This piece aims to present a sensible pathway to more peaceful coexistence between the different cultures and religions in Nigeria. I will argue in this opinion that through dialogue, we can promote peace anchored on justice by valuing what Christians and Muslims and different ethnicities have in common, whilst allowing and respecting that which is particular to our respective culture. The importance of this piece is its invaluable contribution to the national dialogue, given the heightened state of animosity between different religions and ethnic groups in Nigeria.
Over the last 15 years in Nigeria, there has been a big question mark over the relationship between Christians and Muslims. Even when Christians and Muslims have lived side by side for decades in an atmosphere of relative peace, many Nigerians are still questioning the sustainability of the shaky relationship between different cultures. This is especially the case with reference to the interfaith relationship between Christians and Muslims in the country.
Every now and then, a dispute or a misunderstanding results in unwanted destruction of lives and properties. But rather than calling for the destruction of the "zoo" which happens to be our home, it is our responsibility, as co-inhabitants of this “Niger Area”, to find a formula to manage the inevitable conflict that comes with multiculturalism.
In the political field, there has been an intensified interest in developing a thorough pragmatic framework on how Christians and Muslims as well as different ethnicities can relate with one another. This interest has grown in part because of an upsurge of militant extremism from different groups such as terror group Boko Haram. The mindless killings of both Christians and Muslims alike by this terror group has spiked fears, suspicions, and uncertainties. The activities of some rouge herdsmen that are terrorizing communities and the misinformation campaign by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), is adding petrol to the burning thatched house, Nigeria.
That is why I am making a moral and a political argument on why Christians and Muslims in Nigerian communities should become involved in interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue. That is one of the guaranteed ways of promoting peace based on justice and equity, whilst, respectfully, creating room for one another to coexist.
Here is what we know, theologically: so much entwines Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. We share a common religious sensibility that sees law and spirituality as inseparable. All three religions were born in the Middle East and are inextricably linked to each other. While Christianity was born from within the Jewish tradition, Islam developed from both Christianity and Judaism. In fact, Islam sees itself as the culmination of the Abrahamic faiths, the final revelation by God in the monotheistic tradition.
For example, as Ibrahim was about to do the deed upon Allah’s command, God replaced Ishmael with a sheep, and he was saved. This is the same narrative of Abraham and Isaac in the Bible. Islam recognizes as prophets many of the figures revered by Jews and Christians, including Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. What other connection are we looking for?
Therefore, I can comfortably say that Isaac and Ishmael, Christians, and Muslims, Uche and Shehu, Buhari and Osinbajo, Ahamefuna and Ahmed, Efosa and Ifeoma, Governor Wike and Atiku, Ade, and Ada: we are one. So, just like President Buhari and Pastor Osinbajo, Nigerians should build walls of solidarity to promote love, unity, and peace.
I can hear your thoughts and I agree with you that changing the way we think, behave, and interact with others is not an easy undertaking. But rather than the current promotion of bigotry, ethnocentrism, and stereotyping, I challenge Nigerians to question their prejudices. I am challenging Nigerians to be brave enough to mingle with unfamiliar groups and explore new areas. We should work in brotherhood for national unity. It is only when we combat polarization and stereotypes that we will minimize ethnoreligious conflicts.
For peaceful coexistence, we should stop being suspicious of people of different faith doing trade or business in our communities. All Nigerians, irrespective of faith or tribe are struggling to survive in the present tough economic hardship. Suspicion, fueled by unnecessary fearmongering in social media fosters misunderstanding, hatred, and conflict.
Just like President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo, Uche, Shehu, Segun and the leadership of the Christian and Muslim communities have a duty to cultivate the spirit of reconciliation, peacemaking, and dialogue.
Here is one basic truth, per Indian Guru and spiritual teacher Sathya Sai Baba, in all religions, irrespective of country, is one and the same. The philosophic ideas or the practices and methods of approach may vary. But the final objective and goal are only one - preach the cultivation of Universal Love, without regard to caste, creed, country, or color.
In these tumultuous times, while some may be arguing for the breaking of the “temple” or destruction of the “zoo” and others, with irrational fear, are unnecessarily heating the polity with misinformation, I am demanding that we need to come together out of love. In this trying time in Nigeria, we should stand together without demarcation as Christians, Muslims, and other believers. We need to see ourselves as sisters and brothers.
Cultural diversity in Nigeria inevitably comes with both blessings and baggage. To excel, we should stop focusing on the baggage by seeking to maximize ethnic rivalry, antagonism, and conflicts between different ethnicities. Rather, we should adjust the lens of our camera and celebrate our blessings. Simply put, we should show an extraordinary willingness to embrace one another.
My message to Nigerians is that despite the unique challenges and tensions inherent in our multiethnic and multi-religious context, there is hope. This hope can only be fulfilled if we build communities of individuals committed to promoting our diversity. Most importantly, even when we are not of the same religious faith and ethnicity, we should respect each other’s religion and understand that we are inextricably linked to each other.
While regional ethnic-political champions have strengthened their positions by focusing on the ‘fear element’, I urge Nigerians to continue to display an uncommon willingness to embrace. I am urging the leaders of various religious groups and ethnic nationalities currently trying to widen the divide between us to step out of their comfort zone and engage one another.
Just like Isaac and Ishmael, Christians, and Muslims, Uche and Shehu, Idahosa and Ibrahim, Ese and Aisha: we are one and together, we can build a strong and prosperous Nigeria.
Together, we can.
On Twitter @Churchillnnobi