By Yunus Ustaz Usman, SAN
ASIWAJU ODO OF YORUBA LAND, EZIENYI-NDI IGBO 1, CHAIRMAN, INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION FOR RELIEF, WELFARE AND DEVELOPMENT (WORLD ISLAMIC LEAGUE), SAUDI ARABIA , FORMER CHAIRMAN, LEGAL COMMITTEE, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF PRIVATIZATION
(Being a paper presented at Legal Practice (LPD) Webinar Part 1, held on 11 November 2021. THEME: Role of Lawyers in Resolving Nigeria’s Security and Stability Challenges)
DIALOGUE AS A PANACEA TOWARDS PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE
This topic is extremely apt at this painful time of our nation’s fragile, unstable and falling nature due mainly to insecurity anchored on religious, sectional, political and tribal intolerance. For the purpose of the survival of this country, I will try within human limits to be practical and not academic.
WHAT IS DIALOGUE?
The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language, Encyclopedic Edition, 2004 defined the word “Dialogue” at Page 353 (Second Column) in these words:
“1. A conversation in which two or more take part. 2. A literary work in which two or more characters are represented as conversing. 3. An exchange of opinions or ideas; free inter-change of different points of view; discussion: to propose a dialogue among the Christian churches… To express in dialogue form. To carry on a dialogue…”
HETEROGENOUS SOCIETY according to Google means:
“…where there will be diversity of people in terms of race, culture, religions, languages, etc…
Cultural heterogeneity refers to differences in cultural identity related to, for instance, class, ethnicity, language, traditions, religions, sense of place and many other cultural aspects. These differences can make it more or less difficult for people to communicate, trust and corporate with each other.
An aggregate of individuals or other elements that are different from one another in a number of significant respects. In a social context, for example, a heterogeneous group might differ in age, socioeconomic background, values, work, experience, education, and so on.”
Nigeria is one of the best examples of what a heterogenous society is with over 500,000 tribes and languages, each tribe having different dialects. It has 5 broad religions, Islam, Christianity, Jews, Paganism etc each religions having numerous sects.
IMPORTANCE OF DIALOGUE
The importance of dialogue can be acknowledged from all the native languages in Africa which recognize the fact that “it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war”.
One must not fail to thank Goodluck Ebele Jonathan when, as the President of Nigeria, he set up the National Dialogue Conference drawn from all segments and spheres of Nigeria in 2014. Whether his aim of setting up the Committee was for elongation of his tenure or not, that is for the soothsayers to guess. Many of the recommendations of the National Dialogue Conference are so pungent in the setting of our crises that I must recommend that the National Assembly should not brush them aside. Unfortunately, because of the personal hatred some few Nigerians have for Buhari, they condemn him for not adapting or implementing the recommendations of the Conference. It is submitted that their arsenal is targeted at the wrong person because by virtue of Section 9 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), only the National Assembly can make the recommendations into law because they need constitutional amendment to legalize them. I humbly refer to Section 9 of the Constitution which provides:
“9. (1) The National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section, alter any of the provisions of this Constitution.
(2) An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which section 8 of this Constitution applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.
(3) An Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of altering the provisions of this section, section 8 or Chapter IV of this Constitution shall not be passed by either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is approved by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House, and also approved by resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-third of all States.
(4) For the purposes of section 8 of this Constitution and of subsections (2) and (3) of this section, the number of members of each House of the National Assembly shall, notwithstanding any vacancy, be deemed to be the number of members specified in sections 48 and 49 of this Constitution.”
In International Law, the importance of dialogue is recognized as the foundation of world peace, hence, the formation of the United Nations after the Second World War in 1945. The United Nations Development Programme subscribes to my humble view in its analysis of dialogue thus:
“Dialogue is one of the approaches that is mostly used and cuts across all other approaches to conflict resolution and transformation. Dialogue is a distinctive way of communicating, which is the essence of relationship (Bercovitch, 2008).
- Bercovitch further notes that given the many cultures where political, social and economic exchanges are habitually confrontational and divisive, aspiring to a culture of dialogue –a different way of relating – would be a contribution of invaluable value to the peaceful resolution of differences, to productive lives and to democratic practice.
- As opposed to debates which tend to place people on opposite sides of issues and foster adversarial relations, dialogues are designed to build understanding, cooperation and positive relationships.
- Dialogue is also described as a conversation in which people “speak openly and listen respectfully and attentively”. Dialogue excludes attack and defense and avoids derogatory attributions based on assumptions about the motives, meanings, or character of others.
- In dialogue, questions are sincere, stimulated by curiosity and interest. The point of dialogue is to deepen mutual understanding, to expand sympathy and imagination, to exchange not only arguments but also sensibilities, to take a critical look at oneself, to build up mutual trust, and to arrive at a more just balanced view of both contentious issues and the world in general. By establishing mutual understanding, participants learn to respect one another, including their differences.
