The theme of the second quarter meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) of March 29, 2019 at NICON Luxury Abuja is ‘Let Peace Reign in Nigeria’. The media reported the concerns of the senators in the National Assembly concerning the killings going on in the various parts of Nigeria on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. NIREC is calling on all the citizens of Nigeria to let peace reign instead of seeking the vengeance that could put the nation asunder. Nigeria should imitate the countries that have advanced from primitive to digital age of technology. After fifty-nine years of independence, Nigeria ought to be an adult just as a fifty-nine-year-old person can run a family effectively in peace and justice.
The parents who planted in a child the capacity to embrace wisdom and the virtues to value human dignity have given to the future generations a society that will be able to prevent conflict, reconcile conflicts and plan strategies and skills that can help humanity. No nation can develop without sustainable peace. At fifty-nine, Nigeria ought to be enjoying dividends of peaceful coexistence at all levels in spite of political, ethnic and religious differences.
NIREC is appealing to political, religious and traditional leaders to be peace builders in a way and manner that they must resist the temptation to take sides in contributing to the larger justice and peace issues. This is the time to act locally and think globally. No single level, activity, person, organization is able to bring peace in isolation of others, hence the call for collaborative effort by NIREC. Like a spider, who uses a combination of flexible threads and strands to make its web, we must begin to promote relationships between people who are not like-minded but interdependent. We need skills and prayers to bring about a good relationship between people of different groups. This skill is first and foremost the awareness that we have humanity as a common factor. Let us, therefore, summon courage to talk to one another in accordance with our religious principles and values that forbid the killing of human beings for selfish reasons.
The first sustainable principle is creation. If God created human beings for a mission and vision; if parents accept to give birth to children to give them happiness on earth, then every human being must be engaged in life sustaining values. If we accept that we are co-creators with God, then we need an ongoing response capacity to address the cyclical nature of conflicts. It is not easy to forget the hurts that one suffers from a conflict. Invariably, the appeal to forgive and forget can only be successful in the capacity to forgive. Forgetting has to do with the memory so “forgive and forget” can only make sense if one accepts that even though “I remember the pain you caused me, I will not revenge”. In peace building, it is important that as you make progress, there is the need to go back and move again to build sustainable capacity. We should develop local capacities for peace that should survive us. This is an area where dialogue calls for people who are interested and ready to make sacrifice. Peace is not cheap hence the only thing that can purchase it is selfless dedication.
The whole world is questing for peace that is enduring and everlasting. For our peace initiative to survive us, the world is now creating functional structures. This is why it is gratifying that NIREC is now a registered affiliate member of the Africa Council of Religious Leaders (ACRL) and Religions for Peace (RfP) at the Global level. The headquarters of the ACRL is in Nairobi, Kenya, while the headquarters of RfP is in New York, USA. The whole world is preparing for the 10th World Assembly of Religions for Peace (RfP) in Lidau, Germany in August 2019. NIREC will soon exist in the geopolitical zones in Nigeria. It is hoped that with the youth and women wing of NIREC, the message of dialogue and peace will reach the grassroots. This is a response to the many Nigerians who have been seeking for the visibility of NIREC at all levels.
Given that NIREC is a family for all the Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, our strategic principle must now be a proactive response to emerging issues while reinforcing longer and larger change process. We do not have to wait for violence to erupt before we start the drums of peace. If we must succeed in using dialogue as a means to build peace, we can no longer wait till there are conflicts before building good relationship with the people around us.
When there was conflict in my village, it was easy for me to reach the elders and the Village Head because I had an existing relationship with them. We cannot fold our hands when we see problems emerging. It is not my business often turns out to be the business of everybody. Building relationship before conflicts is a potent means of building trust on both sides to attain sustainable dialogue. This can also help in building committees that would be functional in development, reconstruction and response to emergencies when the need arises.
The situation we are now in Nigeria calls for vertical and horizontal capacity. There are so many questions that are crying for answers. We must respond to some of these questions concerning the causes of killings in Kaduna State, Rivers State and all the states that are witnessing violence. If we can no longer reduce these killings to only religion and politics, then we must ask further if the killings are ethnic cleansing. Who is to act? When to act, where to act, what to react to, and how to react, is what we can also think seriously about. Who do we engage in times of violence if not the security agents? Are they willing and ready for the job? How do we identify and develop the voice of reason by building vertical and horizontal capacity?
We need people that have the capacity to reach the top from the bottom. In other words, people that can reach the poor, middle class, the rich and the people in leadership positions. The people with the voice of reason can reach from top to bottom and vice versa. These people are very influential. People with passion for dialogue and peace can be used to form the structure that can communicate at all levels to build bridges across divides in form of horizontal capacity. This is where the motives of those who desire political positions could be questioned. Is power for common good or personal interest?
One of the major roles of religious leaders is to build vertical capacity. They are to identify people who are willing to put sacrifice above personal interest. It is not enough to answer the title of a position without really doing the work or just appointing people to deputise for you. Let the owner of the cap wear it and let no one sell his head to buy the cap. The relevance of vertical relationship is the ability to talk to God in prayer so that the horizontal capacity can work in such a way that the vision of peace is animated with a mission that can take peace building to a point of martyrdom.
The combination of the relationship with God on the vertical level and relationship with human beings on the horizontal level clearly defines the love of God which must spur us on. As creatures of God, we can go beyond the time of division by being merciful and compassionate just like God has done for us. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4). If God does not build a house, in vain do the builders labour (Psalm 127: 1). God must be the beginning and end of our entire peace project. God at the centre implies that we recognise human beings as creatures of God (Genesis 1, 26-27). Let us take it that we have peace engagement with God’s people and allow peace to reign in Nigeria.
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) ([email protected])