Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
Dialogue is one of the most effective means of promoting peace and unity. It provides the opportunity for people to be engagedin conversation with one another instead of living with grudges and hurts. Dialogue is directed towards a particular subject not in the form of debate that is competitive but in a cooperativeconversation to act on an accepted decision. Dialogue of social engagement is the coming together of different religious adherents without coercion to take action on common concerns for the wellbeing of individuals. This form of dialogue enables partners to explore means of engagement that could provide a conducive environment for industry, commerce and agriculture. It is a courageous approach to ameliorate human misery and distress. Every human person is psychologically conditioned and this could cause anxiety that must be managed with common commitment to enable full humanity with abundant life (John 10:10). This calls for patriotism and love for the common good. Every genuine patriot thinks of civilization and what to contribute to the wellbeing of the citizens, communities, regionsand institutions.
Isolated efforts to source for attention or solution to each individual concern is a key indicator that we are running in the wrong direction. A wrong mission cannot reach a desired vision. If each person, community or region do not care about what happens to the other but take advantage of the system, we may not be far from anarchy. We can do better by contributing to what can empower the nation to provide for every citizen. By so doing, we escape the danger of consuming each other. We need to heal the endemic syndrome of “either me or no one else” with the balm of dialogue of social engagement. This is necessary when the nation appears to be gasping for the breath of oneness. Let us defend the sovereignty of the nation and protect religion from being used as a cover to destabilize the nation. We need to combat religious extremism that has been used to kill so many people.
Dialogue of Religious experience means that adherents of different religious jointly confront the evil that is ravaging the nation instead of falling into the trap of religious war that the terrorists has put in place. The essence of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) is for Christians and Muslims to promote peaceful co-existence. The right and obligation to defend a person’s religion should not contradict this commonmission of promoting peace. If every Muslim or Christian isconcerned only with what benefits the citizens based on religious affiliation, you can be sure that no one will attain the vision of peace. This is why justice demands that leadership should be transparent in a way and manner that transcends religious and ethnic discrimination.
So many Christians and Muslims have died in the hands of terrorists, kidnappers, ritualists and assassins. It is indeed atragedy to reduce these killings and trauma to religious narratives of counting which religion is more affected. I do not know how we can solve this puzzle if the Christian keep saying: “More Christians have been killed” and the Muslim keep saying,“More Muslims have been killed”. This comparative narrative in the context of religion could cause conflict between Muslims and Christians. Let us not forget that the dead and displaced people are Nigerians who deserve to live in peace and freedom.
Words and terms could mean different things to different people hence there is always need for clarification of terms. The cry of victimhood, religious intolerance and lack of freedom of religion may not mean that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) decides to go out and kill Muslims or that the Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) decides to go out and kill Christians. The operators of the structural system that enables loss of human dignity and life need to be addressed irrespective of their religious affiliation. If there is cry over religious discrimination and freedom of religion, the right thing to do is to jointly asked if the allegation is true, who is responsible and what can be done to resolve and transform the conflict. The situation can be remedied if the religious leaders jointly address government officials who have vowed to secure life and property. The Christian should not defend the political leader because he or she is a Christian and the Muslim should not defend the political leader because he or she is a Muslim. Each Religious’ leader should rather call his adherent who has a political office to order and encourage him to be a good ambassador of the religion being it Islam or Christianity. Dialogue of Social Engagements calls for frankness, sincerity and the courage to jointly speak truth to power. This is where the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) has been a voice of the voiceless.
It is not enough to condemn terrorism and kidnapping. We need to jointly go further to source for means of putting a final stop to the violation of life and property that has placed the nation on international watch list. Christians, Muslims and Traditional Institutions need to demand justice from the political leaders in the areas of political appointments, provision of social amenities and structures that would not make the international bodies think that the nation is engulfed in a religious war. Through Dialogue of Social Engagements, the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) assists the government at all levels to strive to reach visible goals that can transform the nation. Dialogue of Social Engagements calls for patriotism on the part of all citizens irrespective of religion and ethnicity. Patriotism is a commitment to oneself, home and nation. It is a devotion to the transformation of self, community and nation. Whoever is not proud of his home and nation is not worthy to live. That Nigeria was called “mother land” could mean that the pre-independence Nigerians were convinced that Nigeria was worth dying for.
In the National anthem of 1960 -1978, we proclaimed, “Nigeria, we hail thee!” So let us live to demonstrate that, “Though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand!” Yes, Nigeria can be great if “truth and justice reign!” Let us “hand on to our children a banner without stain” and not religious and ethnic extremism that enables discrimination. It would have been possible for God to ensure that only one religion exist if he wanted to. “There is no compulsion in religion” (cf. Quran, Al-Baqara 256). Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to teach that love is not restricted only to your tribe and religion (cf. Luke 10:25-37). In 1978, the National Anthem, “Nigeria we hail Thee” was replaced with “Arise, O compatriots!” Here the citizens are called to serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith so that the labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain. No matter what our past must have been, we can begin anew. We can begin on a right course if we individually renew our pledge to our great country to be faithful, loyal and honest,to serve Nigeria with all our strength, to defend her unity and uphold her honour and glory. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), “So help me God!”
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC [email protected]) & The Secretary General of the West Africa Inter-Religious Council (WA-IRC – [email protected]).