OVERCOMING EVIL WITH GOOD: THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF JOS FACE TO FACE WITH THE AFTERMATH OF THE JOS ETHNO-RELIGIOUS CRISIS
By by Most Rev. Ignatius A. Kaigama, Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria
Undoubtedly Jos city has been one of the most peaceful in Nigeria favoured with a serene climate and natural beauty. The warmth and generosity of its people endears many. In the past decades due to tin mining business, there has been a blend of local, national and international activities as one could find nationals from many countries at home in Jos. Little wonder, the state itself adopted the name, “Home of Peace and Tourism”. Unfortunately, the 2001 crisis created an unprecedented suspicion and animosity between the minority Hausa/Fulani Muslim settler communities and the majority Christian natives. Before now, all was well as both communities participated to some extent in festivities: social, religious and political with little or no prejudices or discrimination.
It was incredible to witness what January 17th 2010 Jos crisis did to the inhabitants of Jos and its environs. Somehow, insanity was let loose which triggered the destruction of churches and mosques with several people displaced as homes and business premises were destroyed. People watched their life’s savings go up in flames and loved ones maimed or killed. The communal nature of family life was disrupted as families divided by the crisis were forced to live kilometres away, meeting occasionally to nurse their wounds and be separated again.
In the Nassarawa Gwong area and some other parts of Jos, there are areas where Christians or Muslims cannot go to; there are roads where Christians or Muslims cannot follow. I only pray that the Lord of peace and the peace of God will reign permanently on this once peaceful city.
In Bukuru, following the crisis those who attempted going back to renovate and reoccupy their residences were bluntly told they could never return. This is obviously to gain territorial control, which is basically one of the reasons for the crisis that has unfortunately been simply referred to as a “religious crisis”
The case of Dogo Nahawa, was an embarrassment to humanity as some little children and infants were in the early hours of the 7th of March 2010 hacked to death or burnt and their parents were not spared either. The whole community became a wailing valley as sympathizers made their way to Dogo Nahawa. A village that was little known became popular overnight. I was short of tears when I visited the scene as the whole community was shocked to their marrow
SOLIDARITY AND INTERVENTIONS
The situation during and after the crisis was too serious for affected individuals to grapple with. Solidarity visits, messages of peace and prayer for inner healing became very necessary as Jos Archdiocese would not allow the victims to suffer alone. His Eminence, Peter Cardinal Turkson President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in the Vatican City came personally to visit us in Jos and had these consoling words, “we live a life of communion and inclusive belongingness, not excluding anyone, but sharing in the life of one another and living for one another. On hearing about what has befallen you, and about the trying moments you are going through, the rest of the family of God could not sit unconcerned.” He came to identify with us and to encourage the people and government of Plateau State. He presided at the solidarity Mass organised to beg God for the healing of wounded hearts and the land on the 19th of March 2010. In my homily, I repeated my consistent message of peace through forgiveness and reconciliation. The Catholic Church on the Plateau maintained her leading role as a bridge builder as over 600 families from different backgrounds were pacified and encouraged through words, prayers and actions. We mobilized the faithful especially those who were not affected by the crisis to donate and with help from internal and external donors we could assist the affected families with a token amount of money and a greeting card as a symbol of our acknowledgement, appreciation and understanding of the fact that there is a problem and we are in it together. The solidarity Mass helped many as they left St. Jarlath’s Bukuru, the arena of the Mass happier than they came. Healing must have commenced.
At Dogo Nahawa I identified with the people not only in my capacity as the then Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Chairman, but as a pastor. We also celebrated a solidarity Mass where I encouraged the people, prayed for forgiveness for perpetrators and assisted the community through the distribution of basic necessities as well as acha (crop) seedlings. We reconstructed the only public clinic that was destroyed at Ratsat Village during the attacks. That life is gradually returning to normal in villages that lost so much is nothing short of the miracle of love.
