Unstable Plateau (2): How Muslims, Christians work for peace in troubled Nigerian state

Years of ethnic and religious crises in Plateau State have taught residents to live among their own people.

When the conflict among heterogeneous groups in Plateau State began to worsen, the groups devised a means to protect themselves: partition their settlements.

Because the houses of minority groups are almost always prime targets, it was a way of forging a common front when hostilities broke out, residents said.

A partitioned Muslim settlement in Dutse Uku area of Jos North LGA overseeing a Christian settlement. [Yusuf Akinpelu/Premium Times]

Moving in unfamiliar zones is not what many residents do, much less living among opposite parties.

But Juliana Alao, a Christian from Oyo State who had stayed with her younger sister for over 25 years in Gangare, a Muslim-dominated ward in Jos North Local Government Area (LGA) of the state, is defying that safety measure.

Aunty Mai Allura (nurse), as she is called in the area, had resisted persuasion by her friends and family to leave the area, some offering to house her to rescue her from the risks of living in a Muslim-populated area.

When her relatives or friends visit, they would rather wait to be collected by the roadside, she said.

Gangare, one of the 14 wards in Jos North LGA has been a haven for a Christian family for decades. [Yusuf Akinpelu/Premium Times]

“Everybody would say ‘leave Gangare.’ Why I didn’t leave is that they didn’t touch me. They didn’t do anything to me. Even when I am in the church and there is a crisis, they will call me to wait for them to come and pick me up,” she said.

“’You, a Christian, alone will pass through Gangare?’ she recalled being told after service one Christmas.

“Because of the way they honour me when I am with them, I have peace. Just leave me,” she would tell them.


Stop Trashing Relations Between Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims

It is too easy to pin a religious tag on a conflict in a developing country, and for outsiders to rush to the cause of one or the other. But you only have to visit another area in Nigeria without conflict, and its complex causes, to find its refutation.

We are two faith leaders—a Christian pastor and a Muslim imam—from Nigeria, one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world.

In our country of more than 200 million, and where religion is important to the daily lives of almost all, it is unexceptional to find those of both faiths living in harmony in the same ethnic groups, the same local communities, and even praying in the same family homes.

So, it is hard to be told by some from beyond our borders that this is in fact an exception; that Nigeria Is a land of extreme tensions between the Abrahamic faiths, the two great religions on the brink of war and cannot live side by side. Some claim that Christians are persecuting Muslims; others that Muslims are persecuting Christians. But from foreign NGOs and pressure groups—the leaders of which have doubtless never visited our country—we mostly learn we possess a government biased towards Islam, and that Christians in our lands are treated as second-class citizens.

This is not how we see it or experience it. And because it is not, we are obliged to speak out.

The state of religious dialogue is far from perfect in Nigeria. But it is far from being so anywhere: attacks against synagogues in the United States and teachers in France, unfortunately, attest to this. Yet to suggest that Nigeria represents the extremity of tensions is untrue. In many regards, it is where there is equilibrium between faiths.           

That is most obvious in governance: a conservative Muslim president and an evangelical Christian pastor vice president oversee a cabinet whose members are equally weighted between Christianity and Islam.

But this doesn’t stop the accusations from outside onlookers. It would seem preposterous to suggest the government is indifferent to Boko Haram’s menace. Instead, they fixate on so-called herder-farmer clashes to argue there is a directed campaign of persecution against the nation’s Christians.


136 Children Kidnapped From Islamic School In Nigeria

Nigerian authorities said security agencies are doing their best to bring the children back safely, but don’t have enough logistics.


Gunmen seized 136 children from an Islamic seminary in central Nigeria at the weekend, the state government said, the latest in a string of such incidents plaguing Africa’s most populous nation.

The Niger state government first reported the raid on the school in the town of Tegina on Monday, but did not indicate the number of children seized.

Armed gangs are terrorising inhabitants in northwest and central Nigeria by looting villages, stealing cattle, and taking people hostage.

More than 700 children and students have already been kidnapped by gunmen for ransom since December.

“Niger State Government has confirmed the number of students abducted by bandits at the Salihu Tanko Islamic School, Tegina… to be 136,” the local government wrote on Twitter late on Wednesday.

The state deputy governor Alh Ahmed Mohammed Ketso said that security agencies were “doing their best but don’t have enough logistics,” adding that more help was needed to equip them to confront the criminals.


In one of the most religious countries in the world, Nigerian churches and mosques have joined the fight against the coronavirus

On a Sunday morning in April, the rising sun casts shadows over St Dominic’s Catholic Church in Yaba, a lively neighbourhood in the biggest city in the most populous country in Africa. The street leading to the church on the Lagos mainland holds an unusual serenity. Just over a month ago, it would have been filled with the tables of sellers of sacramental objects, their faces bowed downwards in the holy way of prayer, with rosaries tangled between their fingers.

