When this battle is over
ONE of my favourite songs was written by Ulvaeus, Bjoern K/Anderson, Benny (copy right: “I Have A Dream lyrics” © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group). This music is popular with the Abba musicians. “I have a dream”, is a promise of hope for every agent of transformation: “I have a dream; a song to sing; to help me cope with anything. If you see the wonder of a fairy tale; You can take the future even if you fail; I believe in angels; something good in everything I see; I believe in angels; when I know the time is right for me; I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream. The first stanza expresses perseverance and commitment to transformation no matter the darkness: “I have a dream, a fantasy to help me through reality. And my destination makes it worth the while; pushing through the darkness still another mile.” People of great dreams like poets do not fear death because death lives in their thoughts as a light that gives hope to a better future. They never stop trying no matter the situation. Even when they die, their ideas and inventions remain buried in the hearts and memories of people for all generations. So they are immortal.
Many Nigerians are wondering what the future has on the table for the nation when the physical battle is over. I like the expression of Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah: “When the guns are silent in Nigeria today, what next?” In other words, does physical victory over Boko Haram restore sustainable peace and security to Nigeria? I believe in the conviction of John Cardinal Onaiyekan that he is passionate about dialogue with Muslims because many of them are genuinely concerned and worried about religious extremism and violence in the world today. He added that violent extremism is a result of silent extremism that does not carry guns. This is manifested in what parents tell their children about other religions in the homes and what the religious teachers tell the children in the various schools and religious houses. Cardinal Onaiyekan said that another way religious extremism is encouraged is when people demonize other religions and canonize their own religions. These were expressions at the opening ceremony of the meeting of Inter-religious dialogue and ecumenism committee of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA) on March 6, 2015 at SMA House, Jabi District Abuja. The theme of the meeting was “Religious Extremism and its challenges in West Africa”.
Issues raised at the opening ceremony bother on a new world for the West African regions after the defeat of terrorism in Nigeria and the neighbouring countries. I have already published an article titled: “What the gun cannot kill.” You can read it in my book, “Dialogue in Context, A Nigeria Experience, Page 257. The issue is, should the soldiers succeed in killing all the terrorists in Nigeria, does that also kill the ideology of the terrorists? This calls for intra-Islamic dialogue and the task of Islamic scholars and preachers to give a counter narrative to the teaching of the terrorists. This is urgent because, the ideology of the terrorist is giving a bad name to Islam. I believe that the dream of every Muslim could be a retrospection that could enquire how the terrorists emanated from the culture of Islam. This is where I find the presentations of Prof. Kyari Mohammed and Prof. Oshita Oshita and other contributors during the RECOWA conference very instructing. These conversations focused on the next action to take when the guns in the battle with Boko Haram are silent.
Prof. Kyari Mohammed observed that the leaders who have so far governed the people with Western Education in Nigeria have failed to be good ambassadors by not promoting honesty and love for the common good. They seemed to impact the Western culture to the detriment of African values that promote hospitality, sense of community and generosity. Prof. Kyari felt that the terrorists thought that western education was evil and so should be replaced by Islamic education. The fall out of this effort was the Izala movement that could be called an Islamic brand of Pentecostalism. But instead of ushering in the spirit of revival, they ended up being a criminal organisation that now has a global network. This means then that to reconstruct a new Nigeria, the elders, leaders and statesmen of the areas of insurgency should examine what went wrong with the environment that produced the extremists.
Most of the participants in the meeting of the dialogue committee of RECOWA opined that in preparing for a new Nigeria and West Africa, the need for intra-religious dialogue is a necessary condition. This is so because the misunderstanding within could be more serious than inter-religious conflict. This condition was buttressed with the fact that some Islamic clerics who in giving counter narratives to the ideology of Boko Haram were killed thereafter. The new Nigeria, “when the guns are silent” will also need serious trauma counselling, healing of memory, conflict resolution and conflict transformation. These cannot happen in an environment that is fuming with vendetta. There will be need to rediscover our cultural values. In African culture, whatever affects one affects all. We, therefore, should not keep our dreams to ourselves. To be men and women of great dreams akin to Martin Luther King Junior, we need to come together to build a virile nation in our various capacities and positions.
Here then is my dream of a new Nigeria! When this battle is over, I see every concerned Nigerian saying, “never again!” I have a dream that every Nigerian is becoming concerned about legacies. “What shall I be remembered for when I am gone?” I see every Nigerian growing beyond the bigotry of partisan politics, religious extremism and ethnicity. I see every Nigerian seeking enlightenment and awareness through education so that no one would ever again be brain-washed and indoctrinated to be used as a political thug. I see every Nigerian perceiving vaulting ambition as illusion and waste of resources. Yes, I have a dream that every Nigerian would understand the vanity of life and therefore seek the common good. I see a Nigeria where no one shall be fooled again! I see a Nigeria that will forever beam with light, where industries will flourish, where our hospitals will be useful to our leaders and every citizen. I see a Nigeria where education will be qualitative and affordable for the poor. Yes a nation where every displaced person would leave the camp and return to his or her home. I see a violent free Nigeria where everyone would sing in freedom and sincerity: “Arise, O compatriots to serve our fatherland with love and strength and faith. The labour of our heroes past shall never be in vain, to serve with heart and might one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity.”
• Fr. Prof. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja and Consultor of the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (C.R.R.M), Vatican City (email@example.com).
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