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Sunday, December 19, 2010

THE NIGERIAN INTER-RELIGIOUS COUNCIL (NIREC) MEETING IN MAIDUGURI

The Ameerul Mu’mineen, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad and President-General Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs has called on government to compensate all victims of previous religious crisis across the country. Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, Dr. John Onaiyekan and Co-chairman of NIREC, represented by the Vice President of CAN, Archbishop Daniel Okoh urged government at all levels to adopt the call by the Sultan as there was serious need to heal past wounds. His Eminence made this call during the opening of the NIREC meeting on Monday, 6th May, 2008 at Maiduguri the Borno State capital. The meeting was unanimous that payment of such compensations to victims of religious crises of the past will guarantee peace now and in the future.
The Co-chairmen and leaders of 50 Muslim and Christian representatives in the NIREC must be praised for the initiative of making this recommendation to government. It is heartening to know that Muslim and Christian leaders are passionate about peaceful co-existence in Nigeria. But I have a problem with this recommendation. Yes, I concede it will heal wounds but such an exercise is certain to open (and rub salt into) more wounds; it means setting up of a committee that will determine who lost what, where, when and how. Also, people will be called upon to testify (another Oputa panel?); but where do we start from and which crisis are we talking about? Is His Eminence referring to all religious crises? Yaa Ameeral Mu’mineen, Commander of the faithful! The compensation you are speaking about is fathomless. It covers the Kafanchan crisis of 1987; Tafawa Balewa-Bauchi of 22 April, 1991; Zagon Kataf crisis of 15th May, 1992; Kano 1994; Kaduna crisis of 21 February, 2000, and many others. This is without mentioning spillages of crises to other parts of the country at one and the same. It will be impossible to know the extent of loss to life, places of worship and burnt property, or even human rights issues as there were many people who were wrongly imprisoned, as suspects, at the end every crisis and later released. From where do we start?
It is indeed sad that the crises occurred in the first place; millions of people killed unjustly; numberless mosques and churches burnt and billions of naira worth of property destroyed. We cannot change the past but we can do something about the future! The leaders in NIREC, (under the Co-chairmanship of His Eminence, the Sultan and His Grace, the CAN President), will do well to encourage interfaith dialogue and mutual understanding. Religious crises keep reoccurring because government failed to make example of trouble makers. Henceforth, the Government must compensate victims of crises and be willing to punish offenders who in any way participate in causing the breach of peace. That is what will guarantee peace now and in the future!
The government, at all levels, should assist this NIREC peace initiative by creating jobs for the teeming population of unemployed and restive youths who take part in crises, kill, burn places of worship and loot people’s property.
Whenever interreligious intercourse is mentioned, we remember the untiring efforts of late Honourable Justice Bashir Sambo in realising religious harmony between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. From serving in peace and reconciliation committees in Kaduna to weekly interfaith meetings at the defunct Intergovernmental Relations office at the State House, Abuja; at the Muslim-Christian Mutual Relations conference in Jos and NIREC seminars in all parts of this country, Justice Sambo would rehearse his oft-quoted verse: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know and recognize each other”….. (Al Hujuraat, 49:13). The address is to all mankind irrespective of creed, nationality or tribe. We are all created from one source: Adam and Hauwa (Eve). The difference in our languages, colour and creed is for us to recognize and understand ourselves. The late Justice would emphasize the understanding to include mutual understanding of differences in belief, way of worship and eschewing things that will amount to disrespecting the religious feelings of others. This mutual respect does not aim at blurring the differences between Islam and Christian, as if to make them one religion; no, differences exist; we have to recognize them to appreciate why one is doing what.
Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-cultural entity. Allah brought us together to live as different people, followers of different religions. Forget about the 1914 Amalgamation. If He wished He would have made us all to profess one single religion. “If it had been the Lord’s Will, all mankind would have believed!” (Yunus, 10:99). Would that have solved our problem? If you think ‘yes’ is the answer, then consider Northern Ireland where Christians are killing Christians (Catholics versus Protestants); or Iraq where Muslims are bombing Muslims (Sunni against Shi’a). So having a single religion is no solution to crises. Yes, we can vie with one another in harvesting souls, getting more reverts/converts to our faith; there should also be understanding and reverence of the other: no blocking of roads on Fridays or Sundays during worship; no playing of audio tapes over mosques’/churches’ loudspeakers at odd hours when others may be sleeping etc.
And finally, what is NIREC doing about the fact that all leaders in this country who looted our national resources and reduced us to penury are either Muslims or Christians?

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