Catholic Secretariat, Lagos
14 May 2000

The Pope's Lenten service of asking pardon for offences committed by representatives of the Church over the centuries was a dramatic gesture. A BBC announcer commented "What other organization in the world would dare do such a thing."

Reconciliation is the establishment of peace between the parties of a conflict. It involves several elements: (1) the fact of wrongs done by one side or both, (2) repentance for the wrongs done, (3) forgiveness for the wrongs received, (4) amendment or restitution, according to the demands of justice, (5) the consequent enjoyment of peace, which is "the tranquillity of order".

Wrong-doing or injustice stems from greed, but it results in resentment or even hatred and a desire for retaliation.

People not only nurse personal wrongs, but also oppression and outrages committed against their community. Thus we have tension between ethnic groups, religious groups, and those who are in or out of political and economic power. These wrongs frequently become rooted in the memory of a community and are passed on from generation to generation.

To have reconciliation, the parties must desire peace and have a sense of love of God and neighbour. This will lead them to repent of the wrongs they committed and also to forgive those who did wrong to them. But repentance for wrongs includes restitution, or the reestablishment of justice. This may mean surrendering positions of advantage to make the necessary concessions.

In addressing the problem of peace in the world, the Pope has discovered that many of the present problems are the continuations of past problems, the result of the memory of age-old conflicts. Therefore he has been addressing the memories of the past, and has set the lead in asking pardon for past wrongs. It is true that those who did wrongs or who were wronged in the past cannot be parties of the present reconciliation. They cannot forgive or be forgiven. But their heirs can forgive or be forgiven for the legacy that they hold, for the lack of justice and love that continues between the present parties.

Pope John-Paul II's initiative of asking for forgiveness has no exact Biblical parallel, but it is founded on the Old Testament emphasis on the holiness to which the chosen people are called, the need for repentance, and especially in the provision for a Jubilee year every 50 years (Lev 25), in which all debts are cancelled, property is restored and captives are released. This theme was taken up in Isaiah 58:6 and became the theme of Jesus' preaching (Lk 4:17;-21). The New Testament also stresses that forgiveness must be a part of the life of grace.

Theologically, as Christ "became sin", taking on the sin of the world. So the Church, his body, in some way also bears the sins of the world. We can talk about the holiness of the Church, as an instrument of Christ the Head in sanctifying its members. We can also talk about holiness in the Church, which is that possessed by its members in the state of sanctifying grace. The holiness of the Church is compatible with sin in the body of Christ, but not in the Head. The Church, then, as the instrument of Christ, is a Mother giving holiness. This Mother is also wounded by her members' sins, and can be called the "Mother of sorrows". She "assumes the weight of her children's faults in maternal solidarity." And so the Church, with her mission to the whole world, must become a broker of peace and reconciliation in the world today.

When there is question of reconciliation of communities, leaders of the communities must be the spokesmen, negotiate a settlement and bring it to a conclusion. While making overtures to the other side, they must also carry their own people or constituency with them.

In Nigeria we see social tension resulting from marginalization of certain groups, such as in the Delta. We also see Christians suffer from Muslim triumphalism. And we see the nation and its people looted by those who hold the guns and by those who sit in the legislatures. Finally, there are older problems that linger on. Igbos still remember the wrongs of the First Republic which led to secession and the civil war. The Gowon years made us think that reconciliation after the Civil War was a reality. But injustices have returned, reviving the memory of past wrongs.

Reconciliation in Nigeria today is complicated because people and their interests are often tagged and put into blocks, such as "the Muslims", "the Igbos", "the Yoruba", "the North" etc. Only now is it becoming widely known that the Middle Belt is not the same as the Caliphate.

Most Nigerians are not aware of the differences among Muslims in the country. Most Hausa Muslims will not pray with the Yoruba, in spite of the fact that a number of Yoruba Muslims champion Caliphate interests. Yoruba Muslims, in fact, belong to many different organizations with widely different orientations, from conservative simple people whose men wear turbans and beards and the women ileha and who reject western education, to Ahmadiyya, Ansar ud-Deen and others who promote western education and reject the idea of an Islamic state.

Among the Hausa/Fulani, there are the conservative type who call for Shari`a and are closely allied to Saudi Arabia. These include the Izala, whose late patron was Abubakar Gummi. Then there are the popular Sufi organisations, such as the Tijaniyya, who are much closer to African tradition. The Izala regard the Sufis as heretics and fight them. Then there are the Shi`ites, led by Ibrahim Zakzaki. These, like the Izala, do not accept the Nigerian Constitution, but do not support the introduction of Shari`a now because of the religious diversity of Nigerians. Then there is a modernizing elite made up of various tendencies, such as the Marxist Yusufu Bala Usman, and many many professional Muslims. Unfortunately, these do not form any block that I know of, and their voice is drowned out by conservative proponents of Shari`a.

Reconciliation is particularly necessary in the contention resulting from the Shari`a debate. Up to now the Shari`a debate has been between Muslims and Christians. For a country like Nigeria, this is inevitable because of the effect of Shari`a on Christians. But in other predominantly Muslim countries, such as Algeria and Egypt, the debate on Shari`a is between Muslims who want it and Muslims who do not want it, at least in its classical formulation. Many Muslims say yes to Shari`a, but no to the type of Shari`a applied in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Even Iran is tired of that kind of Shari`a and wants to get rid of it. So I think the Church, while still defending its own interests and freedom, should not push all Muslims into one school of thought, and allow them to debate Shari`a among themselves. As long as Shari`a is taken as a symbol of Muslim interests versus Christian interests, all Muslims will be pressurized to support Shari`a. The more Christian-Muslim tension cools, the more the debate will shift to within the Muslim community.

One of the concerns many Muslims have about Shari`a the way it is being promoted in Nigeria today is the fact that it is not codified. By definition, everything in the Qur'an and the multiple collections of Hadith is Shari`a. All this material is very vast and is not altogether consistent or clear in how it should be interpreted. Codification is a way of making government behaviour predictable within the confines of the law. To give a governor Shari`a without a code is to give him an arbitrary carte blanche for ruling as he pleases, with unpredictable policies.