FEATURE ARTICLE

Rev. Fr. Francis Anekwe OborjiMonday, December 25, 2017
[email protected]
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)

NIGERIA AND CHRISTMAS MESSAGE OF PEACE

his Christmas and New Year – the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Savior of the world, is an opportunity for sober reflection and prayer of all us for artisans of peace and reconciliation that could reinvent Nigeria, to arise in the nation’s leadership scene. Christmas is Christians’ celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ on earth, the Prince of Peace and savior of the world. Peace is that message the Angel brought to peasant shepherds and villagers of Bethlehem, when he announced to them the great tiding, singing with the chorus of heaven, heralding the birth of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Savior of humanity and the entire created universe, in the following words:

“Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord… And at once with the angel there was a throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth PEACE for those he favors.” (Luke 2:10-14).

As we link the message of peace of Christ at Christmas with Nigerian situation, our candid prayer is that the peace of the Infant Jesus may reign in our hearts and nation, help us reorder our lives and nation for promotion of love of God and one another, all the days of our lives. May the peace, which only Christ can give, reecho in a special way in the heart and soul of every Nigerian at this Christmas and all through the New Year! Amen.

Our interest in this Christmas reflection as introduction above has shown, is the longing for peace, healing and reconciliation in our increasingly violent, divided and conflict ridden Nigerian nation. Moreover, in the face of much personal and social brokenness in Nigeria today, we see the message of peace of the Child Jesus, born at Bethlehem in the manger, as one that promises an end to hostility and hatred that have been reigning in the country all these years, and especially, in recent times.

Again, our Christmas reflection is a contribution towards reinventing Nigeria. Our concern here is how Nigeria could overcome its present state and cycle of mutual hostility – hatred of one another, and begin to imbibe the message of the reign of peace of God in our individual lives and nation. How does the message of peace of the Infant Jesus born at Christmas in Bethlehem of Judea, challenge us to redefine our lives – the way we relate with one another as individuals and as a people of diverse cultures, political and philosophical persuasions, and especially, as a nation of multi-ethnic and multi-religious identities?

The Peace of Christ and Nigeria

The question is, ‘in the situation in which Nigeria finds itself today, what is the message of peace of Christmas to us?’ What role can the Christian faith in the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ born at Bethlehem, which we celebrate at Christmas actually play in reconciliation and peacebuilding in Nigeria?

It had been acknowledged by history that national unity and reconciliation cannot be achieved by use of force directed against citizens who oppose the unjust structure and status quo that enslave them. The use of force to achieve national unity and peace by the government against its own citizens, have very little to do with Christian convictions and faith that reconciliation is a gift of God, a journey of faith with invitation to the believer to be ambassador of reconciliation and peace in the society (2Corinthians 5:20).

In his prayer for peace, St. Francis of Assisi says, “Wherever wherever Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” The renowned writer, George Liddels, tells us that one of the essential qualities for peace in the world is personal example of those at the corridors of power. In fact, one of the fallacies of our modern time is the philosophy, which says that peace among warring peoples or in a nation such as Nigeria, can be achieved through military force or wars.

The philosophy of Pax Romana (use of military force and wars to achieve peace) is wrong and contrary to the teachings of the Gospel. To the disciple who drew a sword and struck the ear of a servant of the high priest in a bid to protect Jesus from those who came to arrest him before the event of the Cross, Jesus said: “Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). This implies that peace which God gives is not the same with that which the world gives. The world tends to follow the logic of Pax Romana. The peace of Christ – the Pax Christi is of a different order:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27).

As Pope Francis says, peace of Christ calls for attention at bigger reality other than short term or limited results (Evangelii Gaudium, 224). In other words, for Christians, peace of Christ is not conditioned by situations of conflicts. Peace of Christ is the attitude of the mind, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in human hearts – the working of the Spirit of God in our hearts; an interior relationship with God, and with fellow human beings and the entire created world that make way for the reign of God in our hearts.

This is why we have the incarnation of the Son of God in human flesh (Christmas), and not pantheism. Sin entered the world through the fault of human beings. Sin, the separation of man from his creator originated from human heart and desire of the flesh. This original sin of man against his creator is the root cause of man’s hatred of his fellow human beings. Our separation from God through sin is the reason why there is hatred among human beings. It is also the origin of conflicts, violence, wars and bloodshed in the world, as the biblical story of Cain and Abel, testifies.

