NAIROBI, KENYA -
Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja has advocated an all-stakeholders genuine dialogue as a major step towards the successful stoppage of the Boko Haram terrorist acts in the country.
According to him: “The government in power needs to invite the different political actors and groups to a genuine dialogue, so that the nation can build a common political will to deal with this threat to our national existence.”
Archbishop Onaiyekan made this call in his Inaugural Bi-Annual Address on Shared Security, The African Council of Religious Leaders – Religion for Peace, delivered recently at the Silver Spring Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya.
In the address titled: Conflict And Peace in Nigeria: Between DESPAIR and Hope, The Role of Religion, Archbishop Onaiyekan traced the genesis of political and ethno-religious crises and the gradual growth of terrorism in the country in the name of religion.
Archbishop Onaiyekan outlined: Break-neck competition in the political arena, economic and social inequality, which formed the basis for corruption and other social ill, ethnic differences and religious affiliations as the root causes of crises in the country. Noting that most crises have always been rooted in ethnic and political differences, the Archbishop declared: “As far as conflict and religion is concerned, it is unfortunate that our country has acquired an underserved bad reputation. In fact, it is very rare we find purely religious issues causing conflicts in our nation. We hardly ever quarrel over the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ or the Prophethood of Muhammad.”
While giving examples of rare occasions when religion has been responsible for conflicts in the country, the Archbishop remarked: “Many of the occasions when we hear of religious conflicts are also as a result of political manipulation and other group rivalries. This is so because religion can easily become a catalyst for heating up emotions for any given cause. Here indeed is a case of misuse of religion.”
He continued: “Our occasional outbursts of conflict between adherents of both religions have been given wide publicity. The reality however is that generally, our religious differences have been reasonably contained until recently.” He added: “Nigerian Christians and Muslims go about their business, making friends and cooperating with colleagues, sometimes even marrying across religious lines. It is unfortunate this fact has not been given adequate publicity. Maybe, this silence is because, as it is often said, good news does not make big news.”
The Archbishop who is the Co-Chairman, African Council of Religious Leaders (ACRL), described the Boko Haram menace as a worrisome development noting that it has “introduced completely new dimension in religious conflict in our nation, new in intensity and ideology.” While tracing the history of religiously motivated conflicts in the country to the 1970s, with the advent of the Maitatsine Riots, the Archbishop articulated the reasons why the group seems to be recording some successes in its activities.
These include: it’s being a new phenomenon which caught the government and the country’s security agencies unawares; the ruthlessness of the group which makes it difficult for people to volunteer information on the group for the fear of reprisal attack; the “general grievance against the State in many quarters”, and serious differences among the country’s political parties which make collaborative efforts in combating the menace difficult.
Apart from articulating the efforts of various Christian and Moslem groups in the country at bringing the situation under control, Archbishop Onaiyekan also proffered some solutions. These include: the need for continued improvement of the country’s security apparatus, with particular attention to intelligence activities and provision of modern equipment and the involvement of all stakeholders in a genuine dialogue.
Other solutions proffered were: interreligious dialogue between the leaders of the two major faith groups in the country – Christianity and Islam; a multi-stakeholders forum, a government that will ensure good governance, sustainable democracy, justice and equity and joint action on the part of Moslems and Christians for divine intervention.