By Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
The rate at which Nigerians are playing religious politics with the ongoing killings by the terrorists and kidnappers need a thorough and critical examination. In conflict management, it is better and easier to extinguish a spark before it becomes an inferno that can consume every human being. The weapons of human destruction have no religious value hence those who kill are breaking the commandments of God that forbid killing, stealing and taking by force the property that does not belong to them. If criminality, kidnapping and terrorism are religious, then, criminals, kidnappers and terrorists would not kill in the name of God who creates and sustains human life. This is why it is illogical for real Christians and Muslims to debate whether the killers are Muslims or Christians. It is a degradation of human value and national identity to count the percentage and ratio of those who have the highest score of deaths as if dying in the hands of terrorists and kidnappers is a competition. As long as human beings and Nigerians are dying, for Muslims or Christians to count who have suffered the highest loss is akin to negating the value and dignity of the human person. Christians and Muslims must not forget that they are falling into the trap of the terrorists who want to cause religious war. To avoid the inferno that the current drums are announcing from every region, we need to grow above ethnic and religious divides and collaboratively face the monster that is threatening to devour everybody.
My partners in dialogue in Sierra Leone told me that the Christians and the Muslims in Sierra Leone had to agree on a date to fast and pray together when the rebels wanted to destroy the country. They believe that together, they can grow peace in the country. Both Christians and Muslims in Sierra Leone respect and protect their national constitution that “provides for freedom of religion”. The Sierra Leone Government is constitutionally forbidden from establishing a state religion. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Sierra_Leone, 8 February 2020).
In Sierra Leone the question of which religion has suffered the greatest loss in the genocide did not arise. If the kidnappers and terrorists are either Christians or Muslims, then, they would cease to be criminals. That a criminal has a religious name does not make him a practicing religious person. Any criminal who commits a crime in the name of any given religion deserves to be excommunicated by the leaders of that particular religion because a good name is better than gold.
Every religious adherent deserves to protect the good image of his / her religion like an ambassador. The Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone estimated that 77% of Sierra Leone’s population are Muslims, 21% are Christians, and 2% are followers of traditional African religion. Most of Sierra Leone’s ethnic groups are Muslim majority, including the country’s two largest ethnic groups: the Mende and Temne. Sierra Leone is regarded as one of the most religiously tolerant countries in the world. Muslims and Christians collaborate and interact with each other peacefully. Religious violence is very rare in the country. Even during the Sierra Leonean Civil War people were never targeted because of their religion. The country is home to the Sierra Leone Inter-Religious Council” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Sierra_Leone, 8 February 2020). Criminals must be jointly confronted no matter the religion they profess in Nigeria. May it not be true that “as Nigeria faces US ban, thousands of Nigerians jet in for Sierra Leone Passports” as reported by Night Watch Print Media on Tuesday, February 4, 2020 (Vol. 3 No. 022).
When a policeman mercilessly assaulted a customer, Patience Osafo, in a banking hall at Shiashie, near Legon in Ghana, the Ghanaians demanded immediate justice for the victim without ethnic and religious sentiments. The policeman, No. 50260 Lance Corporal Godzi Frederick Amanor, popularly known among his colleagues as Skalla, and stationed at the Accra Regional Police Operations Unit was made to face justice by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) who directed his immediate arrest. The management of the Midland Savings and Loans had to issue a public apology to Osafo without ethnic and religious sentiments. The Interior Minister, Mr Ambrose Dery, condemned the incident as unacceptable for a “policeman to be that hostile, to be so wicked and to be that barbaric to a woman.” The Ghanaians who witnessed the ugly incident contributed money to assist the victim. The President of Ghana condemned the criminal action without ethnic, political and religious sentiments (https://www.ghanaweb.com/ February, 10, 2020).
The point I am making is that a criminal is a criminal and their victims are human beings. If these human beings are accepted as Nigerians irrespective of tribe and religion, nothing stops Christians and Muslims in Nigeria to jointly pray, fast and organize peaceful protests against the criminals. You can imagine what would happen if Nigerians come out in protest against criminals with their cassocks, habits, hijabs, jalabiya, miters, turbans, traditional staff of office, uniform of the CWO, FOMWAN, WOWICAN and uniform of different Christian denominations and Islamic Sects. Don’t you think the criminals and their sponsors would see the united action as a curse and that could perhaps be a turning point in the lives of the terrorists, kidnappers and all forms of criminals? I can still recall how the women of all religions used to come out in our villages to curse the witches and wizards that were suspected to be responsible for poor harvest, plague and anyone who was responsible for any tragedy in the community. The time has come when nobody should allow criminals to keep drowning the nation by killing the citizens as if they were political orphans.
We can avoid the different predictions of what will happen to our dear nation if we stop living in denial to defend criminals from our individual ethnic groups and religions. You do not fellowship with the deeds of darkness. Instead expose them if you know them (Ephesians 5:11). There is no need for any reasonable person to ask a person who is hiding your treasure to help search for it. You can be sure that you may search in vain. The best you can do for those you know are terrorists and kidnappers if you are afraid to report them to the security agents is to reform them if you love them so much. A person with abnormal traits perceives everyone as an abnormal person who does not deserve to live.
“The Son of Hamas” by Mosab Hassan Yousef, a gripping account of terror, reveals that there is something abnormal in the act of killing people in the name of religion or an ideology but the agents of death think that they are doing the right thing which for them is the zenith of faith (Mosab Hassan Yousef, Son of Hamas, (SALTRIVER Tyndale 2010). Saul thought that he was doing something wonderful for God by killing Christians until he encountered Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). I pray that those killing Nigerians may encounter the truth about the human value as soon as possible. If the Son of Hamas could stop killing in the name of God, it is not impossible for the terrorists to change based on our collective effort to proclaim the truth by way of dialogue of love and friendship that could bring about social cohesion. May God expose the “cover-up” of the hidden sponsors of terrorists and kidnappers in our dear nation.
Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC -firstname.lastname@example.org) & The Secretary General of the West Africa Inter-Religious Council (WA-IRC – email@example.com).