Through the incarnation and paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, God redeemed us and separated us from that (original sin) which had separated us from him. This is why God came in human flesh through Jesus Christ. Again, this is the reason why we have the incarnation and not pantheism. For pantheism is belief that God is everything and everything is God.

But we know that God is not everything and everything is not God. Because God is not sin and sin is not God. God’s creation or work is not God, although as the scripture says, “whatever God has created is good.” But God and his creation should not be confused. God does not work through pantheism, which would look like a magician who mixes his saliva with sand to perform magic or what some may choose to call nowadays, ‘miracles.’ God does not perform in this way.

To purge away sin from human person and the created universe, God has to pass through the human person again, since sin entered the world through the human person. God redeemed us from sin through the event of the incarnation (Christmas) of His Son Jesus Christ in human flesh, which culminated in the Paschal mystery we celebrate at Easter. Through Christ event, God has recreated us anew and restored to us, his original plan of salvation through the same Christ-event and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is how Jesus Christ redeemed us from our sin, and why we celebrate Christmas, his birthday into the created world as a new dawn for our ‘recreation’ and eternal redemption in God. Through the incarnation of Jesus Christ in human flesh and the paschal mystery, God recreates man anew and brings him back to his original plan of salvation before the fall of Adam and Eve. This is Christian teaching of the incarnation, which is the theological basis of Christian anthropology. It is the message at the heart of Christmas celebration, our rebirth in God’s original plan of salvation for humankind through the mystery of Jesus Christ, born at Bethlehem on Christmas day.

Christmas is therefore, the feast of revelation of God through Christ to the world. It is feast of restoration, through Christ event, of our humanity wounded by sin. Our humanity and dignity wounded by sin, is restored to its original state and recreated anew through Christ event. This is why any offense against human dignity is not only an offense against humanity, but especially, an offense against God, the creator and redeemer of man. It is an offense committed against Christ, who redeemed us through his incarnation in human flesh and sacrifice on the cross.

Christmas therefore, is the celebration of the revelation of the coming of the indwelling of God (the Trinity) in human heart and soul through Jesus Christ. It is the beginning of the reign of God, the peace of God (Shalom), through Christ in human heart and soul. It is God’s reign in our hearts and souls. This is the significance of the message of peace, which the Angel brought to the shepherds and sang with chorus of heaven at the manger in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born.

The message and song of the Angel and chorus of heaven at Bethlehem on Christmas day is that “Christ is our peace”: war or hatred of the other is a wall, a separation from peace of Christ. Peace is therefore, an independent, free choice of the mind guided by the Holy Spirit – interior peace that comes about through our personal relationship with God, love of our fellow human beings and all God’s creation. If we want to remain at peace with God, with ourselves, others or the world, there is only one person we can rely upon, namely, the man, Jesus Christ. His gift of the Spirit in our heart and soul is the source of our peace.

The Peace of Christ and Nigerian Reality

All we have said above, simply, imply, that Christmas message of peace have important implications for national reconciliation in Nigeria today. Reconciliation is a gift of God. Like every other gift of our redemption, we have been invited to hope and work for the manifestation of God’s reconciling mercy and peace in our lives and society.

This means we must work and pray for artisans of peace and reconciliation to emerge as leaders of the unreconciled Nigerian state, a nation in need of redemption and healing. The happenings in the last few years and especially, since the end of Civil War combatant hostilities in 1970, have all shown that Nigeria is still living in denial of its dangerous historical memory.

This is why atrocities upon atrocities, a kind of hideous, state ‘sponsored terrorism’, often directed against a section of the country, have continued to be the order of the day in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the government, from all indications, seems less concerned or rather, incompetent to handle these challenges.

In such a situation as ours today in Nigeria, what difference does Christian faith in reconciliation make in the pursuit of national reconciliation and peacebuilding as well as in fashioning a more responsible government for the country?

Again, from a Christian point of view, reconciliation is a gift of God, God’s journey with humanity through the event of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase the Ugandan African theologian, Emmanuel Katongole, reconciliation is God’s journey which God himself had already started with the creation. The event of Christ is the culmination and center of that God’s journey with humanity and the entire created world.

Thus, reconciliation as God’s journey with humanity, which begins with the creation (Genesis), is propelled forward by God’s promise – nay, commitment – to restore fallen creation and humanity to its original designs. It is this journey that scripture bears witness to, and thus the prophets of the Old Testament constantly call the people back into the reality of God’s shalom, even as they announce God’s promise of a “new” covenant and a “new” creation.