On this day, however, the church – which usually hosts as many as 10,000 worshippers every Sunday – is empty. The congregation now prays at home, either following the service online or on the radio.

In a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus, on 30 March, Lagos, neighbouring Ogun State and the capital city of Abuja imposed a five-week lockdown, during which all gatherings – religious included – with more than 20 attendees were banned. Churches and mosques had to adapt quickly, and Nigeria’s Muslim worshippers were the first to respond with the National Mosque in Abuja closing its doors on 19 March. For the first time in living memory, the mosque was silent and empty during Ramadan, which ended on 23 May. The silence is particularly notable on Fridays when the area surrounding the mosque would have been buzzing with worshippers lining up to fill the 25,000-person-capacity prayer arena during the hours of Salat al-Jumu’ah (Friday prayers).


The imam and the pastor: from being enemies to ‘partners in peace’

Yogi-Bahai-faith-e1572180631860In a world where extremism has painted religion as a catalyst for bloodshed, two Nigerian men of different faiths have proven that reaching common ground is possible – despite fundamental differences.

Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa led opposing sides of a deadly conflict in Kaduna, Nigeria, an area known for violent clashes between its Christian and Muslim populations.

Twenty-six years later, the two are almost inseparable. They joked and laughed during an inter-faith dialogue at the Cape Town Bahá’í Centre in Rosebank on Thursday 24 October as they shared a harrowing tale of turning from being enemies to becoming “partners in peace”.

The evening was hosted by Initiatives of Change South Africa, a worldwide movement encouraging social cohesion, and facilitated by economist Iraj Abedian, who serves on the board of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of South Africa. It was part of a series of “Meaningful Conversations” taking place in different cities.

Wuye, dressed in black clerical garb, and Ashafa, clothed in a loose-fitting green and white robe, sat side-by-side as they described Nigeria’s volatile social climate.

“At the slightest provocation, we can go at each other’s throats and kill each other,” said Wuye, mentioning issues like Boko Haram and the country’s scourge of kidnapping.

It seems Nigeria’s rich diversity is both a blessing and a curse. With a population of just under 200 million people, roughly 250 official languages and three primary religions – Christianity, Islam and multiple indigenous faiths – it is a hotbed of intolerance.

“We come from a background of our sensitivity to issues of religion and ethnicity,” said Wuye explaining how religion and ethnicity are interlinked and have become “political tools” in Nigeria – and in Africa as a whole.

“Because of the power held by religious leaders, people listen.”


In northern Nigeria, Muslims and Christians take small steps toward reconciliation

webRNS-Nigeria-Election2-021519-807x538(RNS) KAMPALA, Uganda — Recently, a group of Muslims visited Christian widows and orphans in northwestern Nigeria and donated food, clothing and school items as part of efforts to enhance peaceful coexistence among different faiths.

“I can’t believe they came and visited me,” said Judy Ugwu, a mother of four who lives in Kaduna state in northwestern Nigeria. “They have given me enough food and clothes. I want to forgive every Muslim who has wronged me in any way.”

Ugwu, 38, who is a Christian, lost her husband early this year when gunmen dressed in military uniforms and armed with AK47 rifles, machetes and sticks attacked her village of Kajuru and killed more than 60 people. She accused the majority Hausa-Fulani tribe, who are predominantly Muslim and herders of cattle, for brutally murdering her husband.

“I had vowed never to forgive them,” she said. “They wanted to finish us (non-Muslim) during elections so that their people can ascend to power, but God protected his people.”

There has been constant conflict in northern Nigeria for decades, pitting the majority Muslim population against the minority Christian population.

In Kaduna state, the Hausa-Fulani tribe makes up 60% of the population, and the non-Muslim minorities who are mainly farmers make up the remaining 40%.


Conflict in Nigeria Is More Complicated Than “Christians vs. Muslims”


Jack McCaslin is a research associate for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC.

An article from Fox News recently called attention to the killing of Christians in Nigeria by comparing it to the deadly Easter Sunday suicide bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka. According to the article, the attacks “highlight the dangers that remain from asymmetric terrorism and violence against Christians in ethnically and religiously divided societies.” However, linking these tragedies to each other and to a perceived global trend of violence against Christians mischaracterizes the nature of the conflicts in Nigeria.