- Note that the primary goal of a dialogue approach is not necessarily to reach an agreement but rather mutual understanding. For instance, it would be difficult to reach an agreement in a dialogue on value-based issues such as “for or against abortion; gay marriage; female genital mutilation; ordination of women to priesthood in the Catholic Church, among others.” In such situations, dialogue allows the parties to learn about one another’s perspective, without expecting them to compromise their values.”
A DIALOGUE PROCESS IS GUIDED BY THE FOLLOWING PRINCIPLES:
This is perhaps the most fundamental principle of dialogue practice. It expresses the underlying assumption that, to the extent that everyone who is part of a problem situation can be involved or represented in a dialogue process, the participants collectively have key pieces of the ‘expertise’ they need to address their own problems, as opposed to being entirely dependent on others for solutions. Inclusiveness is especially relevant in contexts where a historical pattern of exclusion underlies the societal problems to be addressed. Inclusiveness is a requirement if a dialogue process is to be legitimate and have a robust outcome. The last national conference is the best of example of inclusive dialogue.
To bring about sustainable change, people have to develop a sense of joint ownership of the process and become stakeholders in identifying new approaches to address common challenges. The dialogue process should not be an instrument of only one actor to buy time or to accomplish its own agenda. Without ownership, reform remains a bit of a superficial exercise. When ownership is assured, people really take issues forward, and that produces remarkable results compared to other experiences. Every member of the last National Dialogue Conference was selected by their people or religious calling whom sees Nigeria as their own prophecy that must not be allowed to be destroyed.
The process is not just about sitting around a table, but changing the way people talk, think and communicate with one another. Unlike other forms of discussion, dialogue requires self-reflection, spirit of inquiry and personal change to be present. Participants must be willing to address the root causes of a crisis, not just the symptoms on the surface.
Humanity in dialogue processes helps to differentiate them from other kinds of interaction. Participants must be willing to show empathy towards one another, recognize differences as well as areas of common ground, and demonstrate a capacity for change. To foster this kind of human interaction, a respectful and neutral setting or “safe space” is preferred. When people start to make an effort to understand the other, the seed of dialogue is planted.
Other forms of conversation tend to focus on the symptoms rather than the root causes of problems. To find sustainable solutions requires time and patience. The process can be painstakingly slow and incremental, lasting anywhere from ten minutes to ten years—one-off interventions very often do not work to address deeply-rooted causes of conflict or to fully deal with complex issues.
TYPES OF DIALOGUE
- Positional dialogue: this is a dialogue in which parties/communities hold adversarial mutual exclusive attitudes, play blame game, hold on to their positions. In this type of dialogue, it is very hard to reach consensus, mutual understanding and appreciation.
- Human relations dialogue: this is a dialogue in which parties/communities sit to exchange their perspectives, experiences and beliefs; they are willing to listen openly and respectfully; as well as learn about how the opposite group acts, behave and why they act and behave the way they do. This type of dialogue offers opportunities for growth in thinking, learning and even change of attitudes towards each other. It can lead to positive transformative relations.
- Activist dialogue: in this type of dialogue, communities or parties’ aim is lobbying and advocating for a particular agenda or cause. It could be confrontational as each party may seek to push for its own agenda or cause without caring for the other party’s needs/ concerns.
- Problem solving dialogue: this type of dialogue aims at reaching a common understanding of issues affecting parties; it is done within a workshop set up, usually facilitated by academicians and practitioners with no party affiliation. It links outcomes of the workshop with both the grassroots and other stakeholders at national level. This is the best for the unity of this country.
- Sustained dialogue: this is a dialogue process which aims at transforming the relationships that cause problems, create conflict and block change. Sustained dialogue is not a problem-solving workshop but a sustained interaction between concerned parties that develops through a sequence of meetings over months or years;
- Reflective dialogue: This type of dialogue provokes inquiry within the individual. It involves empathetic listening and usually gives rise to generative dialogue; it can take place within another type of dialogue and may contribute to constructive discussions among parties engaged.
- Generative dialogue: It is a way of talking and interacting that breaks ground for new action, while revealing new knowledge which cannot be attained individually;
- Democratic dialogue: It refers to dialogue that respects and strengthens democratic institutions, seeking to transform conflictual relationships so as to prevent crises and violence and therefore, contributes to enhance democratic governance. Democratic dialogue is a process of cooperation and teamwork, and may include one or more meetings of participants in the dialogue. The resolutions of the last National Dialogue Conference falls into this category of dialogue.
As regards, Inter-Religious Dialogue which is the bane of our peaceful co-existence in Nigeria, Titus S. Olorunnisola had this to say in his Article “Beyond Interreligious Dialogue: Dialogue of Life as a Means to Peaceful Co-Existence in Nigeria” in the European Scientific Journal of June 2019 Edition Vol. 15, No. 17 ISSN: 1857 – 7881 thus:
“Interreligious dialogue has gained prominence in Nigeria against the backdrop of cultural and religious plurality cum tolls of violence, loss of life, vandalism, and disruption of peaceful coexistence in the nation. Huge resources have been invested into various forms of interreligious dialogue. However, interreligious dialogue has proved quasi-effective due to mistrust, dishonesty, and lack of commitment to the common goal of dialogue as a means of promoting mutuality in a religiously plural society. The cycle of killings continues unabated with its corresponding effects on political and economic situations. Hence, this paper proposes that Nigeria must shift from the promotion of interreligious dialogue to dialogue of life as a worthy alternative to promote mutuality. Drawing a line of demarcation between interreligious dialogue, which exists as a means to building bridges across religions, and dialogue of life, that perceives and focuses on life beyond the scope of religion, this paper stresses that both the government and civil society groups must arise to promote genuine dialogue of life to bring peaceful coexistence and mutuality.”