We have ensured that the Archdiocese does not fold its arms at ugly events of this nature. We are undoubtedly present and visible when it comes to dialogue and initiating activities aimed at the common good and promoting peaceful coexistence. We insist on reaching out through our Church organs. Recently the inter-religious dialogue office in the Archdiocese of Jos in collaboration with the Diametta Peace Initiative, also in Jos, organized a football competition where the Catholic Youth Organisation of Nigeria (CYON) and Muslim youths participated, forgetting their differences and sharing the joy and challenges of sports. The trophy was won by the team from Ali Kazaure ward, a predominantly Muslim area. It was quite a delight as I personally attended the finals that took place at St. Murumba’s Catholic College play field.
I commend our Archdiocesan Justice, Development, Peace and Caritas Commission (JDPC) which has remained proactive. The body investigates the authenticity or otherwise of rumours and stands ready should there be any break-down of law and order that results in internally displaced persons fleeing from their homes. Its services are available to all without discrimination based on religious or ethnic affiliation. It is interesting to note that the staff of our Archdiocesan Emergency Response Team comprises Christians and Muslims. They have intervened in all the flash points of religious, ethnic, social or political crises from Namu, Bukuru, Nassarawa, Fatima Cathedral, Dogo Nahawa, Masallacin Jumma’a and other flash spots. In September 2010, the JDPC distributed grains and other relief materials to Christians and Muslims especially those whose houses and business places were destroyed during the January 17th crisis.
EFFORTS AT INTER-RELIGIOUS RELATIONSHIPS
I acknowledge by way of tribute a great collaborator in the person of the late Emir of Wase, Alhaji Abdullahi Haruna Wase whom I met shortly after assuming office as the Archbishop of Jos. He had come to welcome me and to thank me for the role I played in housing and feeding Muslims who were affected by the 2001 crisis. As the chairman of Jamaátu Nasril Islam (JNI) Plateau State, he and I shared common values of peace, reconciliation and harmonious coexistence. In October 2009, at the invitation of MISSIO, we were guests in Germany to participate in the World Mission activities which centred on peace and reconciliation in Nigeria. There we met Christian and Muslim groups, sharing our experience as partners for peace and the challenges we both face in this tedious task of reconciling people from different backgrounds.
For some people who believe that there should be an eternal enmity between Christians and Muslims the message of peace we propagated hardly went down well with them. Even some of my priests thought I was wasting time, energy and resources by working with a Muslim. The Emir too was doubted and suspected by his Muslim brothers as a sell out. But gradually there is room and some space for reason. When the Emir died on the 17th 0f September 2010 I was away for the Bishops’ Conference holding at Ijebu Ode, Ogun State. I asked my Vicar General Monsignor Ben Obidiegwu to mobilize as many priests as possible to Wase, in time for the burial and over twenty priests, some Rev Sisters and lay faithful were at the burial and brought a message of condolence from the Archdiocese of Jos. It is heartening to note that many messages of condolences from Muslims and Christians were sent to me condoling me on the death of “your good friend and collaborator for peace”. One of such messages came on the 4th of October from the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saád Abubakar III, the well respected leader of Muslims in Nigeria who in a text message wrote: “My dear brother, I just finished reading your very touching tribute to late Emir of Wase. May God bless, keep, and continue to use you in attainment of peace, stability, and progress not only in Plateau, but in our country, amen”.
At different times the Archdiocese received Ambassadors, High Commissioners and delegations of Bishops from Germany and America who came to express solidarity with us. The visit of the German Bishops coincided with the death of late Inuwa Ali, the Turakin Jos and a Muslim leader. Together with the late Emir of Wase, Alhaji Abdullahi Haruna Wase and the Emir of Kanam, Alhaji Mu’azu Babangida, we paid a condolence visit to the family. This is one of the little ways we show solidarity not only with Christians but anyone who needs the warmth of human affection.
