“If we can talk of human fraternity at the global level, why can’t we talk about it at the Nigerian level?” – John Cardinal Onaiyekan
The citation above is from a Tripartite Consultation on the State of the Nation held on Wednesday 9th June 2021 in Abuja. The consultation was jointly convened by the National Peace Committee, Nigerian Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance and the Inter-Faith Initiative for Peace (IIP).
The convenors were, His Excellency, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan and His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alh Sa’ad Abubakar.
In his welcome Address, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan drew attention to the fact that the state of our nation is a major cause of concern against the backdrop of the manifest challenges that the country confronts, which is generating a strong sense of despair. Amidst these challenges, not much has been done by the government (both executive and legislature), to provide the much-needed leadership that should inspire confidence in the people. In the light of these challenges, the tripartite consultation is convened as part of efforts by concerned groups to work towards a pathway for peace in the country.
His Eminence, The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, mni: In his own opening remarks reminded participants that “we are advocates and believers in dialogue as a key medium for engagements in our country”. The fact that the leadership of the three groups is known in the country has credibility that is backed by huge public acceptance and respect provides justification for the intervention. His Eminence added that an open and frank discussion represents an important pathway for the group to collaboratively work towards finding sustainable solutions to the prevailing crisis in the country.
In his own remarks, the former Head of State, His Excellency, General Abdulsalami Abubakar commended participants for their individual and collective efforts towards a peaceful country and reiterated the commitment of the National Peace Committee to work with all well-meaning citizens and groups towards finding durable solution to the prevailing crisis facing the country.
In our own presentation by the National Working Group, we drew attention to the fact that Nigeria is dangerously adrift and has never faced a greater risk to its corporate existence as it does today. There is widespread violence stretching the capacity of the Armed Forces and the Police Force to cope with. Governance is in crisis at all levels – federal, state and local government. Health and education sectors are in crisis and jobs are not being generated for the youth. Meanwhile, the political class is focused on retaining or getting power around the 2023 timeline, and the people are facing a real existential crisis that is pushing them towards losing hope for the continued common existence and lashing out at their fellow citizens. Many among the youth have gained agency and decided to get out of the life of extreme poverty and deprivation by acquiring arms and engaging in terrorism, banditry, mass kidnapping and sexual assault on their fellow citizens while the State and its agencies look on with frightening inability and maybe unwillingness to carry out its constitutional role of providing for the security and welfare of Nigerians.
The major outcome of the crisis facing the country has been the erosion of public trust. A toxic atmosphere has developed in which different actors are suspected of developing plots to destroy others. Action of whatever type by governments and private institutions are no longer taken at face value but are re-interpreted within narratives of coordinated plots by some groups to destroy or eliminate others or to take their land. Late, poor or non-responses by governments to unfolding events have further exacerbated this crisis of eroded public trust.
The Sultan of Sokoto is the first signatory to the “A Common Word” initiative (see www.acommonword.com), which has become the world’s leading interfaith dialogue initiative between Christians and Muslims specifically and has achieved historically unprecedented global acceptance and “traction” as an interfaith theological document. It was launched in 2007 as an open letter signed by leading Muslim scholars and intellectuals (including such figures as the Grand Muftis of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Oman, Bosnia, Russia, Chad and Istanbul) to the leaders of the Christian Churches and denominations all over the world, including H.H. Pope Benedict XVI. In essence, it proposed based on verses from the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible— that Islam and Christianity share at their core, the twin “golden” commandments of the paramount importance of loving God and loving the neighbor. Based on this joint common ground, it called for peace and harmony between Christians and Muslims worldwide.
On 4 February 2019, during the apostolic journey of His Holiness the Pope to the United Arab Emirates, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (Cairo), Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, also known as the Document on Human Fraternity. In order to implement the Document, the Higher Committee on Human Fraternity (HCHF) was established on 20 August of the same year. There is a project to create an Abrahamic Family House, with a synagogue, a church, and a mosque, on Saadiyat Island, the cultural heart of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
The HCHF established the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity in honor of Sheikh Zayed, one of the UAE founders. The award committee consists of prominent personalities. In 2019 it was symbolically awarded first to Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al- Tayyeb. On 3 October 2020, in Assisi, Pope Francis signed Fratelli tutti, the Encyclical Letter on Fraternity and Social Friendship. “The present Encyclical takes up and develops some of the great themes raised in the Document that we both signed”. On 21 December 2020, the United Nations General Assembly declared 4 February as the International Day of Human Fraternity (IDHF), to be celebrated as each country sees fit.
As Cardinal Onaiyekan correctly said in the quote above. Our religious leaders at the top are very conscious that Christians and Muslims come from the same Abrahamic family and traditions and they regularly meet to affirm these principles. Sadly, on the ground in our dear country, our local religious leaders see Islam and Christianity as enemies that must seek to destroy each other. Some push the idea that killing the other is the shortest pathway to paradise. I am pleased that the Sultan and the Cardinal have been working together so hard to promote inter-faith peace but many of their battle commanders are simply not willing to listen to them. I say to the couple; keep trying, keep the faith until the truth of these documents is revealed to the uneducated religious soldiers.