PREVIOUS RESEARCH: RELIGIOUS INTERACTION, VIOLENCE, AND INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE IN NIGERIA
The mid-1980s witnessed a proliferation of literature by scholars in the field of social sciences and religious studies on interreligious disputes. This wave of researchers focused on violence, ethnic or communal clashes, and interreligious dialogue in Nigeria. Each of these authors examined a series of religiously-motivated violence and suggested likely ways of nurturing peaceful co-existence.
Toyin Falola in his book titled: “Colonialism and Violence in Nigeria” linked the Nigerian religious crises to multiple factors. These include the influence of religious politics, economic conditions, and secular ideologies. Analysing the intricacies of the interactions between the two major faiths which are always at logger head, Islam and Christianity. Falola states that their relationship is marked by activism and contest for control and recognition within the spectrum of national politics. In another publication, Falola (2009) traced the origin of violence in Nigeria to the nature of the colonial conquest of the pre-colonial Nigeria. Different regions of the pre-colonial Nigeria were forcefully taken over with the use of arms and violence. This in a way became a legacy of colonialism. Years after the independence, this legacy transited in different shapes and magnitude by creating a dichotomy between the Muslim-populated north and Christian populated south. The inner dynamics of religion and politics equally aggravated an unhealthy interaction and dialogue in religious space in the form of religionalization of politics and politicization of religion.
Hyacinth Kalu (2011) in his book: “Principles and Practicalities of Interfaith Relationships in Nigeria” is different in his own approach to fostering peace and mutuality in the face of constant arising violence and disruption of peace. Kalu is concerned with the failure that has marked interreligious dialogue in Nigeria. In setting a 9-point agenda as “guidelines that should be adhered to for successful, fruitful and meaningful interfaith relationships among the three religions in Nigeria” (2011, p.1), Kalu advocated that the nation must move away from dialogue—which focuses on Christian and Muslim relation—to trialogue—which brings together the three major Nigerian religions, Christianity, Islam, and African Traditional Religions (ATR). He argued that the scope and methodology of interreligious dialogue has been least effective because of the exclusion of the traditional religionists in favour of Christians and Muslims.
The subject bordering on evangelism for Christians and dawah for Muslims are the factors that have orchestrated religious extremism and volatility in Nigeria. Evangelism and dawah constitute the notion of propagating both faiths. In many instances, leaders of these faiths claim an exclusive view on the truth to the extent that the other group finds it offensive. When the truth is monopolised and is presented without due regard for its reception in a social space, violence and disruption of peace is inevitable (Ayantayo, 2005; Opeloye, 2014; Aliyu, 2014 in “Sociological Examination of Inter-Religious Conflict in Africa”). Ahmed-Hameed (2015, p.87) in the book “Interfaith Dialogue: Preventing Extremism and Interreligious Conflict in Northern Nigeria” suggests that in order to curb religious violence, interreligious dialogue must be strengthened by the use of certain state apparatus that must guide the religious practices in Nigeria, including the proselytization of faith. Hence, these guidelines may be in the form of basic rules and procedures that must be followed in faith propagation. Kaduna State has happily enough, enacted a law guiding religious preachings in this regard and punishing misuse of preaching.
Salawu (2010) in his book “Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Nigeria: Causal Analysis and Proposals for New Management Strategies” convincingly proposed that there is a link between several factors such as ethnic identity, economic, and social conditions which constitute the phenomenal clashes and violence in Nigeria. Salawu indicated that those myriads of factors often manifest as communal clashes, political crises and ethno-religious crises but are often categorised as religious violence. Salawu concurs with both Falola (1998) and Adogame in “Politicization of Religion and Religionization of Politics in Nigeria” (2009) that in view of the above, religion in Nigeria has assumed a fertile soil for breeding violence. I say that it is the misinterpretation of the Religious Books either as a result of ignorance or for political gains that is the case of religious-based violence. Cedit questio.
Jan H. Boar in his book “Nigeria’s Decades of Blood 1980-2002” (2003) conducted a study on the series of violence and clashes in northern Nigeria since the early 1980s, highlighting the immediate causes and remote triggers of this violence. Boer indicated that the violence took various dimensions by documenting the actions of the major faiths involved, and the participation of government and its agencies in curbing or escalating the crises in some situations. Boer advocates a Kuyperian option, which embraces plurality of worldviews in politics and religious affiliation.
