BY REV FR. WILLIAMS KAURA ABBA
Let me begin by thanking Fr Bagobiri for making this platform available for me to share my thoughts on a topic that’s close to my heart. Far back in 2010, I published an article on Religion and Violence and went further to make a case for Religious tolerance as the only viable option for peaceful and harmonious coexistence. So when Fr Bagobiri sent a text to request my presence at this event, I didn’t find it difficult to accept as the topic he proposed had earlier received attention by me in an academic journal. What I will be saying today won’t be different from what I said years back. While I admit that the issues are fundamentally the same, I am also quick to add that the purveyors, merchants and executioners of hate have become even more sophisticated, vicious and regrettably, disingenuous.
Lest I forget, let me say happy birthday to our dear brother and friend, Fr Bagobiri, the convener of this peace concert. What you have done over the years by bringing people together from different religious persuasions to sing and sue for peace is both commendable and praiseworthy.
We have gathered as human beings, who share a common humanity to talk about the need to shrink the yawning gap between human beings who have found themselves expressing belief in God either as Muslims, Christians or Traditional Religionists. As you know, Nigeria is populated by adherents of these dominant religions yet secular in character. Although we do not have any record of violent conflict involving Traditional worshippers who by the way also express belief in God differently from the way Christianity and Islam does, but the bottom line is they also belief in the supreme being that we call God. Their religion may not be as systematized and organized as ours, they may not have the scriptures as we have in the Quran and Bible, but definitely, they strive to serve God in the best way possible as dictated to them by their consciences. And now I pose the question. Do we have Traditional worshippers in Nigeria? Yes, we have. Have we had violent conflicts between adherents of ATR and Christianity or Islam? The answer is none so far that we know of. Why is it is so? Perhaps you may want to say adherents of ATR don’t have the population. I do not subscribe to this banal reductionist theory. It has got to do more with mindsets and unquenchable zest and appetite for dominance and conquestation. Adherents of Islam are in such haste to get everyone to face the Kaaba, while adherents of Christianity are in such haste to bring everyone to the foot of the Cross. This is basically the root cause of most of the religious conflicts we have recorded in Kaduna State and by extension, Nigeria. Let me drive my point home: human beings have lost precious lives in Kaduna state on account of forceful conversion and abduction/marriage of Christian girls. This is a fact we cannot shy away from.
It is no coincidence that we are Christians and Muslims in Kaduna State. God providentially allowed this arrangement. So the earlier we accept God’s arrangement, the better for everyone of us. Very few families in Kaduna State do not have relations that cut across the two dominant religions. My Aunt, the woman next to my mother (same father & mum), is a Muslim. That is to say, I have very many cousins and nephews who are of the Islamic faith. I am very sure many persons seated here today can relate to this. So the question is why the conflict and the tension between the two religions that hinge their gospel on peace? It’s a contradiction in terms to verbalize peace while we act war.
So I am here today to talk about bridging the gap between Christians and Muslims. To talk about this is a direct admission that all is not well in the State. And we cannot pretend about that. We can see it. We can feel it. It is palpable. It is fierce. It is frightening. I am a slightly above 50 so I have tasted the sweetest and bitterest side of Kaduna. Fr John Bagobri is celebrating his 41st birthday and I bet you he has lived through most of these years in excruciating pain, fear and trembling, uncertain about his safety as he moves around his state. And there are a generation of youth, and even adults today in Kaduna who have become too used to bloodshed. Religious crisis no longer mean anything to them. They are adept to it. So imaging what adherents of Christianity and Islam has done to the psyche of these individuals. The Kaduna of yesteryears most certainly is not the same Kaduna that we have today. And I am not domesticating this to Kaduna town alone. Years past we had Christians and Muslims living side by side in Tudun Wada, Kawo, Bakin Ruwa, Rigasa, Hayin Banki, Rigachikun, Television, Sabo, Romi etc etc. Those were the good old days. Today, I will be certain, 70% of parishioners of our lady’s, travel all the way from South of Kaduna for Sunday worship and conversely put also, 70% of those who attend Jumaat service in say Sabo or Television will have to travel all the way from the Northern side. The abnormal has become the new normal. That is an aberration and a disgrace to our common humanity.
So if we admit that there is a problem, we have a duty to examine what went wrong, what are the root causes of these conflict. If we are able to do a proper prognosis, then we will be able offer practicable suggestions as to the way forward.
Root Causes of Religious Conflict in Kaduna State:
At the heart of religious conflict is the question of ethnicity. I have asked myself one question: is it not the same Islam that s practiced in South West? I am not sure of this, but I know half the Yoruba race today are Muslims. Yet you will never hear of religious crisis in Lagos, Ekiti, Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo or even Edo state that has a sizeable population of Muslims. In one family, half can be Muslims, and the other half, Christians. And the world is not crumbling. Bola Tinubu’s wife is a Christian and a Pastor. Fashola’s wife is a Christian, Bukola Saraki’s wife is a Christian and many more of such edifying examples. These are highly placed Nigerians. Yet the question of religious differences is near absent on their menu. Why is ours different in Kaduna state? Again, ethnicity. In Kaduna state, there are 61 different ethnic groups that we have evidence of. They could be more! So it is the question of ethnicity that has permeated even the religious space. So what we will always have in Kaduna state is ethno-religious conflict. What the above means is that ethno-religious violence in Kaduna State is a multi-causal variable. For effective discussion of the causes of violence in Kaduna State, there is need to put this into proper perspective.
