Today, Nigeria is at crossroads. The country is no visitor to violent incidents related to political, economic and social grievances directed at the state or other affiliative groups. As things stand, we are, “confronted by multiple security challenges, notably the resilient Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the northeast, long-running discontent and militancy in the Niger Delta, increasing violence between herders and farming communities spreading from the central belt southward, and separatist Biafra agitation in the Igbo southeast. Violence, particularly by the Boko Haram insurgency, has displaced more than two million people, created a massive humanitarian crisis and prompted the rise of civilian vigilante self-defense groups that pose new policy dilemmas and possible security risks.” This report by the International Crisis Group captures the grim scenario in the country.
The litany of woes ranges from Boko Haram militancy to violence among ethnic groups and farmers/herdsmen clashes, particularly in the middle belt region which has claimed lives and property worth billions of naira. For instance, in January 2020, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that out of 1,980,036 IDPs, 94% are displaced by the insurgency in North-Eastern Nigeria. These sad incidences call for alternative measures to peace initiatives such as employing Parables for Dialogue towards reorienting the masses on the need to embrace peace.
As kids, we were taught that “a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Put in another way, a parable is a “simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.” Whether you call it an allegory, moral story, moral tale, fable or exemplum, a parable often points to a moral attitude or religious principle. Little wonder then, Jesus often employed parables to address his audience (Cf. Mark 4:34a). Here, we are concerned with contemporary parables which draw attention to the all-important need for peaceful coexistence and peace-building. Although there are various parables for dialogue such as Snake Bite, Scratched by the Cat, Giraffes and Elephants, the Sound of the Forest and Perspectives from the Mountain, we shall reflect on the first two.
The first parable titled the “Parable of the Snake Bite” is crucial to our discussion. It tells the story of two men who were working in a field and were bitten by a poisonous snake. What would they do? The first man picked up a shovel and sought revenge on the terrible creature which disappeared into the tall grass. The more he searched, the more the venom went deep into his body. This caused him intense pain and threatened his life. In fact, the man died. Meanwhile, the second man disregarded the snake and sought medical attention. He got help and the deadly venom was counteracted. Because his attention was focused on finding a cure rather than seeking revenge on the snake, he was healed.
In like manner, the second parable “Scratched by the Snake” relates how a certain wise old man saw his cat falling into a shallow well. The cat tried to save itself from drowning but it could not. So, the man decided to save the cat. The more he stretched out his hand to remove his pet from the well, the more the cat scratched him. Each time that happened, he would pull his hand back in pain. He tried this thrice without success. By this time, his hand was bleeding badly.
Another man who was watching nearby rebuked him. In fact, he referred to the old man a fool for attempting to save the cat thrice with a bleeding hand. The wise man did not listen to him but went ahead to try one more time. This time around, he succeeded. He then went close to the man who was discouraging him and said: “My son, it is in the cat’s nature to scratch, and it is in my nature to love and have sympathy. Why do you want me to let the cat’s nature overcome mine?”
In these trying times in the life of our nation, we need parables like these to help us realize that just like venom in the first story, “the anger and hurt we harbor when we have been wronged by another threatens our personal peace and healing.” The lesson is, we must learn to treat people according to our good nature not according to their bad attitude. What is more, while the normal tendency is to seek revenge, God desires that we act in a different way. It does not matter how much we are hurt. What matters is developing a large heart to forgive and let go.
The lesson of the second allegory comes begging – We are urged to disregard dissenting voices in our country calling for violent protests or “revolution.” Since “two wrongs cannot make a write,” the “Scratch by the Cat” narrative invites us to always carry our good qualities with us wherever we go. In many cases, those we are nice to or tolerate towards do not deserve our noble actions. The point is, we must never regret being nice and kind or initiating dialogue with those who would not even want to see us. Truth is, this takes divine grace – at least, let us do it for the sake of our country and divine reward. Always remember that happiness is contagious but expensive.
It is crucial for Government, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) especially Local and International Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Peace Practitioners and indeed all people of goodwill to seek ways of shedding new light on Nigeria’s intractable security challenges towards de-escalating risks and tensions through employing peace-related contemporary parables. Forgiving those who hurt us remains key to ending hated and violence and it starts with you. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Fr. Justine Dyikuk is a Catholic Priest and Researcher who combines being the Editor of Bauchi Caritas Catholic Newspaper, Communication’s Director of Bauchi Diocese with his job as a Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Nigeria. He can be reached through – email@example.com.