More recently, some researchers have explored theological approaches as having great possibilities of contributing to the peace process, reconciliation, and upsurge of religiously motivated violence in Nigeria. Nguvugher (2010) in his article titled: Conflicting Christologies in a Context of Conflicts: Jesus, the Isawa, and Christian-Muslim Relations in Nigeria” examines different clashes that have occurred between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria, and how their relationships have turned sour over the years. Some Heads of both faiths are the real instigators of their followers. I was representing the Sultan at one of the inter-faith Seminars organized by Savannah Foundation of Professor Gambari in 2017. One of the most eminent leaders of the Christian Faith whose name I will not mention for the sake of peace, not realizing I was there said: “these Muslims do not like us Christians”. I was totally disappointed. When he realized that I was there, he felt vividly cold. Equally, some Muslim religious preachers make similar comments against Christians. This is uncalled for because both Christianity and Islamic Religions belong to one GOD.
Olorunnisola (2016) called to question the resurgence of Christian revivalism and vivid advancement in the growth of the church as what could be explored to foster healthy interaction and peaceful coexistence in the Nigerian nation. In observation, the Nigerian church has witnessed massive development in recent years leading to gigantic church buildings, frequent church meetings, and an official recognition of the church and its officials by the state. However, this growth is far from developing into corresponding social action. Hence, Olorunnisola proposed that the solution is in recovering relevant Christological themes, such as reconciliation and the reign of God, which could be strengthened through prophetic Christology and prophetic dialogue to enable ideal engagement in the Nigerian religious and social space.
The survey of some of the existing literature on religion and violence in Nigeria and possible ways of curbing it reveals an eclectic theory of religious violence (Kieh Jr., 2002; Tidwell, 1998 (“Theories of Conflict Resolution”, in Zones of Conflict in Africa: Theories and Cases eds). There are multiple causes of conflict and violence. Hence, it requires multiple approaches to ameliorate the violent clashes. One major popular approach to facilitate peaceful coexistence is interreligious dialogue, which would be examined anon.
INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE IN NIGERIA
The scope of interreligious dialogue in Nigeria can be categorised into three intertwining frames. First, there is a form of interreligious dialogue that occurs in the local communities amongst various religious practitioners. It is the practical, most common expression of dialogue in the nation motivated by religion. It is a common practice for various religious practitioners to assemble occasionally and when a need is perceived to talk about how to live together in peace. Traditional community leaders are often facilitators of this form of dialogue.
Second, there is a form of interreligious dialogue that occurs in academic circles where scholars gather periodically to challenge one another on ideal ways of relating in a religiously plural nation. This form of interreligious dialogue focuses at educating the religious other about basic theological concepts underpinning beliefs and practices in a religion. Conferences and seminars are organised around themes of national interest.
The third is the institutional or structured interreligious dialogue that is found in Nigeria Interreligious Council (NIREC). The composition of this third expression of interreligious dialogue has enjoyed the official recognition of the government and its agencies. However, Onaiyekan in “Dividends of Religion in Nigeria” (2011, p.11-14) has two forms of interreligious dialogue in Nigeria. These include informal and formal dialogues.
An honest, unbiased assessment of the progress and process of interreligious dialogue in Nigeria must consider the scope of the ongoing dialogue in the nation, the major agencies in the nation vis-à-vis the constellations in the Nigerian religious space. The local interreligious, academic, and institutional dialogues have all contributed to the ongoing Nigerian religious space. Nigeria Interreligious Council (NIREC) has emerged as an official symbol of interreligious dialogue in Nigeria. This organisation provides an opportunity to understand the interplay of interreligious dialogue in the local, academia, and at an institutional level.
NIGERIA INTERRELIGIOUS COUNCIL (NIREC)
There are justifiable reasons for selecting Nigeria Interreligious Council (NIREC) as a case study for examining the progress of interreligious dialogue in Nigeria. First, it represents the three layers of interreligious dialogue that bring together people at community levels, academia, and religious leaders in the nation. Members of NIREC are drawn from these three fora. Second, NIREC received a warm acclamation from the Federal Government of Nigeria at its inception because of its prospects. Founded shortly after the nation’s return to civilian administration, when Shari’a law was gaining prominence, NIREC was perceived as a way of instituting a new encompassing social and religious order.
On September 11 1999, NIREC was inaugurated as a body “to provide a permanent forum where the Christians and Muslim counterparts in the country could meet to hold dialogue on how to foster and strengthen mutual understanding among themselves”. NIREC, often referred to as “the Council”, consists of 25 equal representatives of Christians and Muslims who meet quarterly to discuss religious affairs and related national concerns. The Council issues communiqués following its meetings to intimate the general public of its deliberations and decisions. In 2008, the Council decentralised its meetings to hold rotationally in the six geo-political zones of the country. It was anticipated that this would facilitate the establishment of the state chapters of NIREC and draw the Council’s attention to religious issues at the grassroots
During its formative years, NIREC was determined to reduce interreligious tensions and to foster interreligious cooperation as a bedrock of peaceful co-existence and development. Pursuant to this determination, it has continued to admonish religious leaders to be exemplary in doctrines and character, so that their followers could emulate the good character of truth, honesty, and the fear of God in them. To spread its message at the grassroots, the Council promotes the establishment of NIREC Clubs, comprising Christians and Muslims in secondary schools to promote interreligious interaction, mutual respect, and understanding among the youth. Different states also began branches of NIREC to bridge the gap between interreligious relations at the federal, state, and local levels.