1. The first cause has historical antecedent – government actions during the colonial rule and after independence encouraged to a large extent, the sowing of the seeds of ethno-religious violence that are rampant in the Nigerian State. Why did I say this? In 1931 for instance, the colonial administration under the leadership of Governor Donald Cameroun did not encourage intermingling of religions. The governor advised the Christian missions to thread softly on Moslem areas so as to maintain the stability of indirect rule. The political events of the January 1966 coup and the July 1966 counter coup further entrenched ethno-religious configuration in Nigeria. Thus, the killings and counter killings that followed the coups took ethnic and religious colorations as the Muslim dominated tribes in the North were set against the Christian dominated tribes of the southern region.
2. A major cause of what we see now as ethno-religious has to do with the accusations and allegations of neglect, oppression, subjugation, domination, exploitation, victimization, discrimination, marginalization, nepotism and bigotry. This is true of practically all crisis in Kaduna. The failure of political power to rotate between the different zones and seeming dominance of the Northern side over the Southern side has exacerbated the tension, distrust and the outburst of violence recorded in the state.
3. The failure of successive governments in the state to forge integration and promote what can be called real economic progress through deliberate and articulated policies has led to mass poverty, sacking of workers and unemployment. This has resulted into communal, ethnic, religious and class conflicts that have now characterized the state. Poverty and unemployment have played a role in many ethno-religious violence in the state. What this translates to is that poverty and unemployment increase the number of people who are prepared to kill or be killed for token benefit.
4. At the heart of all of this is the question of justice and fairness. When government policies are skewed deliberately in such a manner that if favors people of one ethnic or religious group, tension is bound to mount. I will cite a few cases: infrastructural developments: are they evenly spread? Appointments, are they balanced and fair? In Kafanchan, I saw a school built by government called “Tsangayya”. I goggled it up and discovered that Tsangayya means a blending of western and Islamic education. This project is funded by government of Kaduna state. Is the Tsangayya idea a good one? Absolutely? Should that be funded by our money? I don’t think so. I think it’s a bad idea unless also government plans to do the same for Christians.
5. In summary, government policies, religious fundamentalism and poor understanding of religion is responsible for the unfortunate state of things in our state.
1. Government must encourage effective and functional platforms for ethno-religious leaders so that through them it would be possible to establish a network for the prevention and management of violence.
2. Government must begin to put in place policies that are fair and balance. Without justice, there can be no peace. Without peace, there can be no development.
3. Government must begin to put in place deliberate policies that engender confidence across the divide. Let us see government working hard to build public confidence and reassure citizens that it has capacity to be impartial. The idea of building schools for certain category of children from a certail religious group is done in bad faith and doesn’t help. In this contemporary times, we should be able to encourage children from whatever religion to co-mingle and study side by side. Herein lies the beauty of unity in diversity. The Muslim elite today studied side by Christian students in Mission schools. They shouldn’t deny their own children this privilege.
4. Government must provide employment opportunities to the teaming youth and work towards reducing poverty drastically, so that the youth or idle people may not be hired by those who are intent on disrupting progress and development in the state.
1. We must develop and promote a new level of awareness which makes both Christians and Muslims realize that it is time to move beyond religious extremism. We must educate adherents of different religions that one cannot treat human beings as non-persons because they belong to anoher religion other than one’s own. To do God’s work or Allah’s work is neither to violate his laws or principle of life. It is unacceptable to kill people in the name of God or Allah.
2. We must jointly work hard to change the mindset of adherents that their religion is superior represents “good” while all othe religions are inferior and represents “evil”.
3. We must always preach the message of hope and salvation and of course pray for the government and criticize them when necessary rather than resort to preaching inciteful sermons that are full of hate of other religions. Don’t mistake this for an endorsement of the recently passed Kaduna regulation bill. I was trained in Philosophy and Theology for 9 years and was adjudged suitable by a competent authority and ordained. The Catholic Church gave me license to minister anywhere in the world once my Bishop endorses it. Government cannot come overnight and surreptitiously begin to scrutinize the content of my sermons. Just as clerics don’t regulate what politicians say in the public space. We operate a democracy. This is not communist China for God’s sakes.
Christians and Muslims
1. We must never allow ourselves to be used by politicians for their selfish agenda. They will set us against one another and the moment they capture power, we are the least of their problems.
2. Fr Karis Luka posted on his facebook page, an evening with Muslims for the traditional Ifta (breaking of Ramadan fast). This gesture is good and helps in bridging the divide. Adherents of the different religions can find suitable occasions to show solidarity.
3. At the last crisis, I read the heroic gesture of Fr Ghado saving Muslims who were trapped somewhere around Television. Ditto, the Imam in Jos who saved hundreds of Christians in his Mosque who were also trapped.
4. As Christians and Muslims, if we are united, we can actually say, enough of the violence. Enough of the bloodshed. Enough of the desecration and destruction of places of worship, destruction of houses and property. Enough of the hate. We can say yes to love. It is very possible to co-exist peacefully and mutual trust and respect.
Being a keynote address delivered at a Peace concert in honor of Fr John Bagobiri’s birthday @ Our Lady’s Parish, Independence Way, Kaduna on June 9, 2019 byFr. Abba, a priest with the Kafanchan Catholic Diocese