he recently concluded Zumunta Association's annual convention in California, July 26, 2008, witnessed a history in the making. His Eminence Alhaji Mohammad Sa'adu Abubakar III, CFR, MNI the Sultan of Sokoto (Sarkin Muslim), the head of the Muslim religion in Nigeria, and His Grace, the Catholic Arch Bishop of Abuja Dr. John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan, the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), demonstrated one of the unique events an average Nigerian would expect to happen in their life time. Religious synchronization between Christians and Moslems has been a challenge to Nigeria.
Zumunta Association invited both religious leaders in Nigeria to its 2008 annual convention in California to foster ways and means for a lasting peace between the Christians and Moslems in Nigeria. A well thought theme for the two-day convention was conflict resolution between Christianity and Islam; in addition to the ethnic bigotry in the Nigeria public service.
Zumunta Association seems to be the vanguard on Conflict resolution in Nigeria. In 2004 the Association took the same conflict resolution message to Abuja with Nigerian politicians. The 2008 Conflict resolution seminar got religious leaders involved, especially the Sultan of Sokoto who personally invited all the Governors in Nigeria to the convention. Out of the 14 Governors that agreed to attend, only Rotimi Amechi of Rivers and Dr. Oudugaha of Delta States made it.
Unfortunately some key members that ought to have participated in this forum could not make it to the convention. Ironically there was not a single Governor from the 19 Northern States, with the exception of Kano State Governor who sent his wife. Nonetheless, there was no message from her husband to the convention except her attendance. It made someone concerned how Sultan and Arch Bishop's messages would sink to the fanatics in their respective States.
Nigeria unity has been a challenge to Zumunta Association, USA, believing that, the Nigeria's unity will make the country a better place for everyone. Therefore Nigerians Abroad have tremendous roles to play ending religious and ethnic polarization in Nigeria.
The two major religious leaders, at the Zumunta 2008 Convention in California, appeared equivalent. They feast together, chuckled jointly, and spoke in unison on the importance of mutual respect for each others religious belief.
It would interest my readers to note that Sultan Abubakar and Archbishop Onaiyekan work together while in the public, hopefully it is so in private. When one speaks the other simply harmonizes. Most of us at the convention had very close contact with the Sultan especially, something that was not the case in the past.
In his message, the Sultan revealed his partnership with the leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN. This has led to the formation of Nigerian Inter Religious Council. The Council meets quarterly at different locations in Nigeria. They are working toward religious tolerance among Nigerians.
Both religious leaders co-chair the Nigerian Inter Religious Council. In any gathering where they both participate they co-chair without displaying any religious superiority. As a matter of fact no religion is superior in the presence of God.
The Sultan and Arch Bishop speak in unison. In addition there is no issue of who prays at public gatherings since "there is only one God not many Gods". At any Nigerian public gatherings they start with either Christian or Muslim prayer and end with the other.
The Sultan has challenged Nigerians residing abroad to emulate what they are doing to end religious violence and volatility, while encouraging them to forge ahead as one united group for the sake of their children.
The Arch Bishop addressed the gathering on the first day on Conflict Resolution; while the Sultan dialogued with Nigerian leaders of various ethnic and religious backgrounds at lunch time on the second day. The Sultan spoke extensively from his experiences on how Nigeria should eliminate self-inflicted religious and ethnic schism. Each religious leader consented to what each of them said.
Present at the Sunday lunch were leaders of Igbo Union, Yoruba Organization, Rivers State, Akwa Ibom, NIDO, ANAC. Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze (for IWA/CISA), Dr. Femi Ajayi who is the Vice President of Zumunta, while Sultan Abubakar III, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja and the two visiting Emirs, were at he head table for the discussion. Jumoke Akin-Taylor represented the interest of NIDOA, Chief Temitope Ajayi; "Mama International" represented Women in the USA. While ANAC, Rivers State, Akwa Ibom associations were represented. The Yoruba delegate was led by Chief Odusanya. It was supposed to be a small group; however, its expansion was a plus for the course.