The appropriateness of a comparison between Sri Lanka and Nigeria is not clear. Their ethnic make-up, social statistics, and post-colonial experiences are vastly different. Not least, Christians and Muslims are a tiny minority in Sri Lanka, a predominately Buddhist country, while in Nigeria, Christians and Muslims each constitute about half of the population. Identifying the perpetrators of atrocities in both countries is difficult. Although the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, it is not clear what its role was in the Sri Lanka bombings or, for that matter, what its role is in northern Nigeria. 

With respect to Nigeria, Fox cites the recent killing of eleven and the wounding of thirty in Gombe. A police officer got into an argument with a procession of children during Easter activities, which reportedly led him to drive into it. It is not clear what the police officer’s motives were; Boko Haram is active in Gombe but it seems that they were not involved.


Did ‘Muslim Militants’ Kill 120 Christians in Nigeria in February/March 2019?

fea63168-97d0-446a-8287-51ec95e7e6b3Muslim militants killed 120 Christians in Nigeria during a three-week period in February and March 2019.


Although not entirely reliable, various local news reports corroborated the incidents and deaths described in reports by Breitbart and the Christian Post website.

Religious affiliation is a secondary issue in the ongoing Nigerian herder-farmer conflict, which impartial experts consistently describe as being primarily a dispute over natural resources and land usage. Reports in the U.S. in March 2019 failed to properly explain the complexity of the conflict, and Breitbart’s article did not mention a major reported atrocity perpetrated against the mostly Muslim Fula people in February 2019.


In the aftermath of the March 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre in which a white supremacist gunman fatally shot 50 people at two mosques, some right-leaning observers quickly turned their attention to atrocities allegedly perpetrated by Muslims against Christians in recent weeks.

On 16 March, Breitbart reported that “Nigerian Muslim militants” had killed 120 Christians within a space of three weeks since late February 2019. In another article published the next day, the same author wrote that “Political leaders and public figures were falling over themselves this weekend to condemn the mosque attacks in New Zealand, while dozens of Christians were slaughtered by Muslims in Nigeria to the sound of crickets.”


Nigerian archbishop: Church works as bridge between Muslims, Christians

20190305T1116-1350-CNS-NIGERIA-KAIGAMA-BRIDGE_800-690x450NEW YORK – The Catholic Church is working to bridge the divide between Muslims and Christians in a country where the divide between the groups is fraught with large and small issues, said a Nigerian archbishop.

Archbishop Ignatius A. Kaigama of Jos, a former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, gave examples from his archdiocese in the central part of the country.

In Jos, the bustling administrative capital of Plateau state, the archbishop established the Dialogue, Reconciliation and Peace Centre in 2011 to “attempt to narrow the gap between different groups that are hostile to each other,” he said.

It is a place where “Muslims and Christians walk together,” the archbishop told Catholic News Service in early March. The archbishop was in New York to speak at a March 1 panel at the United Nations, “International Religious Freedom,” organized by the Holy See Observer Mission to the U.N.

“I have lived through all different types of crisis. I didn’t want to wait for big solutions, but wanted to do something small,” Archbishop Kaigama told CNS. “It’s a safe space to talk to one another and a proactive center to forestall crisis and possible violence.”

“We bring in Muslim and Christian primary and secondary school students and train them together in peace education. We also bring in traditional grassroots leaders to encourage people to cultivate dialogue,” he said.


Nigerian women’s network builds interfaith bridges

rns-nigeria-peacemaking2-120718 (1)When Fatima Isiaka, a respected Muslim leader in Abuja, Nigeria, asked a cab driver to drop her off at St. Kizito Catholic Church, the driver thought she was lost.

Isiaka, who wears a jilbab head covering and robe, recalled: “He told me, ‘This is a church!’ I said, ‘Yes, I know.’”

Isiaka was part of an innovative effort to bring Christian and Muslim women together in hopes of fostering religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. The Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network was started in 2011 by Agatha Ogo­chukwu Chikelue, a sister of the Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy congregation, and Maryam Dada Ibra­him, a local Muslim businesswoman.

Isiaka, now deputy director in the network’s Abuja branch, looks back fondly on her time at the St. Kizito Catholic Church.

“I loved every bit of my stay there,” Isiaka said. “I found a place in the church where I performed ablution, to set up my mat and pray.”

Since the group began, the Women of Faith Peacebuilding Network’s activities have reached more than 10,000 Muslim and Christian women across the country. The network also offers vocational training in catering, bead making, fashion design, and soap production to a smaller group of women who participate in an annual 21-day seminar.

Nigeria’s population is evenly divided: about half Muslim and half Christian. Northern Nigeria is majority Muslim, while southern Nigeria is majority Christian. Ensuring equal Christian and Muslim political representation at local, state, and national levels is an especially sensitive subject.