OUR GENERAL ASSEMBLY AND THE QUEST FOR PEACE
At our annual General Assembly a pastoral message was issued after days of prayerful reflection and discussion. A Muslim woman, Hajiya Fatima Kyari, a former Commissioner in the State spoke brilliantly and passionately on “The Social Consequences of Religious Extremism and Negative Religious Indoctrination”. She observed that both Christianity and Islam are capable of imparting doctrines in a non-critical way. This she feared may result in negative actions without consideration for the wider society. She encouraged a good understanding of the different faiths and beliefs so that we can co-exist peacefully. She emphasized that we should dwell on our similarities rather than capitalizing on our differences. She harped on the issue of collaboration, citing the occasion of the General Assembly as an example where she, a Moslem woman is invited to share her experiences with Catholics. The previous year we had invited the Chairman of the Muslim Pilgrims’ Board in Plateau State who gave a talk on harmonious coexistence between the different faiths. It was truly a sober moment for all participants.
Our 8th General Assembly which was entitled, “The Challenges of Religious and Political Conflicts to the Church on the Plateau” helped us to start all over again to seek peace at all cost. Having examined the crises from different angles, we unanimously observed that the love of neighbour has given way to hatred and only practical love is the solution. (cf. 1 Th. 3:12, Mt. 5:9). The Assembly accepted that the recent crises have generated a lot of mistrust between Christians and Muslims resulting in a setback to all previous efforts in the area of dialogue. We keep encouraging Christians not to lose faith in God nor be paralysed by fear and anger but rather to renew their love for God and neighbour. We will continue to teach love, peace and reconciliation no matter the cost. In the Catholic Archdiocese of Jos, every Catholic is called upon to be an agent of change, peace and reconciliation. We will want a situation where Christians will be the first to say no to violence. A special prayer for peace was formulated at the end of the Assembly and is currently recited daily by Catholics but especially after communion during Mass. We must all pray and work for peace. While praying fervently for peace, the underlying social causes of this crisis which only the civil authorities can effectively address cannot be swept under the carpet. Justice must be seen to be done and grievances of youths, farmers, herdsmen, settlers or indigenes must be seriously looked into and resolved comprehensively.
I recently led a delegation of priests and some lay faithful to the Central Mosque to deliver the Pope’s Message to mark the end of the Ramadan. The Iman of the Jos Central Mosque, Sheik Balarabe Dau’ud was full of praises for the Catholic Church’s quest for peace in Plateau State and indeed in the world. He promised to work in collaboration with all who are sincere in the search for peaceful coexistence. The exchange of gifts and pleasantries, symbolic though at that occasion, signalled a fresh possibility that we can live together.
In the same spirit, the conference of Women Religious and Men Religious celebrated the last Sallah festival with the Muslims in the Nassarawa Gwong area of Jos. The leader of the community, Alh. Mohammed Magaji thanked the Religious for the sacrifice they made in the past and the bold measures they took in the pursuit for peace. Both the Rev Sisters and Muslim women marched through the paths that were hitherto inaccessible as a result of the crisis. This was very refreshing. We are hoping that with the message of peace sinking deeper on a daily basis, more individuals and communities hurt and traumatized by the recent experiences will discover how love can easily overcome evil, pain and sorrow. Schooled in love the faithful can be hopeful about the future.
Another milestone was our visit to Mazah village where innocent people were attacked on the 17th July, 2010. It was another show of solidarity with a people in distress. We mobilized the faithful within the city to visit the village and celebrate Holy Mass with the people. The rough, undulating and steep road to Mazah gave the visit the touch of a pilgrimage as we trekked in a long file, crossing mountains and rivers. This village lost seven people; four were injured and hospitalized while ten houses were burnt. It was quite a sober moment when a Protestant pastor who lost his wife and children said he has forgiven the harm done him. This was the same message by the Councillor representing the village. He also lost relations but publicly declared, “We have forgiven”. This visit was as historic as it was therapeutic. In their speeches, the district head and other chiefs saw the visit as healing the land. It was a day they would not forget in a hurry. Again our JDPC was there with relief materials for those who were affected. I was particularly moved by the banners members of the community carried with the inscription, “the greatest weapon against violence is forgiveness”. What could be truer? Such is the spirit of a people who may be down but not out. Good can indeed overcome evil if there is the will.
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