The leaders spoke at a program in Abuja, the Nigerian capital. A former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, on Tuesday criticised aggressiveness among adherents of major religions in Africa.
He said such attitude ignored the significant role of religion as a communion between an individual and his God. Kufour made the remark in Abuja at the 10th Anniversary Public Lecture of the Sun Newspapers, with the theme, "Religion, Strife and the Future of Democracy in Africa". The former Ghanaian leader, who was the guest speaker, said that religious rights were merely a subset of democratic rights, which "are therefore inseparable".
He quoted Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that: "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status..."
"Religion has been with mankind since man has been known to inhabit this earth. It is natural that any discussion of man can never skirt the discussion of religion. Conflicts tend to emanate from the tendency of a religious group believing that people that do not share in its beliefs are less favoured and, therefore, should be treated as outcasts. Therefore, it is not religion in itself that generates conflict, rather it is dogmatists and extreme doctrinaires that are the causes of the recurring conflicts," he said.
The Nigeria Senate President, David Mark, said that inter-faith dialogue was the only way to resolve religious conflicts and extremism in Nigeria. He said that religion and politics had always exerted influence on human affairs, considering that both shared many things in common "as you cannot easily separate one from the other."
"All the major religions preach peace. One of the most abiding principles common in all religion is "do onto others what you want them to do onto you." Mr. Mark said Nigeria’s major challenge was existence of religious movements adhering to fundamental principles and exhibiting intolerance of others religious views.
"Especially in the North, religious violence has become common place in towns with mixed population. However, religious fundamentalism poses a great threat to our democracy as manifested in the insurgence of Boko Haram," he said.
According to him, religion promotes good citizenship as well as democratic values and culture if properly propagated by moderates rather than fundamentalists. He called on religious leaders to promote and defend human rights in their messages to their followers as this action would go a long way in encouraging good governance.