RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE: VIEW FROM THE NORTH
If you think the title of this story is 'religious intolerance' in Nigeria then you have been swayed by recent stories from the international media. You -and they-are wrong. Much of the international press covering violence in Nigeria recently has been inaccurate, irresponsible and even dangerous. Nigeria is 'on the brink' many claim because of conflict between Muslims and Christians.
It is true that at least 40 people were killed on Christmas Day in Churches. This is horrific and has been condemned not only in Nigeria but also around the world. Boko Haram claimed responsibility, and those responsible must be found and held accountable-something that does not happen in Nigeria regularly.
Since then, fear has led many to warn and believe that Nigeria in on the brink of a religious war.
The week of protests from strikes related to removing the subsidy fueled more fears, concerns and inaccurate reporting. There were strikes; there were major protests. This is a common reaction that occurs around the world when people have to pay more for a basic commodity. Strikes shut down Greece last fall when public spending was cut and taxes increased. Three died in Greece, probably 10 died in Nigeria.
Has there been religious conflict? There have been deaths in churches. There have been deaths in mosques. It is very difficult to disentangle what happened with each of these deaths-an ambiguity that opens a window for manipulation and inaccurate reporting.
In our hometown of Yola, three people were killed in a Church . Religious Conflict in Yola, screamed the national and international headlines. But police investigations here point to a family feud-not religious conflict.
Bishop Kukah, a leading Catholic Bishop and intellectual has been gathering information on these recent killings.
Here is a story that has not been written, spoken, or sung from the rooftops, churches and mosques around the world -the story of Christians and Muslims coming together to protect each other, and develop their communities. In the last week alone, in the large city of Kano, Muslim leaders attended Sunday church services as a show of faith and tolerance. 'We are here to deliver a message of hope, a message of peace, a message of solidarity, said Bashir Ishaq Bashir who led the Muslim delegation.
And in our small town of Yola, several remarkable stories are emerging. Our Interfaith Mediation Centre Dialogue Forum, released the following statement this week:
In the wake of recent security challenges, Muslim and Christian communities across Nigeria have resolved to be their brother's keeper during religious congregations in the future.
This resolution is fast gaining momentum around the country. In key cities such as Lagos, Kaduna, Kano and Abuja Christians have shielded Muslim faithful from any possible attack during the weekly Friday congregational prayers in major mosques.
In line with the resolution, Muslims have also provided the same protection for their Christian brethren around major Churches during Sunday service congregations. These hands of brotherhood, solidarity and fellowship will be continued and sustained on a regular basis until divisive agents of violence and lawlessness are disappointed and exposed.
This past week, on our own university campus, we invited major religious leaders for a dialogue-including a representative of our local traditional leader, the Lamido, and Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) as well as the Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN). Senior business leaders came as well as union representatives, government and other academics, representatives of the Nigeria Police Force, State Security Service, Muslim-Christian Forum, the Muslim Council and the traders' associations. All were in attendance as we crowded together in one of our conference rooms.
We decided to create what we are calling the Adamawa Peace Council. After four hours of sincere and open discussions about the things that could divide us, we decided to work together to build a community based on peace and harmony. We identified some of the root causes of violence and distrust~ unemployment, poverty, inadequate security, depletion of cultural values, unchecked movement of persons via the border posts, political divisions and lack of information
Nigeria has many problems. At the moment religious intolerance is not one of them. We all pray that the inaccurate reporting does not fuel fear, hatred and more deaths. We all hope that the story of faiths coming together in harmony and support is recognized and celebrated.
Ensign writes from Yola