The World Peace Day celebrated on Wednesday ushers in fresh opportunities for understanding and peace in Nigeria, writes Vincent Obia
With Boko Haram terrorism wreaking some of the worst forms of death and destruction man has ever known on the North, militant agitation straining virtually every cord of national unity in the South, and harsh economic conditions getting even the most laidback of citizens more and more agitated, Nigeria is truly a troubled country. But optimism and belief that the trouble with Nigeria is mostly man-made and can, thus, be redeemed by a change of attitude are what have marked the character of the citizens in the face of all the adversity.
Nigerians are on a daily basis striving to come up with ideas for the renewal of faith in themselves and their country. The World Peace Day, marked on Wednesday, signals a strategic moment for deeper reflection by Nigerians on the things that have damaged relations, sowed fear, heightened suspicion, and disturbed the peace among the citizens. Fortunately, it coincides with the period for Nigeria’s 56th independence anniversary, which another important time for critical thinking on the country’s journey so far. The World Peace Day could not have come at a more opportune period.
Celebrated worldwide on September 21 every year to remember the virtues of peace and good neighbourliness among the world’s diverse peoples, the day was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly. In 2001, the General Assembly voted to designate the day as a time of nonviolence and cessation of hostilities.
This year’s World Peace Day holds a special significance for Nigeria. It offers an important opportunity for Nigerians to step up actions to dismantle anti-peace barriers that have been erected over the years by politics and dogmatism. Tuesday’s meeting of the Emir of Kano, Mohammed Sanusi II, with Pope Francis and about 450 other religious leaders from across the world at the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy, was a good launch pad. It was during the closing ceremony of a three-day event organised to bring together religious leaders from different faiths to pray for world peace. The World Day of Prayer for Peace ushered in the World Peace Day.
Pope Francis, who presided over the closing ceremony of the event with the theme, “Thirst for peace: religions and cultures in dialogue,” appealed for collective action to enthrone peace, saying, “Everyone can be an artisan of peace.”
He said, “We have prayed to God, asking him to grant peace to the world. We recognise the need to pray constantly for peace, because prayer protects the world and enlightens it. God’s name is peace. The one who calls upon God’s name to justify terrorism, violence and war does not follow God’s path. War in the name of religion becomes a war against religion itself. With firm resolve, therefore, let us reiterate that violence and terrorism are opposed to an authentic religious spirit.”
Pope Francis also urged, “May a new season finally begin, in which the globalised world can become a family of peoples. May we carry out our responsibility of building an authentic peace, attentive to the real needs of individuals and peoples, capable of preventing conflicts through a cooperation that triumphs over hate and overcomes barriers through encounter and dialogue. Nothing is lost when we effectively enter into dialogue.”
Those words are particularly apt for Nigeria in its present circumstances. For a highly religious society like Nigeria, the basis from which the peace building process can start is the religious and traditional institutions, where the religious and traditional rulers wield a lot of influence.
Following on the interfaith prayer meetings at the World Day of Prayer for Peace and the World Peace Day ceremonies, it behoves the country’s religious and traditional rulers to bring home to their congregations and subjects the message of peace through cooperation. The spirit of unity of faith and purpose that pervaded the events should encourage greater association and understanding, especially, among the leaders and members of the two main religions in Nigeria, Islam and Christianity. And more unifying words from the religious leaders would, no doubt, provide the spur the people need to respect and appreciate each other more.
The political leaders, too, need to be more attentive to the needs, aspirations, and complains of the people, for the country to enjoy the permanent peace that everyone craves. Dialogue should always be the primary tool of engagement with people and groups having divergent views on how society should be run. It is only dialogue that can bring peace based on consent – which is the authentic peace that the country needs. Peace achieved through force is more often than not weak and uncertain.
Ultimately, the leaders of the people at the religious, political, and traditional levels hold the key to peace in the country. They should be committed apostles of peace at all times, in the spirit of the season.