Many post graduate students who are researching on inter-religious dialogue have visited our office in the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja to ask questions about the Nigeria Inter-religious Council (NIREC). Among the questions asked are whether the Council is on recess in the face of the terrorist activities in Nigeria.
They want to know how the statements of NIREC are implemented in concrete situations. We often refer the researchers to NIREC office, the media reports and internet. This however calls for the need for NIREC to be made visible at the state level and be encouraged by the state governors. In the Daily Trust of 22 June 2008, Salisu Na'inna Dambatta reported that "The Nigeria Inter Religious Council (NIREC) came into being after the dawn of democracy in 1999 to serve as a platform for high-level dialogue between the leaders of Christians and Muslims in the country, thereby promoting public good. Among many other issues on the agenda of NIREC are freedom of religion and credible elections in a peaceful atmosphere.
The Nigeria Observer, Tuesday, October 30, 2012 reported that the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), has advised Nigerians to disregard threats by anyone in the country, meant to intimidate them out of their places of abode. However, the increase in terrorism in the country appears to prove NIREC wrong. The report of Punch in October 8, 2012 by Waheed Bakare indicates how much the people are expecting from NIREC.
Sha'afi, urged the leadership of the Nigeria Inter Religious Council to curb religious violence and ensure that there is peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians in the country. He said that "the leadership of NIREC should be blamed for the perennial religious violence in the country. It is a minus for them and it is an indication that we are not being well led". He suggested that if NIREC is not able to assist in stopping terrorism in the country, then government should look beyond it.
We should not forget that there are some indications that NIREC is working. Abdulwahab Abdulah reported in the Vanguard of December 9, 2011 that NIREC advocates death penalty "for anyone found guilty of killing innocent citizen under pretence of belonging to any group in the country". This was a statement issued at the end of its two-day meeting in Ilorin, Kwara State.
It was reported in the Punch of May 23, 2012 that the President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar, and the current national president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor led a delegation of some members of NIREC to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan in continuation of the Federal Government's bid to find a lasting solution to the violence by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram. In that meeting, NIREC declared: "we want all the people in this country to know that we are together in this boat and the boat should not be rocked and we should do everything possible to live harmoniously together because if God had wished, he would have made us a monolithic nation. The plurality of this country is strength and it should be made to be so."
The report of Premium times of Thursday, November 29, 2012 on the National Executive Council Meeting of CAN in Awka, Anambra State calls for serious reflection. The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor was reported to have said: "We at CAN are strongly considering pressing charges against the Boko Haram sect for crimes committed against Christians at the International Criminal Court and we will commence soon." "The Federal Government should designate the Boko Haram sect as a foreign terrorist group". The government was very wise in putting in place an Interreligious council that would cultivate the culture of respect for human dignity and religious freedom by:
• Monitoring and identifying potential hot spots for brewing religious intolerance and violence.
• Preventing and managing Conflict.
• Supporting people that are marginalized because of their religious identity through advocacy and capacity building.
• Advising and empowering for the provision of legal protection for those suffering from religiously motivated violence.
• Investigating and reporting on religious tension to legitimate organs of government for pro-active measures.
• Working out strategies for collaboration in the support of human dignity and for freedom of religion.
Terrorism in Nigeria is a global embarrassment. In the last colloquium we had in the Vatican City, Rome, on November 19-21, 2012 some of our Muslim colleagues from Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran were worried about the terrorism in Nigeria. The action coupled with other challenges of Nigeria is really giving the nation a name that Nigeria does not deserve. If the Christians and the Muslims in Nigeria can not come together to enquire through sincere and open dialogue what the terrorists are saying, no court in the entire universe may solve this problem. It will be wonderful if the leadership of NIREC can sincerely come together more often than ever given the present situation of the nation and look inward without foreign intervention to see if they can identify the sponsors of the terrorists group for dialogue. The government needs both the Christians and the Muslims to solve this puzzle which should not be seen as a conflict between Christianity and Islam. This is a challenge for NIREC to be more united in executing its programmes beyond statements to actualizing its vision, aim and specific objectives. NIREC must strive to reclaim the national unity and peace that can make Nigeria once more a home instead of a battle field.
Fr (Prof) Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Abuja, and Consultor for the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City, Rome