One of the participants of the Wole Soyinka Foundation and Cedars Institute sponsored Study Abroad In Lebanon (SAIL) program, Reverend Sister Mary Emilia Aboekwe, said she has come to the realization that religion will not unite Nigeria hence the need to downplay the presence of religion in the country.
The Reverend Sister said this on her arrival at Murtala Muhammed International Airport after a ten-day exchange program in Lebanon where she had the privilege to tour the country and learn about its culture and traditions.
Sister Aboekwe suggested the teaching of Islamic religion in Christian schools and vice versa, arguing that such will engender better understanding between Muslims and Christians alike. She said both Christians and Muslims worship the same god, and therefore the constant religious conflicts and misunderstandings are needless.
“After seeing what happened in Lebanon, I came to conclude that religion needs to be downplayed in Nigeria,” she said. “When we come out to discuss the unity of this nation, let us put religion aside, because it will not unite us. We will never be united when we talk of religion. Instead let us all believe that we are all children of God, created by one God.”
Referring to the agitation in the eastern part of Nigeria for a separate state, Sister Aboekwe advised the government to consider dialogue just as the Lebanese used to find closure after their long, brutal civil war.
“What I discovered in Lebanon is that they had long years of war, beginning from 1975, but what marveled me in Lebanon was the way they are living today. They have good infrastructural development despite the long years of war, so I began to wonder why Nigeria is the way it is today. We had only three years of civil war in Nigeria and the effects of war are still with us, but in Lebanon they have outgrown it. In talking about the war and their losses, not repressing it, they were able to heal faster,” the Reverend Sister said.
She also urged the Nigerian government to learn financial prudence from the Lebanese government so they can invest Nigerian resources wisely.
Also sharing his experiences during the exchange program, Ademola Oloruntoba Adenle said he wished Nigeria would follow the Lebanese on history preservation. He opined that despite the influence of civilization, the Lebanese are consistent with their culture and traditions.
He also expressed excitement about the presence of African literature, particularly Nigerian literature, in the Lebanese schools.
“They look towards West Africa or Africa generally for literature. I heard a lecturer said he teaches Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in their university,” Mr. Adenle said.
Similarly, Salamatu Sule, another participant, agreed that Nigerian literature has much to offer the Lebanese because of its multiplicity in experiences and genres.
She encouraged Nigerians to learn from the smooth relationship among different religious groups in Lebanon.
Other beneficiaries of the program included Ayomide OladeleFaji, Blessing James Christopher, Christain Nyamali, Eyitemi Eyibojode Soyinka, Imam Khalid, Okani Chinelo Kasimma, and Oluwole Adegoke Adedoyin.