Inter-Religious Patience for Peace

By Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

Let the publications and counter publications of enthusiastic Christians and Muslims in print and social media echo the cry from the heart of victims of violence who are longing for justice and good governance rather than inter-religious antagonism. Let those who talk and write on behalf of Christians and Muslims do so as the voice that cries from the wilderness to call people to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3; John 1:43).

On Friday, February 14, 2020, my friend and partner in dialogue, Alhaji Kunle Sanni sent me a link on Christianization and Islamization. Permit me to quote a few of the conversation. “By the operational method of Christians, it is actually us that want to convert Nigeria to a Christian state and not the Muslims. As I speak now, there are Pastors in the innermost part of Northern Nigeria on Mission efforts being funded by the Church” (@olusogaowoeye). Here are some responses to the assertion of Olusoga Owoeye: “Absolutely very correct. I have said this time and time again. We are the ones who force morning devotion in our offices, business places, schools, hospital etc (@abneroke). “Are they doing it with government fund” (@leahsharib). “Hmmm, are you saying our Muslim brothers do not have agenda for converting people to the Muslim faith in Nigeria (@ijijianthony)? These are just to illustrate how far our fundamentalists and fanatics are succeeding in causing religious tension in our nation. The truth is that both Christians and Muslims have the evangelical mandate to proclaim their religions not just to convert others from one religion to the other but to make people have interior conversion to do the will of God and become better human beings.

If through religious mission everybody submits to the will of God in obedience, the love and fear of God would restrain any converted person to kill a human being in the name of God. To live in peace, social cohesion and justice, the leaders of the two Principal Religions, Islam and Christianity in Nigeria voluntarily decidedto come together to form the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council on the 11th day of September, 1999, and the association having been inaugurated on the 29th day of September, 1999; guided bydivine regulations and the dictates of our Creator, determined, within the context of our religions, to forge inter-religions harmony and concord. The Religious leaders put in place a constitution in these words: “Having firmly and solemnly resolved, within the confines of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to live in unity, harmony and peace for the welfare, security and prosperity of our people and our Nation under God.Do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution to guide and direct our collective endeavors (Constitution of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, NIREC; Preamble).

The objectives of NIREC are: “To honestly and sincerely endeavour by themselves and through them, their followership, to understand the true teachings of the two religions, Christianity and Islam including their peculiarities and personal mannerisms through dialogue, discussions, work-shops, seminars, conference, pamphle teering etc.” “To create a permanent and sustainable channel of communication and interaction thereby promoting dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria so that the members of both faiths may have mutual understanding of each other’s religious position, and generally promote harmony, inculcate co-existence among all the people of Nigeria irrespective of their religious or ethnic affiliations.” “To promote and inculcate moral, ethical, social and cultural values of the two faiths for the rebirth and rebuilding of a better society.” “To provide a forum for mutual co-operation and promotion of the welfare of all citizens in the nation” (Constitution of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, NIREC, Article 3)

If every Christian and Muslim take NIREC as a nexus to assist the Political leaders to promote good governance in justice that is necessary to provide for peaceful coexistence, then Christians and Muslims need a meeting point outside the newspapers and social media to discuss the way forward. This is why the office of NIREC is appealing to Christian and Muslim journalists who claim to be talking and writing in the name of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) to be patient and consider the feelings of the other in their utterances and publication. Given that CAN and NSCIA forms NIREC, the issues that affects both religions could wait for discussion during NIREC meeting. If there is urgency, the issues could be presented to the two co-chairmen of NIREC for deliberation. That the government funds NIREC meetings is a sign that the political leaders would have the political will to accept the recommendations of the council. The case when a Christian would defend the government because a Christian is in power or a Muslim would defend government because a Muslim is in power contradicts the intention of the founding fathers of NIREC. We should be able to speak truth to power as the voice of the voiceless given that the political leaders are either Christians or Muslims. What we need is common action and not fanaticism.

We have credible Nigerians who can make this nation a great country if we can control our religious and ethnic sentiments. We need leaders who can deliver on their political promises. It does not matter where the leader comes from. The Muslims believe that Islam is a religion of peace while Christians believe that Jesus is the Prince of peace. It therefore means that we need a Nigeria that is Christianized and Islamized. If that happens, it would be a farewell party to terrorism, kidnapping, religious bigotry, ethnic and religious discrimination. Then Federal character, the rule of law, efficiency and professionalism would be respected. Then the Army, Police and all security agents will have less work to do in terms of fighting internal insurrection. Then the young graduates would not need a letter from a Senator or a high placed person to get a job. Honestly, I am praying that Nigeria should be Christianized and Islamized without spending government money to fund any particular religion. The government could fund joint actions for peace not at the expense of one tribe or religion.

Let us say and write what can bring about peaceful co-existence where righteousness will be the belt around our hips, and faithfulness the sash around our waist. We need a nation where the wolf will live with the lamb,and the leopard will lie down with the goat; the calfand young lion and fatling will be together, and a little child will lead them. We need the political will to produce a nation where the cow will graze with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox(Isaiah 11:5-7). May God arbitrate for us to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. May Nation no longer take up the sword against nation, nor train anymore for war (Isaiah 2:4). May the Spirit of God possess our hearts! May God give us the patience we need to deliberate on common concerns that can make peace flow like a river. The peace that would flow from each of us into the desert and forest to give freedom to captives who are still with the kidnappers and the terrorists. May all who have been killed by the terrorists and kidnappers find peace with God! May the Peace of Almighty God be with you!

Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC -nirec.ng@gmail.com) & The Secretary General of the West Africa Inter-Religious Council (WA-IRC – wairc.rfp@gmail.com).

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