The good news that Christians celebrate at Christmas, is that in the Christ event, this promise has been realized, thus bringing God’s offer of reconciliation with the “wounded” creation to a decisive moment. This is the good news Christians celebrate at Christmas and all other days of their lives as believers.

The challenge is, how do we as citizens and, in particular, as Christians fit within this story of God’s gift and invitation to live as “ambassadors” of reconciliation in Nigeria today? It is to give account of what it means, each one of us, of the gift and invitation of the new creation, or put differently, an account of how Christian life is shaped in between the already and not yet of God’s new creation through the Christ event. It is also to bear witness as to what the gift and the invitation of reconciliation concretely look like in the entity called Nigeria where the realities of pogroms of civil war, terrorism, military brutality, marginalization, lopsided government, ethnic and religious violence, as well as poverty seem to be endemic.

In fact, if there is anything Nigerians need most today more than any other thing else, it is justice, peace and true national reconciliation. These are essential ingredients for building a prosperous nation and cohesion among its diverse people. The vices of clueless government, weak leadership, corruption, instability of government, ethnic-hate, religious bigotry, terrorism, underdevelopment, unemployment, etc., will continue to bedevil the nation and its people without end, unless we address these fundamental issues of true reconciliation, justice, peace and national cohesion.

The much touted slogan, ‘Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable’, and other discussions on economic progress, security of lives and property as well as general welfare of the citizenry will continue to elude us in Nigeria until we settle the question of true national reconciliation for peace, justice and truth to reign in the land. This was what other African countries that had almost similar experience of bloodshed of its own people as Nigeria had and have continued to experience since the Civil War (1967-1970), till date, are doing in their own situations. South Africa and Rwanda readily come to mind here.

These countries were not afraid to confront their past dangerous historical memory of genocide, pogroms, recklessness and impunity of their past and present tyrannical regimes. Today, these two countries are regarded model nation states in Africa. Although, they might not have achieved the desired end, however, judging from African and Third World standard, one can see the genuine efforts of their present leaders to reconcile their divided people and country with their brutal past, and to reinvent their respective nations. It has not been easy for these two African states and will not be easy tomorrow either. But everybody can see the genuine efforts of those at the corridors of power in these countries to carry along in its decision and governance style, every citizen and section of their country.

What of Nigeria, a country that had experienced and continued to experience a more tragic and devastating incidents of bloodshed of pogroms, other forms of violence, terrorism and endless killings of innocent citizens? Can we say we have a truly reconciled nation-state of Nigeria today, 50 years after the Biafran pogroms and Civil War (1967-1970)? It is painful that since the end of the Civil War in 1970, the leadership of Nigerian state is only good in paying a lip service to the question of true reconciliation and peacebuilding, essential ingredients for nation-building and national unity.

In spite of all the window-dressing and twitting of the government slogan, ‘Nigeria unity is non-negotiable’, the Nigerian state since independence in 1960, and especially, after the Civil War in 1970, has been pursuing an acrimonious divisive policy that has alienated a cross-section of its federating units from the government and nation. This is why nowadays people are calling for referendum for separate state or political restructuring of Nigeria, if the country is to survive in the coming years. Those at the corridors of power should listen to these voices and stop resorting to use of force against those people and individuals who raise questions on these fundamental issues that have been derailing the progress and development of Nigeria as a modern nation state.

This means that we should stop interpreting the call for dialogue for referendum or restructuring of existing political system as an invitation for another civil war. These are different things. Asking for dialogue, whether for referendum or restructuring of the present political system, does not mean asking for war. Groups and individuals requesting to dialogue with the government on the issues of referendum and restructuring may mean well for the country more than those who are presently, singing the praises of the unjust structure in Nigeria.

Again, instead of using arms or military force to suppress the voice of the people who express these genuine concerns – calls for referendum and political restructuring of Nigeria, Nigerian government must listen to them and dialogue with the people concerned. The fact is that the political structure and style of governance in place today in Nigeria, is at the root cause of the nation’s myriad of problems.

Be it lopsided government, corruption, violence, religious and ethnic bigotries, terrorism, marginalization, underdevelopment, unemployment, illiteracy, poverty, etc., all these things travail in Nigeria today, because of the political system, structure and style of governance in place. The best way to address the challenges posed by these issues to the future of Nigeria as a nation state, is not through force. Rather, it is to look at their root causes and tackle them from there for the benefit of us all. Those at the corridors of power must listen to the voice of reason and dialogue with the people if we mean really to move Nigeria forward. It is a wrong strategy for government to continue to resort to use of violence and force to silence any opposition of the status quo. This is a very wrong approach.

