ETHNO-CULTURAL DIALOGUE? QUESTIONS FOR NASFAT

Rev. Fr. Dr. Cornelius Omonokhua

Director: Mission and Dialogue

Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja

 

The study of a human being and the attendant development in a cultural milieu has always interested me. We see people moving aimlessly and acting in a manner that calls for serious anthropological enquiry. No one seems to ask why a person acts in a particular manner that is peculiar. There is always something or someone to blame for any misfortune. No one seems to ever blame one’s self or heritage for an evil act. For instance how many of us in a quiet moment of reflection ever asked ourselves?

  1. How old were my parents when I was being conceived?
  2. What events surrounded my birth?
  3. Under what conditions did I grow up?
  4. What are my strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
  5. What informed my relationship with God and who is God to me?
  6. How did my parents, teachers and political leaders assist my vision of life?
  7. Who is responsible for my present situation in life?

I was thrilled in a symposium organized by NASRUL-LAHI-L-FAITH Society of Nigeria (NASFAT) at Shehu Musa Yar’dua centre, Abuja on 10th May 2012. This symposium attracted Muslims from all over Nigeria and a few Christians. The theme of the National symposium was: Islam and peaceful co-existence in a contemporary multi religious society. I was delighted by the transformation agenda of His Excellency, Architect Namadi Sambo GCON, Vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I was encouraged by his Eminence, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III CFR Mni, the Sultan of Sokoto that the Muslims have no agenda to Islamize Nigeria. The examples of how Muslims, Christians and Yoruba Traditional religion live together in peace and harmony in Yoruba land by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State governor was a clarion call on Northern Nigeria to locate their present problem outside religion. The presenters were erudite Islamic Scholars. They were able to argue that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. The definition of jihad as restraint or ability to control one’s anger was a serious illumination to the participants. Above all that Boko Haram should not be appended as an Islamic Sect. This is a good attempt to liberate religion from being used as an object of terrorism

However, the presentation of Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf (Mni) was most exciting to the extent that I have to think of a form of dialogue that I call in this essay: Ethno-Cultural. Hajiya Bilkisu attempted an ontological answer to the question of conflict in the Northern part of Nigeria. She located POVERTY and UNDERDEVELOPMENT as the causes of the present terrorist activities in the Northern part of Nigeria. For me this is serious hence I would like to raise some questions that could assist ethnic and cultural dialogue in Nigeria using the North as a case study:

  1. Who under-developed the Northern part of Nigeria?
  2. Since Independence, how many years did the Northern Soldiers and Politicians had the opportunity to rule Nigeria?
  3. Could these Northern leaders not have learnt enough from their Nationalist who built Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria that has produced erudite scholars from Northern Nigeria?
  4. What happened to the groundnut pyramids in the North? Could the resources from agriculture not be used to give adequate education to the almalgiri who roam the streets begging?
  5. Could it be the case that the privileged few deliberately wanted the underprivileged majority to remain intellectually redundant so that they can never have enough knowledge to ask questions except to remain at the service of the rich to become manipulated manipulators?
  6. Would it not be too much of a miracle to expect this present administration to suddenly undo what some of our past leaders have destroyed for so many years?

Is it really true that some rich and powerful people in Nigeria have vowed to make the nation ungovernable? Is it not obvious that this egoistic agenda is claiming more lives from the poor and the helpless citizens who have no hand in governance? Perhaps Ethno-Cultural dialogue will assist the youths of all the tribes in Nigeria to identify their rights, privileges and obligations to shape their individual and collective destiny. Children and youths deserve to be emancipated from mental slavery and physical destruction. Dialogue is first and foremost a discussion between human beings. It follows therefore that this human being who is the subject of dialogue must first have an examined self awareness and then seek to understand the partner in dialogue. Otherwise the effort of dialogue will be akin to medical treatment that focuses on symptoms of an ailment instead of the real illness. We should even go further into intra-personal dialogue, inter-personal dialogue, inter-cultural dialogue, inter-ethnic dialogue and Inter-religious dialogue since in Nigeria, life is defined within the context of ethnicity and religion.

Anthropology emphasizes the dignity of the human person. All revealed religions accept that life is sacred and must be protected but today, we live in a world where the value and dignity of the human person is reduced to zero. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council made a declaration on religious liberty, dignitatis humanae, 7 December, 1965 to bring the human person back to the consciousness and awareness on the right of the person and communities to social and civil liberty in religious matters; the general principles of religious freedom in the light of revelation. I congratulate our brethren of NASFAT for their symposium and call on all the tribes in Nigeria to look inward in a sincere spirit of dialogue to locate the causes of violence in their different regions. Nigeria is our home irrespective of our cultural, ethnic and religious differences. Let us bring these diversities to a dialogue round table and keep Nigeria one which is a task that must be done.