DIALOGUE AND DEBATE: ANY DIFFERENCE?

Rev. Fr.  Dr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua

Director: Mission and Dialogue

Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja

 

My brother, Charles Omonokhua can be very interesting when he wants to create fun. Just take a look at the text message he sent to me on August 4, 2012: “A bomb just exploded in a Kano cemetery. All the corpses ran out of their graves but no casualties were recorded. The police has condemned the action and asked the dead bodies to return to their graves and go about their normal affairs without fear of further aggression by Boko Haram. Have a bomb free month!” It has become a slogan inNigeria that the fear of bomb blast is the beginning of wisdom. “The bomb” has become a subject and reason for national debates and all forms of dialogue. A lot of people are calling for a national sovereign conference. What I do not understand is whether the conference is aimed at a debate on the unity ofNigeria, or a dialogue on the values that can keepNigeria as a united nation. Perhaps, the advocate of the conference will soon come out with a blue print and an agenda that will spell out the vision, mission and specific objectives. I wonder why many good projects inNigeria never reach their destinations. What really happened to the pet project of our dear sister Prof. Dora Akunyili? A project that was on the route to uplifting the people and the nation! Dora’s crusade became very real and vivid to me like a renewed incarnation atAmsterdam. We arrived at 5.40am to transit at 6.50am toBrussels on August 4, 2012. Behold,Nigeria that “we hail” in our ancient national anthem and call on our compatriots “to arise” in the new anthem. All of us withNigeria passports were set aside like glorified robbers and terrorists by the immigration. We were delayed to the extent of missing our scheduled flights. We need to bring back Prof. Dora Akunyinli to transform the name, “Nigeria” if no one else can continue the project. No matter how we play around with the issues of corruption and terror that has dentedNigeria’s image, one thing is certain:Nigeria is still conscious of her identity. I remain forever proud to be a Nigerian and I will never run away from my home no matter how high the tempest rage.

 

I was having a beautiful discussion with Fr. Cyril Ofoegbu in a lounge at theLagosinternational airport on August 4, 2012 when at exactly 7.50pm a loud shout of joy and ovation almost pulled down the roof when Blessing Okugbare, a Nigerian took first in the 100 meters race in the Olympic. This joyful noise did not discriminate against religion and tribe.  Fr. Cyril remarked: “So we Nigerians still love our nation this much”. Truth is not debatable. Good is one and universal. The experience of truth and goodness can transform debates into dialogue and a search for further meaning. Only openness to dialogue can get us to this divine truth and good. Can we really bring to a round table what is tearing us apart and what is capable of bringing us together as a nation of good people and divine destiny?Nigeriastill has very many good, loving, honest and peace loving people.  We can discover this if we are open to each other in our daily encounters within and outsideNigeria.

 

Some of our “Nigerians in Diaspora” express there worry on national issues through the internet. Sometimes we get news from them before we get the information on the national print and electronic media. There criticisms, comments, questions and contributions are issues for national debates and dialogue of all forms. Many of our Nigerians abroad are really excellent and wonderful ambassadors ofNigeria. They should also assist those who are dentingNigeria’s image to be more visionary.  We can be “guide and guard” to one another if we believe thatNigeriais “all of us” and not just the people in leadership positions.

 

On July 29, 2012 I was in the same flight with Mallam Usman Isah. I was surprised when he said: “Father, bless us before the flight takes off.” Those around us became interested and we had a robust conversation on the way forward for Nigerians. I met Chief O. Orlando Ojo for the first time in a lounge at AbujaAirporton August 4, 2012. I do not know how he knew that I was in dialogue “business”. He said: “I am very interested in dialogue but not in debates as some Nigerians are doing presently. Perhaps we may share the fruits of our conversation to relax our heavy hearts on the state of our nation. We came to the awareness that in a debate, the contestants are prepared to defend their arguments whether true or false to score more points. But the course of the arguments can reveal some basic truths. While the essence of a debate is to win an argument, the essence of dialogue is a sincere search for truth. Dialogue calls for a genuine clarification of prejudice and preconception; an intra-personal dialogue which is the first stage of self discovery. The greatest victory in the world is the victory over self. “The real me” is the essence of my being, the content of my heart and a window to knowing the partner in dialogue. Very often we judge others through “tinted glasses”. For instance, if I am told that Mr. Tayo is bad and believe without ever seeing Tayo, I will never know the true and real Tayo.  I must debrief the negative Tayo from my mind if I want to really discover the real Tayo.

 

We actually need a form of auto formation to be able to dialogue if we must carry our dialogue project outside papers and seminars. Dialogue is what we do every day as long as we meet with people of different tribes, race and religion. One day, I was in an aircraft with a Muslim woman. I was on my clerical dress while she was on her hijab. I observed that she was not comfortable on her seat which was next to mine, but I broke into her silence and coldness: “May the peace of Allah be with you!” She responded: “Ami, and also with you.” That introduced us into a discussion. She became more interested in continuing the conversation. She told me that her husband is very interested in dialogue and I could reach out to him. She gave me his contact. On landing atAbuja, I called the husband. He was very happy to talk to a Catholic priest. The woman asked if I could drop her at a point where she could take a taxi home. I obliged her and asked my driver to take her home. I can not actually recount how many friends from other faiths I have been blessed with by God just by sharing views about our common destiny in an informal way.

 

The point I am trying to make in this reflection is that as human beings, we meet and part every day. In the course of our contacts and encounters we should strive to make new friends outside our horizon and world view. This will go a long way to create a world of global love and peaceful coexistence. Nigeriahas a lot of values that can keep us together. In all my travels I confess that I have not found a home likeNigeria. Friends who visit me from other countries always end up saying: “Nigeriais the most generous country in the world.” Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue said: “Nigeriais full of surprises.” AlthoughNigeriais passing through a challenging phase in nation building I believe that by the grace of God, all these bombs will stop one day and terrorism will   be history inNigeria.