Nigeria, the most populous black nation on earth, and so called giant of Africa with a population of about 170 million, covers a land mass of 923,768 Sq. Km.
The primary preoccupation of the nation now is security. The last couple of years in Nigeria have been very challenging. Since its amalgamation in 1914 by Lord Lugard, Governor General of the British Colonial Administration, Nigeria has witnessed a number of violent crises. The first major one was the civil war from 1967-1970 followed by several bloody coups. Other crises witnessed were those of the puritanical religious group, Maitatsine, those agitating for economic equality and justice such as the MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra), the Niger Delta Youth and the Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC) whose activities at one stage or another degenerated into violence. The Boko Haram insurgency, a group wishing to do away with western education and culture and to Islamize all of Nigeria, has been the mother of all violence that Nigeria has witnessed. With this litany of crises one is tempted to think that Nigeria is set on the path of instability, and some people have even predicted its disintegration. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, expressed quite frankly that, ‘‘as for me, we don’t know where we are going yet, may God show us the way. The way that will take this country and make it a great country.’’
NIGERIA’S CHALLENGES CAUSING VIOLENCE
Ethnic Division: Ethnic rivalry exists very strongly in Nigeria. As I was preparing this paper a battle was going on between two neighbours that have lived for years together, the Fulanis and the Eggon locals of Nasarawa State causing refugees running into thousands. There is an on-going battle of boundary ownership which forecasts doom if there is no intervention between the natives of Enugu and Kogi States.
Resource Control/Management: Before independence, Northern Nigeria was very resourceful in revenue creation. They produced most of the raw materials that were exported to other countries, like cotton, cocoa, groundnuts, etc. until the discovery of oil triggered a culture of waste, greed and corruption. The Federal government abandoned agriculture and other viable means of revenue and depended mainly on oil revenue which are allocated to states.
Religious intolerance: Islam and Christianity are not original to Nigeria. They were brought from outside. While Christianity took root and was promoted around the south via eastern Nigeria, working its way to the north, Islam flourished in the north and moved down south. Frequent clashes have occurred over insignificant issues leading to destruction and deaths. As at March 2014, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimated that about 3.3 million people have been displaced as a result of religious crises and intolerance in Africa; Nigeria alone has 41% to its credit in this figure. This is not just limited to Christianity and Islam. It also exists within the same faith such as Catholics and Pentecostals as well as Shittes and Sunnis.
Indigene and Settler Syndrome: The amalgamation of Nigeria was meant to unite the northern and southern regions but somehow it had the opposite effect according to some analysts. Irrespective of serious misunderstandings and crises, Nigerians are still resolved to live together as demonstrated during the recently concluded National Conference where over 490 carefully selected Nigerian elders and youths reiterated the indivisibility of the nation. It is true that some Nigerians find it difficult to live and work peacefully in some parts of the country even when they were born there or have settled in such places over time. For political offices, they are seen as foreigners because they live outside their places of origin. This could be one of the issues limiting the greatness of Nigeria and may need to be urgently addressed and further examined constitutionally.
Political/Power Sponsorship: Nigerians will have to find a way to do away with the present system of “god-fatherism”- a corrupt practice in which individuals with lots of money and time to spare (many of them unpatriotic and poorly educated) sponsor their chosen candidates and push them right through to the desired political position; bribing, threatening, and on occasion, murdering any opposition in the process.
Corruption: Many Nigerians are corrupt because the system under which they live today makes corruption easy and profitable. About 400 billion dollars have been pilfered from Nigeria’s treasury since independence (According to a recent World Bank report), the equivalence of the entire regional budget in Africa for four decades. Nigeria is the 6th largest producer of crude oil, but the fraudulent and reckless misuse of public funds by persons in authority have plunged the country and its citizens into the darkest pit of poverty.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) established to curb corruption have not demonstrated that they are on top of the situation. Corruption still festers as a cancer. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) sought divine intervention in composing a ‘Prayer for Nigeria in distress’ and the ‘prayer against bribery and corruption in Nigeria.’ These prayers await an answer from God! We are optimistic however that a more patriotic generation of Nigerians will emerge and will be instrumental in eradicating corruption by God’s grace.
Lack of Economic Stability: The lack of economic stability in the Country is a strong motivator for corrupt individuals who are willing to subvert the electoral process by making elections a ‘do or die’ affair to ensure they get into public office with unfettered access to public funds they influence those who are economically impoverished to engage in political violence by inducing them with money.