The display of this fundamental issue of religious harmony by Sultan of Sokoto, who on a daily basis continue to preach tolerance among various religious sects in Nigeria, especially between Christians and Moslems, is very encouraging. Nigerians hope such relationships would work very well for the country, especially with Nigerian politicians polarizing the country using religion and ethnicity as fishing baits for Nigerians.
On the issue of corruption, especially with the power supply, Nigerians all over the world should support the government to fight the cancer in the Nigerian society. The Sultan in one of his tours of duty, as Nigerian Military Attach� to Pakistan, covering Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, was shocked that there was no power shortage in Iran as experienced in Nigeria. During the tour of Iranian power generating station, while touring the facility. A member of his entourage remarked that "Nigeria is a cursed nation", reacting to how Iran maintains steady power supply. "Corruption is a serious issue that Nigeria must fight" the Sultan commented. His message for Nigerians abroad was to join them in the crusade to make peace in Nigeria, not laboring on factors that divide the country.
Development in Nigeria, setting aside corruption in all its ramifications, the northern part of the country could be mostly affected. Religion has been used in some parts of the country at the expense of any sustainable programs that could have made life better for the northern citizens.
In the name of religion, in some parts of Nigeria, citizens could not challenge their leaders for their inability to perform. Ironically the leaders took the religious advantage despite their ample opportunities to make Nigeria a paradise on earth; robbing iodine on their subjects' wounds rather than improve upon their life. They ended up creating pocket-sized fanatics as the voices of the believers.
One interesting challenge to Nigerians Abroad from the Sultan is for them to form an inclusive Nigerian organization. Unfortunately, NIDOA has failed Nigerians residing in North America, in this respect. Desolately, NIDOA has degenerated into some sort of ethnic organization where some brain-dead individuals have decided to make NIDOA their own private organization. NIDOA, which has been claiming to be leading non-tribal, non-ethnic, non-religious, non-political, non-professionals in the United Sates of America, has derailed some Nigerians from saying that, "I am Nigeria, the changes starts with me".
Nonetheless, most Nigerians abroad would not consent to the idea presented by the Arch Bishop that Nigerians Abroad should not worry much about voting in Nigeria since Nigerians votes have no effect on who won elections. On the other hand, we would agree with the religious leaders that Nigerians Abroad should be considered for various jobs where their skills and education are available before hiring foreigners.
The Sultan warned Nigerians against religious related rumors, especially as religious rumor begets violence. For example there was false news that Christian children were being kidnapped and forced to convert into Islam in the North. He shared two incidents when he personally intervened to prevent religious violence recently.
In another related incident, a co-educational and co-religious school, managed by the Catholic Church in Abuja, Moslem students wanted to be baptized. The Arch Bishop reported that they were turned down and has to obtain their parents or guardians consent before it could be done.
In Nigeria, there are some communities where religion is used as standard for employment, promotions, and loyalty. People are 'forced' to change their religion for patronages, employments, contracts, admissions and all that citizens have to enjoy without being cajoled to belief in one particular faith.
The Sultan could mean well for the country. Sultan's liberal approach to religion notwithstanding, Nigerians should be concerned about religious fanatics. The fanatics, if learning from the Middle East in particular, should be the Sultan's main target of religious intolerance in Nigeria. Fanatics should end burning houses, properties, and places of worship just for some flimsy excuses.
Sultan should continue to impress on his followers the need for religious tolerance among his subjects. He has to work on the fanatics that have invaded the Traditional Rulers, Community Leaders, Politicians, and the Civil Service all across the country.
Regardless the Sultans efforts, if the fanatics failed to understand the importance of religious tolerance, Sultan efforts would be washed away by the torrential rainfall into the Ocean.
Sultan's advice would go a long way if Nigerians Abroad could tap from his resources, especially the fanatics within their various organizations. Every single Nigerian organization could not claim innocence from using ethnicity or religion in their respective associations'.
Nigerians should focus on things that bring them together instead of things that divide them. Religious harmony could bring accelerated development in any community, especially northern Nigeria.
Nigeria could surpass any developed country provided Nigerians are tolerant of one another's religious belief and ethnic affiliate. Dubai, another hidden haven for some wealthy Nigerians, would be a child play.