Conclusion

One thing in particular, has become very clear to anyone who cares to know, from recent happenings in Nigeria. The absence of basic ingredients for the emergence of responsible leadership of a truly nation-state in our political structure and system, has made those at the corridors of power today, to continue to live in denial of past wrongs of the Nigerian state to millions of its own citizens. Because of this continued denial of its past wrongs, Nigerian state has continued to commit more and more insidious crimes against humanity, directed against its citizens from a cross-section of the country.

As matter of fact, Nigerian state is yet to atone for Biafran pogroms and other crimes it committed during the entire Civil War (1967-1970), and thereafter. Moreover, since after the Civil War in 1970, Nigerian state has continued to shed innocent blood of hundreds and thousands of its citizens with military and police recklessness and impunity. As if this is not enough, all efforts are made by those in corridors of power to sweep under carpet these atrocities of ‘state sponsored’ terrorism against its own people.

One would like to think that our condoning these crimes against humanity, and continued to pretend as if they do not exist, is not the right approach whatsoever. Our silence on these crimes and other serious issues of national interest is a dangerous one. Because if these issues are not addressed, resolved, and old wound healed, we shall never have a reconciled, united, prosperous and peaceful nation state of Nigeria.

The federal government hidden but apparent pursuit of policy of marginalization, lopsided government and militarization of the former Biafra enclave, especially, the South-East region of the country, is the major thing derailing the wheel of progress, peace and unity of Nigeria since the end of the Civil War in 1970. It is also the wheel propelling corruption at the high quarters of the government and their various agencies nationwide.

Corruption is a system’s problem. Corruption is a source of power for those in corridors of power, who are there to maintain the status quo – the present unjust political structure of Nigeria. To eliminate corruption and its mechanism of power, structures of injustice, is to eliminate one of the major sources of power of those who have been controlling the affairs of the nation since political independence in 1960. This is why successive Nigerian governments, since after the Civil War in 1970, instead of eliminating corruption, have continued to cultivate and promote it as culture of governance. Government officials appear to pay only lip service to their so-called Anti-corruption crusade.

Moreover, as is increasingly becoming evident today, under the present dispensation, those in corridors of power use the infamous EFCC to checkmate their perceived political opponents and emasculate financially, prominent industrialists and rich people from a targeted cross-section of the country. Thus, the dreaded anti-graft agency is there to serve corruption, and thereby perpetuate the present unjust political structure in Nigeria.

This means that corruption at high and low quarters of the government is the means through which those at the corridors of power use to maintain structures of injustice: marginalization, lopsided government, military brutality, recklessness and impunity that have been derailing the nation’s progress into greatness. This is why the issue of corruption in Nigeria can hardly be resolved. Until we summon the courage to address the present political system that has continued to hold the country down, corruption will continue to pervade the governance structure and culture of Nigeria as a nation state.

A corrupt political structure and system of governance can only produce corrupt operators and nation-state. Nigeria is a corrupt nation, because the political structure or system, under which the country is governed presently, is intrinsically, a corrupt one. No country, no matter how good intentioned some of its citizens may be, will ever make reasonable progress or achieve greatness as a nation state, under such a structure as we have it in Nigeria today.

This means that we should avoid the usual temptation of seeing the issues raised here as false alarm or disillusionment of an adult. They are neither of these. Nor are they expressions of religious and ethnic sentiment or bigotry. Rather, they are genuine concerns of a true patriot who wants Nigeria to succeed as a veritable nation state.

In fact, the real ethnic and religious bigots and sentimentalists are all those who have been holding Nigeria down through their style of lopsided government and religious extremism. These are the real enemies of Nigeria. They are the guardians and beneficiaries of Nigeria’s present corrupt and unjust political system and structure. They are ready to kill and murder at will and any time, their fellow citizens who dare question the present status quo – the unjust political structure, a cankerworm that has been eating the fabric of the Nigerian nation from inside-out.

Unless we acknowledge this naked truth about our nation, and sincerely begin to address them, the new Nigeria of our dream will never emerge.

Merry Christmas and Prosperous New Year 2018 to us all. Amen.

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