WITH unrelenting terror attacks, government sponsorship of religious pilgrimages, education and the influence of religious bodies, the World Council of Churches (WCC), in collaboration with the Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN), brought together stakeholders to discuss the reality of religious freedom as expressed in Nigeria.

Speaking at a forum on Friday, November 24, 2017,  with the theme: 2018: Focusing on Children’s Rights, the Archbishop of Ibadan, Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN), Most Reverend M.K. Stephen, who spoke on issues threatening religious freedom, noted that “religious violence has become a recurring decimal in Nigeria since the 1980s,” and that government should work towards creating an environment where “religion can function positively in a fair climate.”

He cited areas where religious freedom was questionable to include: government policy on education; religious pilgrimage; discrimination regarding places of worship; marginalisation of traditional religion, among others, and restated the need for public enlightenment and balance in ensuring religious freedom across all aspects of the polity.

Speaking on what necessitated the workshop, Programme Executive, Human Rights/Disarmament, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Jennifer Philpot-Nissen, noted that the forum was aimed at getting information for the United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Nigeria, scheduled for 2018, and Christian organisations were working on highlighting areas of rights abuses in the country, to call attention to these instances, in the effort to create a better society, where the rights of individuals, especially children, are respected.

Reverend Kolade Fadahunsi, in his address, highlighted how torture, military impunity, poverty, misplacement of justice, among others, were a spite on the rights of citizens, and urged government to take urgent steps to address the issues beyond mere rhetoric.

Chaplain of Methodist Girls’ High School, Yaba, Lagos, Deaconess Juliet Eneh, who spoke on the rights of women and children in various areas including s3xual exploitation, trafficking, domestic violence and genital mutilation, called for efforts to focus on balanced training for males and females on s3xual responsibility, and for stakeholders to support, beyond mere lip service, the freedom of expression and right to education, as well as ensure that women and children were not discriminated against in society.

Ms Celine Osukwu spoke on the rights of disabled persons, and how such had been abused in various areas, such as participating during elections, being stigmatised against, and not having access to food, shelter and clothing, because of their conditions.

She called for improved conditions for persons with disabilities, in line with their rights as full citizens.

Anna Hyvaniren of the Finnish Ecumenical Council, in her presentation, noted that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience or religion,” stating that every individual should be well represented in the Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).

The workshop featured practical discussions on rights of children, exercises on FoRB, discussions on gender-based violence, among others.

Also present were the principal and students of Christ Covenant School, Ibadan; students of Community High School, Samonda, Ibadan; Dean, Immanuel College of Theology, Very Reverend (Dr) Williams Egbetakin; Archbishop Charles Oderinde of the MCN and his wife, Margaret, as well as clerics and other participants.

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