AN ASSESSMENT OF NIREC
NIREC has used certain strategies to carry out its responsibilities.
These include meetings, condemning of wrongdoing, making recommendations to the government and its members, and releasing communiqués to the public. It has also conducted public awareness programs such as seminars and conferences on national issues. The work of NIREC is plagued by a lack of concerted efforts and practical steps to initiate and sustain the desired change. The Council is fond of issuing communiqués reflecting its resolutions. However, most of the communiqués issued are one-sided. They are either condemning an act or calling on religious leaders and government at all levels to be proactive in providing a solution to the problem of religious violence. They seem not to examine and attack the root cause of the crises.
Communiqués would be useful only if they contained practical steps to bring about a solution to the religious conflicts. This should involve plans for implementation, follow up and constant evaluation of the success, progress, and further steps of improvement by members. The Council’s communiqués mirror a repetition of the statements issued years before. This level of performance reduces the status of NIREC to a toothless bulldog. Hence, NIREC has not achieved its purpose.
The spate of violence and religiously motivated violence has not subsided since 1999, when NIREC started. Rather, it has been on the increase. The answers to why interreligious dialogue have been quasi-effective can be found in the following four major considerations.
First, there seems to be a frequent subtle quest for an Islamic theocratic or Christian state in Nigeria. A theocratic system of government is defined as a “government by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. In many theocracies, government leaders are members of the clergy, and the state’s legal system is based on religious law” (www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/theocracy/conciseEncyclopedia).
Nigerian membership in the Organization of Islamic Conference, which later changed to Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1986 is beneficial to a multi-religious society such as Nigeria. It can foster peaceful co-existence. The Charter of OIC reads in part on the agreement of the member States:
To be guided by the noble Islamic values of unity and fraternity, and affirming the essentiality of promoting and consolidating the unity and solidarity among the Member States in securing their common interests at the international arena;… to preserve and promote the lofty Islamic values of peace, compassion, tolerance, equality, justice and human dignity;… to endeavour to work for revitalizing Islam’s pioneering role in the world while ensuring sustainable development, progress and prosperity for the peoples of Member States;… to foster noble Islamic values concerning moderation, tolerance, respect for diversity, preservation of Islamic symbols and common heritage and to defend the universality of Islamic religion; to advance the acquisition and popularization of knowledge in consonance with the lofty ideals of Islam to achieve intellectual excellence; (OIC Charterwww.oicoci.org/oicv2/ page/?p_id=53&p_ref=27&lan=en).
Many prominent Islamic Countries such as Israel are Members of OIC. Obasanjo as a civilian President supported OIC as a dialogue solving institutions.
Observing this kind of predisposition, Ezegbobelu in his article “Challenges of Interreligious Dialogue between the Christian and the Muslim Communities in Nigeria” (2009, p.171) concluded that “dishonesty, insincerity and mistrust, among the Muslim and Christian communities in Nigeria have systematically obstructed the process of genuine dialogue”. Any dialogue that occurs in an atmosphere of dishonesty and prejudice will definitely be devoid of any useful outcome.
Religious extremism is another factor prohibiting peaceful co-existence Extremism is a major element that has inhibited true dialogue in Nigerian religious space. Arinze in “The Risks and Rewards of Interreligious Dialogue: Meeting Other Believers” (1998, p.111) noted that the rise of extremism and fundamentalism are obstacles on the road to dialogue. This extremism is either from Christian preachers who offer offensive statements to the members of the Muslim community. Extreme dimensions could also emerge from the Muslims on the issues that could have been settled amicably. An example is the Miss World Beauty Pageant crisis of 2002 which ended up in the death of about 215 people and burning of 58 church buildings. This was an issue that could otherwise be resolved in dialogue and an amicable settlement. It is extremism to insist that the Miss World Contest should not take place in Nigeria. Any Muslim who did not want the semi-nakedness of the female contestants should turn off his television when it is being shown and not to disrupt it.
Another is governmental influence and partisan politics. One vital role of government is to create an enabling environment where social, economic, political, and religious interactions can hold in a nation. If the political space is unstable, it is most probably that all of these other developing factors will be hampered. The Government must try to be neutral in the activities of both religions as their activities do not bring breach of peace.
MOVING FROM INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE TO DIALOGUE OF LIFE
The above signified the need for a shift in the focus and priorities of both the government and private individuals on what can be done to foster peaceful co-existence in Nigeria. There is an urgent need to shift from interreligious dialogue to dialogue of life.
