By Mohammed Ibrahim
Religious leaders in northwest Nigeria are concerned about false COVID-19 information and rising tension caused by the closure of mosques and churches in the area.
In Kaduna, rumors have circulated that the virus was created by secular European countries to deny residents the right to practice their faith. Mosques and churches have been shutdown across Kaduna State to avoid community transmission of the virus for months but congregation members admit to holding secret gatherings despite the lock-down order imposed by the state government.
To fight misinformation and tackle unrest in the region, Interfaith Mediation Center members recently met with journalists at the Peace Journalism Forum. Ibrahima Yakubu, a journalist and member of the forum, said working across religious divides right now is crucial.
"We feel the need to find ways to fight fake news within our society because the false information about the virus is really causing serious damage in the fight against the pandemic,” Yakubu said.
"The information we are disseminating through the media stations we work for is helping to provide accurate information about the virus especially to those in rural areas," he said.
The interfaith and media groups have focused on accessing information from government agencies tasked with the responsibility of providing authentic information about the virus for dissemination.
"We also carried out research through interviews with experts and other stakeholders like National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) which is an agency providing updates on the pandemic in Nigeria," Yakubu said.
But with residents often mistrusting wider public information, the groups are also attempting to engage residents on a personal level.
"We are trying to convince our people that all these theories [about COVID-19 being intentional] are false," said Interfaith Mediation Centre co-chair Imam Nurayn Ashafa (pictured right).
“We want our people to know that the virus has nothing to do with religion or tribe, it's simply a natural disaster or a global pandemic," he said.
Journalist Amos Tauna said those spreading false information about the virus are only creating unnecessary fear, and that the best way to fight the virus is to abide by the guidelines provided by health workers.
"As a Muslim or Christian, not going to the mosque or church has not taken away your religion, your faith remains with you and this has been our message to the people,” Tauna said.
Pastor James Wuye, co-chair of Interfaith Mediation Centre, said closing houses of worship is an important step to protect people from contracting the virus.
"Any pastor who thinks closing the church during this pandemic was wrong is not telling the right information to the people because the Bible teaches us to stay away from dangers,” Wuye said.