BY BISHOP SUNDAY ONUOHA, Ph.D
I consider it a great honour to address you on the occasion of the 2020 General Assembly of the Interfaith Dialogue Forum for Peace (IDFP). There is no doubt that since coming into existence, this Forum has worked assiduously towards engendering peace and promoting dialogue for peaceful co-existence among adherents of Nigeria’s two major religions.
Let me quickly commend the laudable initiative behind the creation of the IDFP that is solely funded by the Vienna-based International Dialogue Centre, popularly known as KAICIID. The IDFP has achieved tremendous strides in bringing together reputable religious and traditional leaders of our country for the promotion of peaceful and harmonious living, including engaging critical stakeholders to create enabling environment among Nigerians, among other objectives.
The IDFP has been in the frontline of advocating peace and reaching out to various groups in the country not to give up in the search for peace. To achieve this, the IDFP has carried peace advocacy visits to the states of Zamfara, Benue, Plateau, Taraba and Kaduna with the sole reason of meeting with critical stakeholders, comprising religious, traditional and political leaders in a bid to understand undercurrents behind the incessant crises rocking these states. The Forum has also been engaged in identifying with vulnerable members of society and collaborating with stakeholders to promote peace to our country.
Despite the laudable strides in attaining peace as championed by the IDFP, the path to enduring peace is still a far-flung place that has become burdensome. Contemporary happenings in our country indicate that much is needed to bring peace to our people who are presently troubled by poverty and merchants of destruction and death. There is fear and tension in the land.
Just last week, the convoy of the Emir of Potiskum, Yobe state was violently attacked along Zaria-Kaduna way in Kaduna state, and no fewer than six people in the convoy were killed. In Chikun Local Government Area of Kaduna State, five communities came under the terror of bandits on January 6, 2020. The incident culminated in the killing of three people, including a cleric, and the destruction of a church. About 48 people were abducted, including a nursing mother with her six-year old baby. In yet another attack by another group of bandits on a Seminary School in Gonin Gora, Kaduna state, five of the students were declared missing after the attack. As at now, only one of the students has been released by his captors last Saturday. News that reached us yesterday, is the killing of the CAN Chairman; Rev. Lawal Andimi of Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State.
This was soon followed by yet another attack on village in Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau state that culminated in the killing of 13 people. There is also a resurgence of violence in Zamfara state, as scores were killed and injured. In Niger state, another 16 were killed and about 1,000 people displaced due to the activities of bandits. In Bayelsa State, scores were feared killed after a village suffered a reprisal attack from the military personnel after some military officers were declared missing in the state.
Unlike in the past when these attackers target a particular group of people, this time around they do not. The student, politician, cleric, journalists, farmers, etc, are among those who have been preyed upon by these bandits. Despite the resolve by the Federal Government to tackle this new wave of violence, these lawbreakers are determined to make merchandise of our poor people. Even with the Federal Government expressing willingness to stave off further attacks on innocent Nigerians, the overwhelming superior power of these criminals, as shown by their incessant resurgence of abductions and killings has rendered the dream of obliterating these felons a herculean task.
We are facing a serious challenging time when it is difficult to make decisions. The issue of Amotekun has generated so much controversy all over the Country and I hereby plead with the Federal Government to please engage the people as to arrive at some compromise to secure our land.
Nigerians recently marked the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian- Biafra civil war that culminated in the slaughtering of millions of our citizens. One would have thought that, having experienced the ravages of war and the tragedy associated with such, our nation would have been more guarded on the path of peaceful dialogue. There’s no doubt that we live in perilous times where the lives of Nigerians have become short and brutish. Little wonder, our nation is being transformed into a theatre of war, with many citizens gradually losing confidence in the ability of government to rise up against the demons of war and violence that seem to have taken a permanent abode in our country.
Anyone who has experienced war would not want to experience it again”. I am a typical example of one who suffered hunger and I was homeless for almost three years because of avoidable Nigeria – Biafra civil war.
In this 2020 General Assembly of the IDFP today, we need to ask why citizens are gradually becoming distrustful of government leaders that have often reiterated their determination to cleanse our nation of rampaging murderers and other criminal elements.
Why are citizens losing confidence in Government as it relates to the promise of ensuring safety of lives and property?
More than anything, the Nigerian society has paid less premium on building structures for peace, preferring to abandon the path of peace on which all men and women who desire peace must walk upon. The need to build on structures for peace is eminently reiterated by former President of the United States of American, Mr. Richard Nixon, when he declared, “Let us build a structure of peace in the world in which the weak are as safe as the strong –in which each respects the right of the other to live by a different system — in which those who would influence others will do so by the strength of their ideas, and not by the force of their arms. Let us accept that high responsibility not as a burden, but gladly — gladly because the chance to build such a peace is the noblest endeavor in which a nation can engage.”
In deepening democracy and sustaining the trust of the people, the Nigerian Government must rise up and restore the confidence of the people by ensuring the security of all citizens, no matter where they live ad what religion they profess. There can be no greater encouragement to criminals than to have them believe that they can continue to perpetuate their abhorrent activities without being brought to justice. Across the Nigerian nation, uproars over injustice abound, and the inability of the government to rein in these perpetrators of terror attacks on our society emboldens them. There is need to bring to book those who have turned our towns and villages into shooting ranges and taken into captivity women and children, including infants for ransom. We are where we are as a nation because both the government and people have not done enough to tread the path of dialogue for peace and national development.
Our two great religions, Islam and Christianity, should not be seen as a chasm to divide our people, but a rallying point for the promotion of the Nigerian brotherliness towards the advancement of National development. As Nigerians, we must not be overwhelmed in the great efforts of broadening new frontiers for peace amongst our people.
Against the backdrop of bloodshed that is shredding our nation, there is need to embrace honesty and rally all religious, traditional and political leaders to be involved in searching for peace. More than anything else the Federal Government, headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, should redouble its efforts at stopping further deterioration of the security situation. As the United Nations recently declared, Nigeria faces a dire security situation, and there is the need for the Federal Government to arrest the disquieting security situation threatening to consume our nation.
Once again I welcome you to the Annual IDFP GA and Peace Conference, trusting that it will be an engaging moment to the realization of our collective desire for peace in our dear nation Nigeria.
Being a text of a speech delivered by the Co-Chairman of the IDFP, Bishop Onuoha, at the 3rd General Assembly of the Forum that took place in Abuja.