Suraya Sintang, Azizan Baharuddin and Khadijah Mohd (2012) in their Article “Dialogue of Life and Its Significance in Inter-Religious Relation in Malaysia” International Journal of Islamic Thought Vol. 2: (Dec.)” have argued that dialogue of life is a form of interreligious dialogue involving personal interactions among people in the same community. They were right in stating that dialogue of life occurs in an informal and ordinary day life experience. However, dialogue of life “is a form of inter-religious dialogue that is within the reach of anyone who lives or interacts with believers in a different religion”. Haney (2009) categorised interreligious dialogue into five groups, including living dialogue or dialogue of life. Categorising dialogue of life as a form of interreligious dialogue is prevalent in the academy today beginning with the publication of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue and Proclamation (1991) and the initial document published by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (DM, 1984, p.28-35).
This categorization has a potential to breed misunderstanding and confusion about the meaning and focus of interreligious dialogue as against dialogue of life. Contrary to the above writings, dialogue of life should by no means be categorised as a form of interreligious dialogue. Dialogue involves sharing between two people which sometimes involves negotiation or collaboration. For example, different forms of dialogue exist in a democratic setting, such as parliamentary, political, or ecumenical dialogue. These forms of dialogue cannot and should not be categorised as types of interreligious dialogue. Dialogue and Proclamation (1991, p.214) discretely used the word ‘dialogue’ and moved on to identify three of the ways in which it could be understood. First, purely on a human level; second, as an attitude of respect and openness; and third, in the context of religious plurality. It is in the third context that the document used the term dialogue. The contextual usage of dialogue in Dialogue and Proclamation has religious connotation. That is why the document categorised dialogue of life as a form of interreligious dialogue. This is more so as both religions abhor violence and murder.
Broadly speaking, dialogue should be understood as a discipline under which interreligious dialogue and dialogue of life exist and not vice versa. Interreligious dialogue exists for religious cooperation, understanding, learning, and bridge building for the sake of knowing more about others religion for common good. Dialogue of life occurs because human beings are created as social beings who function by interactions, relationships, collaboration for mutual enrichment on social and communitarian levels. The reason behind interreligious dialogue is because religion is a powerful tool that offers great potentialities for peaceful coexistence. The purpose of dialogue of life is the acknowledgement of the precious gift of life as what human beings need to invest, cultivate, and cherish to enable them realise their full belonging in the community with one another. Intrinsically, however, since both religions forbid murder, dialogue of Life can conveniently be categorized as a subsist while inter-religious dialogue is a set, mathematically.
Except we have a proper grasp of the real meaning and purpose of dialogue of life, our knowledge of it and how it can be useful in modern times automatically becomes distorted. Samwini in his Article “The Need for and Importance of Dialogue of Life in Community Building: The Case of Selected West African Nations.” (2011) corroborated the above by stating that “Dialogue of life, by virtue of primarily basing relations on blood or social ties, can lead to the dispelling of prejudice and engender mutual understanding.” Dialogue of life is the interaction that occurs in a human community where people of different ideologies, belief systems, religions, and sometimes cultures, collaborate and engage one another on the basis of common humanity. Samwini tries to draw a clear distinction between interreligious dialogue and dialogue of life by arguing that:
“Dialogue of life is a direct challenge to religious people, nonreligious individuals, towns, and communities to accept one another no matter their differences in beliefs or practices. It differs from inter-religious dialogue, which often involves listening to one another about the content of each other’s faiths.”
“Unlike inter-religious dialogue which seeks, among other things to build understanding on similarities between the different faiths, dialogue of life does not necessarily look for similarities but seeks to bring peace even amidst acknowledged differences. The process thereby generates peaceful coexistence and enables people to promote spiritual and cultural values, which are found in the distinct outlooks of followers of the other religions. Peaceful co-existence leads to a growth in relationship through a process of mutuality that generates greater understanding and mutual enrichment.”
The unique feature of dialogue of life is that the primary motivation for engaging in it is because of the common good which human beings are created to enjoy from one another irrespective of secondary differences that tend to set them apart, including religion.
The cardinal roots of the dialogue of life is that which is deeply orientated in the African ontological worldview. Drawing insight from Placid Tempels (1949) and Vincent Mulago (1965), one of the precursors of African philosophy has proposed that African Traditional Religion (ATR) can be construed in terms of four essential elements, namely unity of life and participation, belief in the enhancement or diminution of beings and the interaction of beings, symbols as the principal means of contact and union, and an ethic that flows from ontology. Mulago argued that there is a vital participation in life which first and foremost is evident in family union and also in terms of community relation.
The first and last element that Mulago proposed offers a striking insight into understanding the need for dialogue of life in Nigeria. Unity of life and participation implies the common element that joins the entire family, clan, and lineage together including the living-dead. It is the life-giving principle that binds everything together. Participating in this communion of life is what results in an inclusive community in which the identity of the community or family or clan corporately subsumes the unitary identity of an individual. Following on the first element identified above, there is an ethic that proceeds directly which states that since life is sacred and common to all, therefore, its sanctity must be upheld by all means. Mbiti (1990, p.106) in his book African Religion and Philosophy writes based on a view of life and a person’s identity in the traditional African background:
What then is the individual and where is his place in the community? In traditional life, the individual does not and cannot exist alone except corporately. He owes his existence to other people, including those of the past generations and his contemporaries. He is simply part of the whole. The community must therefore make, create or produce the individual; for the individual depends on the corporate group.