Unemployment: One big danger hanging on the neck of the nation and which every right thinking Nigerian must worry about is the problem of unemployment. Every year our higher institutions produce thousands of able bodied, highly educated graduates, without any available employment opportunity. An idle hand is a devil’s workshop! Criminals produced by unemployment believe that the easiest way to make money is through kidnapping. Is one surprised that kidnapping has become so common?
Lack of Adequate Security: The machinery of law enforcement is definitely weak and as long as the police force or the military lack modern equipment and training, violence will continue to thrive. Furthermore, where security agents are taking sides with criminals and compromising their position, (based on religious affiliation), violence will be inevitable because people lose confidence in them to protect them and therefore take laws into their hands.
Failure of our Justice System: Nigerians, high and low, public office holders, and private persons alike indulge in acts that could easily lead to violence (political, ethnic, religious) with impunity because the perpetrators are hardly brought to book.
MANAGING VIOLENCE IN NIGERIA:
1. End to Impunity: Official impunity is a major source of worry for many in the country. Perpetrators of crime no matter how highly or lowly placed should be brought to book and punished.
2. Inter Religious Dialogue: Increase efforts through institutions and mass media to increase understanding and appreciation for other religions and promote tolerance and mutual respect.
3. Address Extremism: launch and sustain a concerted civic education program to halt politicization of religion and ethnicity.
4. Economic Reforms: Undertake far-reaching social-political and economic reforms to achieve equitable power and resource sharing.
5. Employment Creation: An idle mind is a devil’s workshop. Similarly “a hungry man is and angry man” what then can you say about a man in the two situations at the same time? Of course he is a ready recruit for violence. Jobs must therefore be created, soft loans made available, establishment of trade schools etc. thereby making it difficult for anyone to recruit our youth for violence.
6. Efficient Police Force: There should be a program of training, re-training orientation and re-orientation for officers and personnel of the police force emphasizing their non partisan roles and the Force as a partner with citizens in detecting and dealing with threats to public safety and security.
7. Free and Fair Election: one sure way to manage violence, especially political violence is for every vote to count. Once the politicians and the electorate are satisfied that their vote counts and is the only means of getting to power, they will not resort to self help and political violence will be reduced.
THE ROLE OF RELGION IN CURBING VIOLENCE
Religion should always play a unifying and not a divisive or violent role. The word religion comes from the Latin ligare, to bind. Unfortunately, religion is being exploited for selfish reasons. Some politicians, religious leaders, ethnic chauvinists often resort to religion to manipulate it for their personal interests. Many of the crises we have witnessed are not really caused by religion or the desire to be holier but emotively as a weapon. We are aware that the tension caused by the problems of farmers and pastoralists, unemployed youths, struggle for land, citizenship, along with economic, political are often coloured by religious propaganda to gain sympathy or attention.
INITIATIVES OF THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF JOS
I was very impressed and pleased to witness the first graduation ceremony of the first products of the Interfaith Youth Vocational Centre in Bokkos which was inaugurated in 2011. This is a centre dedicated to the training of Muslim and Christian youths for a period of two years at a time in vocational skills and the culture of dialogue and peaceful coexistence so that they return to their villages as ambassadors of peace. Even sceptics who initially doubted the practicability of the project and were opposed to it have been humble enough to say that it was a visionary initiative. We are happy that this pilot project is working. We hope it can be replicated in as many places as possible. This is a way out: to encourage coexistence, mutual respect, and creative use of our skills for the common good rather than in the destruction of lives and property in the name of fighting to defend God or to defend religion. To fight for God is already an admission that God is so weak that he needs to be helped! We hope that the youths graduating from the Centre will cultivate the art of dialogue as a way of settling issues rather than hostile confrontation and that they will be instruments of peace in their communities. We are looking forward to the expansion of the Centre, by the introduction of more vocational skills and the provision for girls to come in.
In our Archdiocese of Jos we continue to intensify activities through the use of our Dialogue, Reconciliation and peace Centre to promote peace through proactive meetings with religious/traditional elders, youths, women and offering training for peace building. The Interfaith Youth Vocational Centre in Bokkos has so far graduated three sets of Muslim and Christians students, after acquiring vocational skills and being trained as peace ambassadors. The presence by both the Emir of Wase and the Emir of Kanam at the fund raising for the building of a new Catholic Cathedral in Jos on May 3rd, 2014 and even their donations to the cause further shows the strengthening of Muslim/Christian relationship in Plateau State.
