Nigeria and Conflicts: Exploring peace and reconciliation
Cletus Onyema Obasi CMF
Nigeria: East Province.
Nigeria became a nation through the amalgamation of Lord Lugard in 1914. The country is the most populated black nation in the world, with over 200 million people. It became independent in 1960 from the British. The country, since independence, has transformed from a parliamentary to a Federal system of democracy. The democratic process, however, was truncated by the civil war of 1967 to 1970. The civil war was fought mainly against the mainly Christian Eastern region. At the end of the civil war, the federal administration initiated a reconciliation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation program and declared a “NO Victor, No Vanquished” tag. The program aimed to facilitate the sufferings of the Biafrans and re-integrate them into the country.
The post-civil war Nigeria has been full of conflict experiences. The military took over the country’s administration and dictatorially ruled it for many years. The return of democratic governance in 1999 changed the military dictatorship. The many conflicts besieging the country did not change, however. If the conflict is not ethnic, it is religious or communal. Political manipulations, corruption, and bad governance are spices of the conflicts messing up the country. The use of religion in political matters creates national tension between the mainly Northern Muslims and especially Southern Christians. This tension is experienced every election year.
Insecurity at its height
Nigeria is today experiencing the height of insecurity. There are many different terrorist groups in Nigeria. The Boko Haram terrorist group started in the Bornu State in 2002 and gained notoriety in 2009. From its very beginning, the sect aimed to enforce a strict form of Shariah law in Nigeria. They see themselves as the “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad” (Jama’atu Ahlis-Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad). They abhor and hate western education. The other terrorist groups are the Islamic West Africa (ISWA), Bandits, and the Fulani Herdsmen. From their Nigerian North-East operational base, they are now everywhere in the country, terrorizing and killing people.
The Boko Haram group first started with attacks on government facilities, government armed forces, and suicide bombings against Christians and properties. When these atrocities did not help them, the Bandits and Fulani herders moved against Christian and farming communities. They have today occupied all the forests of all the 36 States of the nation and the federal Capital, Abuja. They are everywhere, killing and kidnapping. These have made the country continue “to bleed endlessly due to the ungodly activities of insurgents, bandits, militant herdsmen, unknown gunmen, kidnappers, and trigger-happy security agents. Nowhere seems safe anymore. Homes, farmlands, markets, highways, places of worship, and presbyteries have all been turned into kidnapping and killing fields.
The Killing and Kidnapping Business and its effects
The height of insecurity has made many schools close in Nigeria. The schools in the many troubled States have not reopened for the safety of the students. In April 2014, about 267 Chibok girls, who are mostly Christian, were kidnapped in Bornu State. They are still in captivity. Between December 2020 and October 2021, about 1,436 students and 17 teachers were abducted in Nigeria by different armed groups. These have led to the prolonged shutdown of schools in some states like Bornu, Kaduna, Benue, Nazarawa, Zamfara, Yobe, Sokoto, and Katzina. These States are in the North East, North Central, and North West regions of Nigeria. Some of the kidnapped students have been killed too.
The Nigerian Punch newspaper of April 14, 2022, quotes the director of Amnesty International, Osai Ojigho, that five of the 19 Students abducted from Greenfield University, Kaduna, were murdered, while one of the 333 students kidnapped in Kankare was killed. Five of the 276 students kidnapped in Dapchi were killed. Five of 136 students kidnapped from Salihu tanko Islamiya School in Tegina were killed. Generally, victims killed or still in captivity are mostly Christians.
According to aciafrica.org, a civil society group, between 2009 and 2021, an estimated total of 17,500 Churches and over 2000 Christian schools were attacked; ten million Northern Christians were uprooted, and six million were forced to flee their homes to avoid being hacked to death by the jihadists ((https://www.aciafrica.org/news/5682/alarm-as-over-6000-christians-hacked-to-death-in-nigeria-in-fifteen-months-report).
In the last five years, 4 of our Claretian priests have been kidnapped, and in some cases, ransoms were paid before the abductors freed them. In addition, a Catholic bishop has been kidnapped, and a good number of Nuns and seminarians have been victims as well.
