This quote by the renowned scientist and philosopher, Albert Einstein over six decades ago remains the timeless truth that should underline all genuine peace building efforts anywhere in the world. This truth is further buttressed by Martin Luther King Jr., the martyr of peace himself, when he declared that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” This has also been the disposition of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in its efforts at peace building and sustenance across Nigeria.
According to the on-line encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, “Peace is a state of harmony characterized by the lack of violent conflict. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility, peace also suggests the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships, prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the establishment of equality, and a working political order that serves the true interests of all. In international relations, peacetime is not only the absence of war or conflict, but also the presence of cultural and economic understanding.”
Consequently, it is evident that NOA’s strong conviction that if meaningful social and infrastructural development or prosperity must be achieved, peace is inevitable and therefore should be pursued with dialogue as the only sure strategy. This ideology of the NOA was once again highlighted by the Agency’s Peace Advocacy visit to Plateau State where several incidences of violent ethnic clashes and reprisals have been recorded in recent times with some levels of religious coloration. From Thursday, June 14 – Friday, June 15, 2012, the Director General of the NOA, Mr. Mike Omeri was on the Plateau to solicit peace as against rancor; dialogue as against resort to violence; inter-religious and inter-ethnic acceptance as against mere tolerance.
In Jos, the Plateau State capital, Mr. Omeri met with the Chief Imam of Jos Central Mosque, Sheik Balarabe Dawud and the Worldwide President of Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA) Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Gado. In each of the meetings he asked for mutual acceptance, peace and the return of brotherliness among Nigerians.
At the residence of the Chief Imam, Omeri said the time had come for very practical steps towards achieving not just religious and social tolerance but mutual acceptance among the citizenry. He appealed to the Chief Imam and other Muslim clerics across the nation to always emphasize peace, unity and mutual acceptance in their sermons stressing that there was no alternative to peace and unity.
The NOA Director General also observed at the ECWA headquarters that the violent crises experienced in Plateau State and other parts of the nation were not due to disagreement amongst Nigerians on the need to live in peace but was the handiwork of mischief makers who take advantage of issues that could have otherwise been resolved through dialogue to foment trouble.
Mr. Omeri urged the church and all Nigerians not to give up on Nigeria but to insist on building the nation through sermons against bombings and reprisal attacks. He reminded Nigerians that an eye for an eye would only leave everyone blind and hurt innocent citizens, hence the need for restraint. ECWA is one of the Christian organizations that have paid a heavy toll in a series of violent attacks it has suffered in Plateau, Kaduna and other States through the terror attacks of some groups in the north, including the Boko Haram sect.
In his response, Sheikh Dawud was of the conviction that the crisis in the state was a deliberate creation of desperate politicians who thrive on deceit and chaos. He reaffirmed the commitment of the Hausa/Fulani community to the peace and stability of Plateau State and debunked the misconception that the Hausa/Fulani community had the intention of wresting the political leadership of Jos and Plateau State from Birom indigenes. He however called for an end of what he called the marginalization of the Hausa/Fulani in education and employment in the state.
The Reverend Gado, on his own part, condemned in strong terms all acts of violence and terrorism, noting that all who love peace should join in the condemnation as well as efforts at peace building. He however observed that the challenge of terrorism was not peculiar to Nigeria but called for firmer measures from government to curtail the menace. He observed that for Christians, peace was a way of life hence the commitment of the church to work with government to checkmate terror. He was also firm in stating the resolve of the church not to give up on Nigeria.
It its characteristic nationalistic manner, the NOA has also taken the peace campaign to other parts of Nigeria. In Umuahi, the Abia State Capital, the NOA boss took the peace campaign to the seat of the Bishop, Catholic Diocese of Umuahia, His Lordship, Bishop Lucius Ugorji. He urged the Bishop and all other Christian clerics not to relent in speaking up for peace in their sermons. “We need more voices of reasoning from leaders like you. When Christian leaders like you join your voice to our advocacy for peace, the followers will easily accept the message”, said the NOA boss.
He also enjoined Christian faithfuls to always do the right thing in obeying the biblical teachings of their church leaders on the need for peace and religious acceptance, noting that if they do, the peace building efforts of government across the nation would have already recorded a huge success.
Mr. Omeri said that although Abia has been one of the most peaceful States in the Federation, the visit was necessitated by President Goodluck Jonathan’s directive to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that peace and justice reign on a sustainable basis across the length and breadth of the nation as stipulated in the second stanza of the National Anthem.
On his own part, Bishop Ugorji advised Nigerians to always insist on dialogue, stressing that in the pursuit of peace, dialogue has no alternative. The Bishop gave the advice when the Director General, National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Mike Omeri paid him a peace advocacy visit to enlist his support for the Agency’s on-going nationwide peace advocacy.
Bishop Ugorji observed that dialogue was a way of life for Christians; hence the Catholic Bishops Conference had recently issued a statement urging both Christians and Muslims to embrace dialogue as the only tool for peace building. He also noted that violence scares investors and damages the economy and therefore those who resort to violence to redress grievances only succeed in shooting themselves in the foot as they too ultimately suffer the consequences.
From the fore-going, the fact speaks for itself that both local and foreign leaders – religious, opinion and even scientific leaders – have at various times over the ages, always been of the firm opinion that religious harmony only comes about by dialogue and never by violence. It is also clear that NOA believes that religious leaders hold the instruments of control over their adherents through their sermons and other elements of their respective religions. However, it also does appear that NOA thinks religious leaders have hitherto not spoken out well enough against the trend of religious intolerance currently being experienced in the northern parts of Nigeria; a situation largely believed to have been unfortunately exploited by unscrupulous politicians to recruit religious fundamentalists to wreck havoc in Plateau State and other parts of the north.
In suing for peace, however, NOA insists that mere religious tolerance and routine sloganeering will no longer suffice to sustain peace across Nigeria. The time has come for all Nigerians to adopt religious acceptance backed by practical steps to save the nation from the brinks of anarchy. The difference between religious tolerance and religious acceptance lies in the fact that while tolerance suggests grudging lenience towards other religions, acceptance presupposes a deliberate decision to respect the religious preference of the other person in all nooks and crannies of the nation. This is the message NOA is preaching and commending to leaders of all faiths to amplify.