At the national level, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria consistently appeals to the federal government to bring the problem of insecurity in the country under control. Prayers for Nigeria are being said at family, diocesan and national levels to culminate with the National Catholic Prayer event in November 14th/15th, 2014. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference continues its dialogue and interaction with prominent Islamic leaders and this provides the inspiration for many peace NGOS and youth and women groups. The Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria has a full-fledged department of inter-religious dialogue working round the clock to foster inter-religious harmony.
THE BOKO HARAM INSURGENCE
Both moderate Muslims and Christians in Nigeria are against the destructive strategies of Boko Haram in their attempt to call attention to societal ills through violent means. One must note that even in their murderous intent, they seem motivated by the desire to correct social ills like immorality, corruption and bad governance. They claim that western education and values have failed in touching lives positively in the society, so, Sharia should be imposed on all to sanitize the situation. This is an impossible task. We have countries where Sharia is the norm but they still have anti-social problems. It is good that Boko Haram is pointing to irregularities in the society, but they cannot go on to kill and rob the very poor people for whom they claim to be fighting. Boko Haram is either confused or has lost focus while redoubling its efforts in the name of correcting societal ills. We must admit that poverty and corruption in the midst of plenty oil money have been caused by bad governance, irresponsible and reckless use of resources by a few. Moral bankruptcy has led to leaders failing to see the pitiable conditions of the poor and marginalized. Any right thinking Nigerian should be angry at the moral depravity of political leaders who see the poor only as stepping stones to power. We continue to struggle for justice. The Catholic Secretariat coordinates the efforts and interventions of the CBCN in the political sphere. We issue strong statements and denounce injustice and corruption, but they seem to fall on deaf ears. The struggle however continues. We see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Today, Boko Haram seem to be battle tall alongside the Nigerian military, with no sign of exhaustion or repentance. Just while the ISIS in Iraq were declaring a caliphate, in the same manner, the Boko Haram declared a caliphate in Gwoza, which was condemned by the duo of the Minister of state for defence and the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), stating that the Islamic sect’s statement was unislamic .
Why Boko Haram insurgency lingers on, according to the former head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, “is partly because of disconnects and distrust among stakeholders, especially between the ruling party and the opposition....” Gen. Gowon believes that national security issues are used to take undue political advantage for personal interests by trading blames, and pointing accusing fingers, making the situation worse.
We expect a more serious, honest and concerted effort by the following religious bodies to bring an end to religious violence in Nigeria.
JNI (Jamaátu Nasril Islam) is an Islamic body which controls and regulates Islamic activities in Nigeria under the leadership of the Sultan of Sokoto. CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) is an umbrella organization containing numerous Christian denominations in Nigeria under the leadership of an elected Chairman. NIREC (Nigeria Interreligious Council) is a voluntary association formed by the representatives of the two principal religions in Nigeria-Christianity and Islam, with the sole aim of promoting greater interaction and understanding among the leadership and their followers for peace and religious harmony in Nigeria.
The two main religious bodies, Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), should do everything to bring warmth of relationship between the adherents of the two religions. Unfortunately, sometimes the utterances of the leaders of these bodies are inflammatory and divisive. The Nigeria Interfaith Council (NIREC) could do more towards Christian/Muslim unity. It is not enough to have big formal media interreligious events and yet when it matters that certain issues be addressed objectively and dispassionately each religious group recoils into its narrow religious space and by so doing avoid addressing the common good with patriotism. The relationship of JNI and CAN should be one of mutuality and not of hostility, but unfortunately it appears that their relationship is hardly guided by a search for common grounds.
We need to see more of what took place recently in Kano when the State governor, Alhaji Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a Muslim, held a Muslim/Christian prayer for peace on the 28th June 2014. This shows that when confronted by terrorism Muslims and Christians are ready to overcome their religious parochialism to work for the common good. Present too at the event was the former head of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon who together with the Governor and men and women of goodwill prayed for peace and urged Nigerians to condemn killings by terrorists since we are first and foremost human beings. It is heart-warming to note the springing up of many interfaith groups seeking peace.
I am convinced beyond doubt that peace in Nigeria is possible. We need justice, sincere selfless love and we can climb the highest mountain. Love is the cost for peace. Peace is affordable. We need goodwill and an elastic heart free of prejudices and stereotypes. We must believe in our common humanity, give each other the right hand of fellowship, extend solidarity and friendship to all irrespective of nationality, colour or creed and peace will flow like a river in Nigeria.