Nigerian diaspora leaders in the Washington, DC metropolitan area met at the Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Headquarters offices in Lanham, Maryland on June 16 for a program to welcome new friends, learn more about Nigeria from Nigerians, and raise awareness and support for GPF’s One Family under God campaign to advance a shared vision of a peaceful Nigeria.
The evening program, “Faith Leaders Resolving Conflict, a Nigeria Perspective,” led with a moving film, Beyond Right and Wrong, which presented the voices of victims and perpetrators of violence in Northern Ireland, Israel and Palestine, and Rwanda. Powerfully affirming that there is no “cause” that can justify the taking of innocent human life, the film, in the forceful testimony of victims, stressed that a hunger for vengeance further injured and confined victims, while forgiveness presented a path of freedom and liberation.
Three Nigerian speakers, a Catholic, an Anglican and a Muslim, offered reflections on the film and its message in the context of ongoing extremist violence in their homeland. The Reverend Fr. Canice Chinyeaka Enyiaka, priest in residence at St. Matthias Parish in Lanham and project director of Stewards of Hope, used his remarks to examine the roots of the conflict in Nigeria which, he said, included political and economic factors, poverty, discrimination, human rights violations, inequitable resource management, as well as fear and ignorance of the beliefs and teachings of other religious traditions.
“Our natural inclination in the face of transgression is revenge, or getting even with the cause of true or perceived injury,” Rev. Enyiaka said. “A striking force in Jesus’ ethical teaching is his insistence of multiple and unlimited forgiveness. Peacebuilding, forgiveness and reconciliation are the church’s way of fully living out the joy and hope, and grief and anguish of those who are poor and afflicted.”
Presenting a Muslim perspective, Dr. Munzali Dantata, a Visiting Scholar at American University and founder of the Zuma Institute for Globalization and Entrepreneurship, cited a recent example in Iran where the victim of an acid attack had the permission of the court for revenge but in the last minute forgave the man. “In Islam retribution is permissible,” he said, “but forgiveness comes with the promise of a blessing. Sometimes that is omitted. Islam encourages forgiveness.”
Reverend Adetola Shabi, a pastor at All Saints Anglican Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, reflected that none of the perpetrators of violence interviewed in the film attempted to rationalize the acts they committed but were more concerned with forgiveness for their deeds. “All that we seek for in revenge,” he said, “we can attain through forgiveness and thus do the will of the Supreme God.”
Global Peace Foundation International President Jim Flynn also shared thoughts on the film and GPF’s ongoing work in Nigeria. “The stories in Beyond Right and Wrong show the importance of our ‘humanness,’” he said. “We have many languages that we speak, but when someone laughs, we don’t need a translator. If a parent is grieving the loss of a child, we don’t need a translator to understand the pain and anguish because it resonates with our shared human experience. We have a connection and empathy already.
Although we worship God in different ways, the mandates on how we should live are remarkably similar among religious traditions—to show respect to other human beings, to honor life, to respect the family, to treat others as you would like to be treated.
“We are fundamentally relational beings,” Mr. Flynn observed. “And the place where those relations are most deeply and personally expressed is within the family. All over the world we talk about the human family, of One Family under God, because despite many external differences we come from the same source, a source that is greater than ourselves that we share in common.”
Mr. Flynn said the nations where the Global Peace Foundation is working present many unique challenges, but also important opportunities to show how people of faith can work together to uplift the better qualities of character. “Our approach to interfaith work is to recognize that although we worship God in different ways, the mandates on how we should live are remarkably similar among religious traditions—to show respect to other human beings, to honor life, to respect the family, to treat others as you would like to be treated. So how then are we to live and work together? It is very simple, on the basis of shared values.”
He said GPF’s One Family under God campaign in Nigeria is engaging imams, pastors and traditional rulers on the local level, developing activities that enable people to build bridges across divides. “I have been to Nigeria many times,” he said, “and been moved by leaders who have moral authority, who walk the talk and lead by example. It is important to show how spiritual principles can be applied to solve problems. One Family under God has to be translated and adapted to affect attitudes and change behaviors—to translate the vision into reality.”
Among those attending were church leaders, NGO and women leaders, lawyers, journalists, and a distinguished Harvard economist and former Nigerian government official and vice presidential candidate. Ongoing diaspora leadership gatherings are planned for the Lanham headquarters.