A person therefore exists to witness to the collective life of his community first before his own. Each person holds a responsibility to protect and safeguard the gift and sacredness of life.
The wave of sporadic violence that Nigeria has witnessed in the last two decades with thousands of lives lost and others disabled signalled a massive erosion of the value of life which is an inherent component of African value systems. Except this instinctive value for life is recovered, all forms of organised interreligious talks or dialogue that is engaged between government and its agencies with Christians and Muslims would remain superficial.
The implication of my proposal for the source of this dialogue of life is clear. It establishes the place of a person as belonging in human community, where there are strong ties, and collective identity. Heywood further notes that the term ‘community’ would be identifiable through bonds of comradeship, loyalty to common causes and interest, and social roots of loyalty and duty.
It shows that it is impossible to witness to life in a way that leads to peace and mutuality in a nation when each person does not see him/herself as belonging in a whole, community. Contrastingly, those who have come to specialise in the disruption of peace to the detriment of human life may be seen to have considered themselves or others as not belonging to the same part of the human entity.
This raises questions about how an individual achieves personhood. A person is more than a biological entity, although personhood could be in degrees. Following our analysis so far, an individual would be seen as achieving personhood in a community with others. The degree of personhood depends on the action and comportment with others. For example, an individual who values others, their wellbeing, and peaceful coexistence in the community and the nation at large would be described as ‘a good person’ and those who behave otherwise would be seen as ‘bad or evil person’. The danger in wholly adopting the African Dialogue of Life Principle is that it is the same African Traditional Religions, some of which allows human beings to be sacrificed to a deity or buried alive with a dead king.
It is necessary to examine one major factor that confronts the proposal for a dialogue of life that is firmly rooted in an African ontological worldview. This factor is globalisation. The effects of globalization are felt everywhere nowadays. Discussing the grave effects of globalization is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say that it is having dramatic influence upon the subjects of this article. Most of the recent analyses of globalization focus on economic benefits. The impacts of globalization on Nigeria and concluded that Nigeria is benefitting from the process of Foreign Direct Investment through globalisation. As Nigeria becomes exposed to the rest of the world, it aids contacts with other economies and a transnational view of market and labour. However, it has negative effects on cultural perception. Globalization comes in forcefully into Nigeria and other African countries by enforcing the domination of foreign culture upon the existing traditional culture. Ibrahim in his book Democracy and Civil Society in Nigeria (2013) has observed in this regard that:
“As a result of the cultural domination from outside that goes with globalization, African countries are rapidly losing their cultural identity and therefore their ability to interact with other cultures on an equal and autonomous basis, borrowing from other cultures only those aspects that meet its requirements and needs.”
One of the areas is the erosion of the aspects of culture that would ordinarily facilitate peaceful coexistence and nation building. Through Information Communication Technology and media, there is a breakage of ethnic barriers and erosion of national identities by creating “a homogeneous entity”. The invasion of multiple foreign cultures which engender violence and the use of arms is a clear example here. The extension of this is the promotion of the procurement and the use of Small Arm and Light Weapons (SALW) that are being used in the current stage of the insurgencies in Nigeria.
HOW TO STRENGTHEN DIALOGUE OF LIFE
The ideal concept of dialogue of life that is envisaged here needs to find expression within the Nigerian national life. It needs to be strengthened through various avenues that currently exist within the nation. There are six ways in which dialogue of life can be strengthened in Nigeria.
First, there is the urgency of exploring the traditional African values of life through traditional African leadership. One of the commonalities to the Nigerian societies until now is the retention of traditional leadership in its cities and villages as an addition to the political and religious leadership. This institution is often considered as a custodian of culture and tradition. The participation of life and its conspicuous place in human interaction is a sacred element of African spirituality (Magesa, What is not Sacred? African Spirituality. 2013, p.11-22). Traditional leaders can take periods of their interactions with religious and political institutions to reinforce various aspects of dialogue of life. To the extent that life is sacred to the traditional dialogue of life in African Religion is synonym with both Muslim and Christian Books and so, it is not correct to say that it is only the African Traditions that believe in Dialogue of Life Doctrine.
Second, the government of Nigeria at all levels needs to be aware of the current failure of the interreligious dialogue. Government has invested so much in interreligious dialogue through its sponsorship of NIREC and various seminars that are intended to create an atmosphere of peace through which various religious practitioners can coexist. When there is such unbiased, sincere assessment of the government’s promotion of interreligious dialogue, it will reveal various reasons which have fraught the practicalities of any meaningful interreligious dialogue. The government and its agencies in different states and at the Federal level have its good share of the spark to every conflict or violence experienced in Nigeria. In some instances, the government has initiated policies, like bad governance or which brings unemployment or poverty. The contradiction is that in spite of such policies, it continues to invest in interreligious dialogue as a possible way of ameliorating the situation. It is through such an assessment that dialogue of life would emerge as a laudable alternative to curbing the violence.