The insecurity in the country has affected our pastoral activity. Movement is now watched, and the educational system is affected. The aim of achieving Nigeria’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is in doubt amid insecurity. It is doubtful if Nigeria can ensure the SDG 4 of inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all in 2030. It is also questionable to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls when many school girls are kidnapped or ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all in the period under review.
A series of high-profile incidents this year, 2022, has drawn particular attention to the issue. As many as 40 worshippers were killed in a Church in Ondo State in the south-west on 5 June, and Methodist Church leader Samuel Kanu Uche was kidnapped in the south-east on 29 May 2022
- Between January and July 2022, more than 18 Catholic Priests were kidnapped while about three were killed (https://punchng.com/how-18-catholic-priests-were-kidnapped-in-2022/).
The Nigerian government’s response to all this criminality committed by the terror Fulani herdsmen, bandits, and Boko Haram is very poor, if at all it responds. The government is rather complacent about the killings and kidnappings. By refusing to respond to alerts of impending attacks on schools across the north of the country, the government has failed to prevent the mass abduction of thousands of school Children. Amnesty International and Nigerians believe that “in all the cases, the Nigerian authorities have remained shockingly unwilling to investigate these attacks to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes face justice”.
The Church and vote of no confidence in the government
The Church is one of the primary victims of Nigerian Terrorist attacks. Many Churches have been destroyed; Children of the Church have been kidnapped, killed, and rendered homeless in most of the States of Nigeria. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has remained the voice of the voiceless. The Christian hierarchies have severally and consistently condemned acts of terrorism and the government’s handling of insecurity in the country. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria has passed a vote of no confidence on the government of Buhari and his Party.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) believes Nigeria is passing through the darkest chapter of its history. The Church condemns the government’s non-seriousness in securing the nation, which “after the heavy annual budgets on a yearly basis and repeated assurances by government that it is on top of the matter, our country remains plagued by insecurity. This is a shame. The CBCN confirms that “extreme poverty, soaring unemployment rate, spiraling inflation, a collapsing economy, with the ever-increasing debt burden, and worsening insecurity have combined to complicate the plight of the average Nigerian, who appears condemned to a life of intolerable hardship and undeserved misery.
The Church blamed the government for corruption and lack of good governance, which resulted in extreme poverty, unemployment, hardship, crime, and violent conflicts. The Church stresses to the government that the first responsibility any government owes its citizens is the security of their lives and property, and therefore Nigerians have the right to live in a secure and safe country. This is basic; every other thing flows from it.
The message of Peace and Reconciliation
The issue of peace and reconciliation in Nigeria raises many questions. For instance, who do you make peace with? Who are the perpetrators of criminality in the country? What are the issues in contention? What are the crimes of the victims to merit the punishments being heaped on them? Peace is a process. Reconciliation, as we know, cannot be achieved without peace. It needs the collaborative efforts of the government, perpetrators, and victims to achieve peace and reconciliation.
The Church is an agent and harbinger of peace and reconciliation. Still, where the efforts of the Church are not accepted by the perpetrators of the conflict, the realization of peace becomes delayed or unachievable. The Church is a forgiving instrument of God and will continue to pray and work for a peaceful solution to conflicts in Nigeria. Peace is possible if the government, religious, and community leaders collaborate and engage in dialogue to proffer solutions to the lingering insecurity in Nigeria. As a matter of urgency, the government should stop negotiating with criminal groups and paying ransom to kidnappers.
The dignity of victims of kidnapping and the killed should be restored. The ancestral land, homes, and farmlands of those forcefully evicted by the terrorists should be returned to their homes. The military should be more proactive in excising their duties. The perpetrators of the crimes should be arrested and prosecuted. Justice must be done and seen to be done to win the desired goal of reconciliation. The Church, I am sure, is ready to assist the government in achieving the desired peace and reconciliation in Nigeria. Through the Church, God is reconciling Himself in Christ to the world, not counting their crimes and entrusting us with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 18 –20).
Cletus Onyema Obasi CMF