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Reconciliation and justice: A path to peace and development

Peace is the foundation of progress and the bedrock on which development is anchored in any nation and society. Peace, a product of development transforms…

Peace is the foundation of progress and the bedrock on which development is anchored in any nation and society. Peace, a product of development transforms the lives of the people. Without sustainable peace, the resources, time and energy that should be used for meaningful development would be spent on weapons of wars and mass destruction. This is why reconciliation and dialogue are paramount for a peace-oriented development. Given that conflicts and differences cannot be escaped or completely avoided, reconciliation remains the veritable vehicle which conveys peace to the arena of interpersonal relationships for the promotion of harmonious co-existence. This is key to the enhancement of societal and/or national progress and development. According to Michelle Borquez, reconciliation is an issue between you and the other person. Almost every religion has a system of reconciliation in their doctrines and praxis. Chuck Clay was, therefore, right in his affirmation that reconciliation is a tenet of all the faiths which brings people together and allows for forgiveness. The primary goal of religion is to use reconciliation to bring about inner healing to the heart of the ‘wounded’, re-enkindle a more harmonious and peaceful conviviality between persons and most importantly, re-establish the broken relationship with the Creator which was occasioned by the injury meted out on His creature.

In Christianity, reconciliation is conceived as a gift that is both given and received by those who are open to sowing the seed of peace in their hearts, in others and in the community of men and women. Jesus admonishes His followers to always offer the gift of reconciliation and peace to their fellow men and women even before offering any gift to Him at the altar especially when someone has something against his or her brother or sister (Mathew 5:23).  This demonstrates the importance Christianity places on reconciliation for the achievement of sustainable peace in human society. Indeed, it is only reconciliation that can bring glory to God in heaven and peace to men on earth who are God’s friends and on whom His favour rests (Luke 2:14).  Desmond Tutu insists that without forgiveness, without reconciliation we have no future as humans.  For Malcolm Fraser (1930 – 2015), reconciliation requires a change of heart and spirit, brings about social and economic change but must be driven by symbolic as well as practical action.

Nigerian society is divided along ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural differences. If this plurality is not well managed, the result could be susceptible to communal violence and clashes, even within the same ethnic group as we have witnessed in the past. This, in my view, stands behind whatever efforts that have been historically made by the leaders and subjects of this multi-ethnic nation towards the realization of sustainable peace and unity. Suffice it to point out here that true reconciliation and national cohesion were the original intention of the Truth and Peace Commission (otherwise known as the Oputa Panel) which was established in 1999 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Despite all the difficult challenges encountered by this Commission, from its inauguration till the time of its final annulment in January 2003, it recorded a lot of success in seeking to resolve some age-long, relational problems in our nation. To be sure, in setting up the Commission, President Obasanjo had declared complete reconciliation as its singular objective. Although the Commission pursued vigorously this objective and made very useful and practical recommendations, propositions or suggestions for its realization, its report did not see the light of the day.

It is alleged that Rwanda and South Africa are the fastest-growing economies in Africa today as a result of the glaring progress and development which were brought about by sustainable peace in these countries. This could be the result of the implementation of their Reconciliation Commission. I think Nigeria could do the same to promote peace and development. In the words of Dalai Lama, “When we face problems or disagreement today, we have to arrive at solutions through dialogue. Dialogue is the only appropriate method. One-sided victory is no longer acceptable. We must work to resolve conflicts in a spirit of reconciliation and always keep in mind the interest of others.” Dialogue, as understood here, implies listening to the other and, indeed, giving the other an opportunity to tell their story as it affects them so as to kick start a true process of reconciliation and healing. According to John Perkins “there is no reconciliation until you recognize the dignity of the other and until you see their view. You have to enter into the pain of the people. You have got to feel their need.”

Nhat Hanh opines that “Reconciliation is a deep practice that we can do with our listening and our mindful speech. To reconcile means to bring peace and happiness to nations, people and members of our families… In order to reconcile, you have to possess the art of deep listening.” This is what a credible Truth and Reconciliation Commission tries to do. That is, it tries to address some nagging issues of national importance and cohesion and, thus, strives to usher in total healing and reconciliation which are needed for uniform socio-economic development of a diverse nation like Nigeria. To be sure, the art of deep listening and/or dialogue plays a major part in inter-faith relationship. It is also a great asset to nation-building since it is only through such listening that one can pay utmost attention and appreciate the lamentations and complaints of the aggrieved other. Though this may be a difficult road to take, it remains the only available path that will lead the nation to true progress.

Corazon Aquino strongly recommends that “Reconciliation should be accompanied by justice otherwise it will not last. While we all hope for peace it shouldn’t be peace at any cost but peace based on principle and justice”. Nelson Mandela went further to say that, “Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of the past injustice”. Hence Justice, in this sense, must involve the reparation of the injustice of the past and not allowing the bitter experiences of yesterday to repeat itself today.  As N. K. Jemism beautifully puts it: “reconciliation is a part of healing process. But how can there be healing when inflicting the wound is not stopped?”  It is, therefore, crystal clear that Nigeria as a nation cannot make much progress unless the question of injustice that has been meted out to some components of the nation, who feel injured or short-changed in the cooperate existence, is sincerely and courageously addressed.

This injustice can be in the forms of negligence, abuse of power or exploitation. Reconciliation helps to overcome the ill-feelings of injustice, eschew suspicions and divisions and, then, foster peace, unity and sustainable progress. Justice demands recognizing the pain of the victims of injustice and taking necessary steps to address it selflessly, dispassionately and courageously.  As Theodore Roosevelt would put it: “Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it wherever found, against the wrong”. Therefore, for Nigeria to achieve a significant development as a nation, there must be peace whose bedrocks are dialogue-driven reconciliation and courageous pursuit of justice for one and for all. Without this, nation-building and national progress are and remain nothing but a mirage.

Fr. Dr. Tony Okolo CSSp is a Nigerian Spiritan working in Phoenix, Arizona USA

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