Third, the church can also perform useful roles by using various elements that are recognisable within the social context to better the ongoing political processes and to promote dialogue of life. The contributions of the church elsewhere, like South Africa, where the leadership of the church was actively involved in the reconciliation and healing processes from the era of Apartheid through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), signals how the church can still serve the mission of social reconstruction in the nation of Nigeria (Olorunnisola, 2016).
Ogun state created its Peace and Truth Reconciliation Commissions of which I was the Vice-Chairman in 2010.
Enwerem in his research A Dangerous Awakening (1993) alluded to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), an umbrella body for Nigeria ecumenism, as an awakening that is both fragile and dangerous because of its politico-religious participation. Decades after Enwerem’s publication, we can confidently affirm that the awakening of CAN needs to be directed at promoting the value of life through which all Nigerians can have a new perception about life and how to share it together. Closely associated to ecumenism is the ecclesiastical channels which can further be used to aid a renewed understanding of life and how it can be shared.
Fourth, the media could be used to educate the citizens about the importance of dialogue of life and the value of genuineness in its practice. The print and electronic media are powerful tools of conducting public enlightenment and creating awareness. Social media recently joined the traditional media channels. The potential of media houses assisting in the promotion of dialogue of life is very high with privately owned media outlets. Media houses can no longer be used for seeking elections alone and other elements that cause division and violence. If the government-owned media are slow at embracing it, private media groups can arise to pioneer it. Lai Mohammed, the current Minister of Information, who though not my friend, must be commended in their programmes an advertisement preaching total peaceful co-existence like this man who says that: “the iroko tree will also be consumed if the forest (Nigeria) is allowed to burn.”
Fifth, the civil society groups and non-governmental organisations have been involved in the pace-setting in bringing sanity and creating awareness over issues that are affecting the nation and its politics. It is clearer now than ever that NGOs need to participate in rebuilding both the economy and social integration in Nigeria. Studies such as McGarvey (2010) and Nwabugbolu (Christian and Muslim Women in Dialogue: The Case of Northern Nigeria, 2010) have shown that various local organisations are working at learning and growing together to benefit their communities. I have been admirably watching how Kaduna Branch of FEDERACION INTERNATIONALE DE ABOGADAS (FIDA) chaired by Barrister Zainab Atoba reconciles people and couples of divergent religious and tribal groups and saving lives and marriages. One can imagine that many more would join them soon. Non-governmental organisations as well as civil society groups contributed to the rescue of the Nigerian nation from the military regime and facilitated the transition into a democratic governance after years of military dictatorship. There is a need to continue to promote active participation of NGOs and civil society groups in the national polity.
Sixth and lastly, the core idea of the dialogue of life may be incorporated into the Nigerian educational systems. Many studies have advocated the need to integrate interreligious dialogue into the Nigerian curricula (Ahmed-Hameed, 2015). These studies advocated that religious education should be made compulsory at all levels. This proposal has been accepted to some extent at various universities, e.g., the National Open University of Nigeria (NOU) is currently studying interreligious dialogue as a unit. When dialogue of life becomes integrated in the educational system from primary school to university level, every student will be exposed to the need to make religion a secondary factor of association. When educational policy makers allow dialogue of life to be studied, it will help reorientate the populace and reposition them on the path towards nation building.
- The Major Nigerian tribes must henceforth desist from their feeling of megalomania and of being superior to the other tribes in Nigeria even in the worship of GOD. This is, whether we like it or not, the major cause of our disaffection with one another in Nigeria, then and today;
- The National Assembly must, as a matter of urgency and during their tenure too, ensure the amendment of the constitution to accommodate all the important unifying recommendations of the Jonathan’s National Conference of 2014;
- Our religious leaders should preach to their followers particularly the youth, the necessity for religious tolerance having in mind that neither the old testament nor the new testament nor the Qur’an preaches hate or intolerance. The Qur’an in particular in Bakara 256 and Qaf 4 forbid and condemn religious intolerance and discrimination in these words:
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become distinct from the wrong. So, whoever disbelieves in taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”
“We are most knowing of what they say and you are not over them a tyrant. But remind by the Qur’an whoever fears My threat.”
(UNDERLINING MINE FOR EMPHASIS ONLY);
- Since peaceful co-existence does not mean absence of dispute, Nigerians must have recourse to dialogue whenever any dispute arises;
- The youth and the led too should not be ashamed of not following their religious mundane leaders where such leaders themselves are the architects of inter-religious and inter-tribal conflicts and extremism;
- The ordinary Nigerian and the youth, in particular, must know and recognize the fact that it is they and they alone who suffer most in the event of any civil strife or war;
- The use of abusive and insultive language in preaching must be punished with imprisonment without option of fine.
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