to ensure that cyclical communal violence does not threaten national unity.
“Each of us has a role to play in tamping down tensions between communities of all kinds,” Bray noted.
“It is in your hands to ensure that this tragic violence does not descend into broader ethnic and religious fighting, and a cycle of reprisals. We must all make sure that the fighting does not eat away at the fabric of Nigeria, the multi-religious and multiethnic tolerance that makes this a great and unified nation,” he concluded.