When the story broke recently, that both the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’adAbubakar and Archbishop John Onayekan, had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the significance of the gesture was very clear.
The two leaders have been significant voices for inter-religious harmony in Nigeria. In the Sultan, we have a blend of the traditional and the modern; the will and energy to provide leadership for the Muslim Ummah in a difficult historical conjuncture.
It has not been smooth sailing for the Sultan, and there have been omissions and mistakes while the traditional structures of leadership are straining, as society has become ever younger! To the Sultan’s credit, he has maintained a consistent effort at re-building inter-faith and inter-communal relationships, especially in the North.
I have known Archbishop John Onayekan from his time as the auxiliary Bishop of the Catholic Diocess of Ilorin during the 1980s.Onayekan is a legend in Northern Nigeria. During the 1960s, he had been the best student in the WASC examination in West Africa, and so excited was the late Sardauna of Sokoto, that he took the entire cabinet of Northern Region to Onayekan’s school outside of Gboko, in today’s Benue state, to congratulate the young Onayekan. Archbishop Onayekan had already made up his mind to become a priest and in his calling, has remained an exemplary leader, working with single-minded devotion for peace and inter-faith harmony.
The Sultan of Sokoto and Archbishop John Onayekan are emblematic representatives of the tendency for peace building in a most difficult period of our lives.
Their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize is a significant recognition of the work they have done jointly and in different forums over the years. It is also recognition of the thawing of the animosity that built up over the years between our faith communities.
An equally significant development was the advertorial placed by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) of the 19 Northern States, in LEADERSHIP newspaper of Friday, October 12, 2012.
The advertorial was placed by the Northern CAN and signed by Archbishop Peter Jatau, Ptesident, CAN of the Northern States Prof. Daniel Babayi, the Executive Secretary in solidarity with the Muslim community and it “utterly deploy(ed) and condemn(ed) the shameful video ‘the innocence of Muslims’”. Northern CAN argued that the film “was clearly designed to defame and provoke Muslims the world over.
This slander of the Islamic faith is entirely unacceptable and we stand in full solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters in Nigeria in the face of the assault on their religion”.
Those who have followed the work of Archbishop Peter Jatau in Jos, testify to the effort he has made to build peace between the Muslim and Christian communities in that part of the North.
The work of these religious leaders has never been easy, especially with the inflamed passion that they often have to deal with in their daily work.
These leaders work with many individuals, men and women, young and old, in the peace building efforts essential to rebuilding the ethos of communal harmony, mutual respect and understanding without which we cannot begin to achieve meaningful development in Northern Nigeria. These are efforts that should be recognised and applauded!