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MIGRATION AND INTER-CULTURAL DIALOGUE
Sep 06, 2019








ABUJA, NIGERIA -

Migration is a movement of human beings from one place to the other to find a better life. Some people move from their homes to places where they hope to find jobs, shelter and means of livelihood. Many move from rural areas to cities where there is fertile land, green vegetation, social amenities and industries. There are different types of migration such as internal migration which is a movement within a state, country or continent; external migration which is a movement to a different state, country, or continent; emigration which is leaving one country to move to another; immigration which is moving into a new country; return migration which is moving back to where you came from and seasonal migration which is moving with each season or in response to labour or climate conditions. Migration also includes refugees who move to a new country because of a problem in their native home and internally displaced persons who are forced out of their natural and ancestral homes to settle in camps. Some migrants often look for better economic, social and political opportunities away from their native homes. Among the reasons for migration are  racism, ethnic rivalry, terrorism, bad governance and insecurity (https://www.nationalgeographic.org). 

 

Migration is an old phenomenon in human history. The Holy Scriptures have records of migration. From the Old Testament of the Bible, Terah had lived for seventy years with his kindred in the land of Ur. He was the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran, the father of Lot.  Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans (Genesis 11:26-28). God called Abram, a Shemite, to leave his homeland and his father's house for a new country. He promised to bless Abram by making of him a great nation, one with a dynasty of kings, and to extend His blessing to all families on earth through Abram (Genesis 12:1-3). When God called Abram, he changed his name to Abraham who founded Judaism beforeMoses received the Torah from God. Abraham is today known as the father of faith to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Abraham was the uncle of Lot. It is possible that Abraham migrated with him because his father had died in their native home of Ur.

 

Migration goes with conflicts, which are intra-community and inter-community. The conflict between the herdsmen of Abraham and Lot is intra-community conflict. “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's cattle and the herdsmen of Lot's cattle. At that time the Canaanites and the Per'izzites dwelt in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, "Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen; for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left." And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zo'ar; this was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomor'rah. So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan valley, and Lot journeyed east; thus they separated from each other. Abram dwelt in the land of Canaan, while Lot dwelt among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom” (Genesis 13:1-13). Abraham resolved this conflict in a way and manner that he could still plead for the salvation of Sodom because he saw his nephew Lot as a just man for whose sake Sodom could be saved (Genesis 18). The forty years of wandering in the wilderness was marked by inter-community and inter-cultural conflicts which Abraham managed with prudence.

 

The migration of the Prophet of Islam from Mecca to Medina was marked with conflicts and dialogue. Muhammad (SAW) escaped from Mecca with his companion, Abu Bakre when he learnt of the plot against him. In Islamic context, the Hijra is the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his followers from Mecca to Yathrib (Medina) in 622 CE under the command of Allâh. In this journey, Allâh protected him in mysterious ways among which the spiders made a web at the mouth of the cave Hira where the prophet was hiding. Those who were after his life, because of the spider web, could not imagine that somebody could have entered the cave. Living in Medina was easy by the grace of Almighty Allâh who inspired the leaders of Medina to invite the Prophet to resolve the disputes between the clans. This was a form of inter-cultural dialogue given that the Prophet had experienced a different culture in Mecca for the first fifty-two years of his life (570–632 CE). He had seen the positive and negative sides of life as an orphan in his early life before becoming a prominent merchant. This made him an impartial and trustworthy arbiter of disputes at the age of fifty-three when he migrated to Medinah Al Munawara. He had spent thirteen years preaching the message of God in Mecca. With this message, the leaders of Medina believed that their clans would experience peace again since Islam gives peace to those who believe. The Prophet eventually succeeded in building an organized community in Medina. This was achieved through inter-cultural dialogue.

 

In the past, migration was not a serious challenge in Nigeria. Those were the days when migrants were perceived as visitors. They were given free accommodation and feeding. They were never a threat to the host communities. As a child the sight of herds of cows in my village was a delight. Children sang in praises of the cows and the sticks the herders used in directing the cows. There was mutual relationship between the indigenous farmers and the herders who respected the crops in the farm and so avoided grazing in the farms to avoid destroying the crops in the farms. Today, the clash between farmers and herders has become a serious national issue. Many people now think that the kidnappers in the various communities are herdsmen. Inter-cultural dialogue would go a long way to fish out the real criminals who could disguise as herdsmen in the kidnapping saga. This would enable the leaders of the various communities to fish out the illegal migrants in their midst, given the unfortunate porous borders that have made criminals from other countries to continue to kidnap, rape and kill Nigerians.

 

Migration as a human phenomenon is not evil. What is evil is the abuse of migration and illegal migration.  Many Nigerians today believe that foreigners who illegally migrate to Nigeria are the criminals within. Farmers are now afraid to g o to farms and people are afraid to travel. We too should remember that many Nigerians are also illegally migrating to other countries for prostitution and other criminal activities. So many Nigerians have died in the ocean and deserts in the attempt to cross to Europe. The world is becoming chaotic because of the struggle for survival by all means.This illegal migration of people across national borders can be controlled through dialogue among nations. Pan African collaboration can go a long way to resolve these migration challenges. The rising trend in illegal migration especially from poorer to richer countries could be controlled by good governance whereby the natural and human resources of each country is fully utilized. In fact, every government should wage war against poverty and disease. May God protect us in our land and wherever we may find ourselves.

 

By Rev. Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua


Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) (nirec.ng@gmail.com)


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