By Salihu Mohammed Lukman*
Sometimes in February this year (2017), the violent ethnic-religious conflict in Southern Kaduna was at its heightened worst and news of destruction of lives and properties dominated was the staple. I cannot claim that the situation in Southern Kaduna has been resolved. What could be said is that it has now assumed national proportions and what could be described as the hate theatre has moved to the South Eastern parts of Nigeria.
One of the painful realities is that many of us are taking up roles in that unfortunate theatre, including those of us that had a clear vision of fighting for a nation based on internationalist principles, equality of all classes, races, gender, etc. It was a dream that made us to unapologetically rebel against all established order. Today, we have discarded all our dreams and have joined what we used to refer to as forces of destruction.
I have reworked my February 2017 piece. I still believe that only show of LOVE by all and across all divides can rescue our nation, Nigeria. For those who believe in hate, consciously or subconsciously, it is my prayer and hope that God will put them back to the path of humanity driven by LOVE and not HATE. The message below is to remind us that LOVE is the most important defining attribute of our HUMANITY!
The current wave of hate violence across many parts of the world, is a sad reminder about how far we are from our noble dreams defined by our sense of humanity as being a united people in love with one another irrespective of our nationality, ethnicity, religion or any other differences. In our Nigerian context, we have unfortunately become violent and almost over ran by lunatics. We are being forced to respond based on factoring ourselves into a hate calculus that destroys our humanity.
As a result, many decent and rational people including our religious, traditional, political, civil society, labour leaders, etc have become hate merchants. Innocent citizens are unfortunately also becoming fixed variables and consequently, we, the citizens, in our inverted state are the result of the hate calculus irrespective of our faith and our differences.
Sadly, many of our political leaders across all divides think very narrowly, imagining that the violent situation consuming our people present an opportunity, whatever that means. We need to wake up to the reality that our defining attributes as human beings is love and the best weapon against hate and violence is love.
We need to remind everyone of us of Thabo Mbeki’s “I Am an African” speech delivered on 8 May 1996. “I am an African. I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land”. My emphatic addition is “Our humanity is defined by our LOVE for every human being irrespective of our differences”!
Our disheartening situation in Nigeria will come to an end, not by violence, perhaps also not by hate speech against anyone of us, but show of unconditional love to one another. It is so disturbing to read and watch clips of fellow ‘Comrades’, some of the finest breed of Nigerians now descending to promoting ethno-religious divide in our country. It needs to be stated with very firm conviction that I recognize and respect all identities and will never support the domination of any identity, be it religious or ethnic by another. This is the vision that informs our ideological orientation as young activists in the student movement of the 1980s.
It is true that we have in the last 3 decades grown to be very frustrated activists as we witnessed the mismanagement of our nation and the shrinking of opportunities for engagement to influence national development. The facts of that reality have not changed the most important attribute of humanity being LOVE and it is in fact the only solution to human conflict.
Pope John Paul II of blessed memory demonstrated the best illustration of this in recent times. Before narrating the story, let me emphatically say, I am born a Muslim, has been a Muslim all my life, and in sha Allah, will die a Muslim.
On May 13, 1981, one Mehmet Ali Agca, attempted to assassinate the Pope. Without going into all the details, Agca was sentenced to life imprison, but was pardoned in June 2000 at the Pope’s request. This followed some unprecedented interventions by the Pope. First, immediately after the shooting, the Pope called for prayer for Agca whom he referred to as ‘my brother … whom I have sincerely forgiven’. In 1983, the Pope met Agca privately at Rebibbia Prison in Rome and it was reported that Agca kissed the Pope’s ring.
It was also reported that in 1987 the Pope met with Agca’s mother and his brother, Muezzin in 1997. Pope John Paul II and Agca became friends and in February 2005, during the illness of the Pope, Agca sent get well wish letter to the Pope. Agca was reported to have converted to Christianity in 2007 and in December 2014 visited the tomb of John Paul II.
The big lesson here is how the Pope was successfully able to convert hate to love and he was able to use love to reform Agca. It is all about endurance and not cheaply finding excuses and justifications to hate one another. The Pope had every reason to hate Agca but instead chose to show love to him and his family in an unprecedented way.
Perhaps, this appears simplistic. But the simple logic is that you get what you produce. Hate and be hated or love and be loved. May God Almighty bless all of us with the courage to forgive and demonstrate love to all citizens, the wisdom to unite our people and may He also guide all of us to love one another! Amin! But the madness must stop!
The author, a former president of the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS), can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org