Herders, Christians, Muslims And Farmers: Stronger, Together

Stronger together.In an address, the General Synod of the Church of England in 2014, Fuad Nahdi, the first Muslim to have that honor, expressed the hope that followers of Christ and Prophet Muhammad can be allies. Fuad, a thinker and interfaith activist wished that his “presence in the synod will help [Christians and Muslims] to stand shoulder to shoulder together against the forces that would threaten our shared humanity.” On the question of what will make him consider his life a success, Faud replied, “If I can somehow be involved in reconciling hearts and people. That would make me happy.” 1n 2016, London elected its first ethnic minority and Muslim mayor.

The disposition of some Christians and Muslims to rancor and violence in Nigeria today is a betrayal of our basic faith and humanity. It raises the question of what we consider success in our lives? For the political class; is winning elections more important than the protection of lives and properties of the citizens? For our religious leaders; are you a bridge-builder and peacemaker or are you an enabler of resentment? For the citizens, are you standing shoulder-to-shoulder in brotherhood against the forces that threaten our shared humanity or are you a promoter of bigotry? What do you consider success in life?

On success, I am guided by one of the few Bible verses that stuck with me from my Sunday School days, Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”  I also find this warning by Prophet Muhammad insightful; “Beware, whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Muhammad) will complain against the person on the day of judgment.” Double click on these to digest their deep practical meaning.

With these teachings, of our faiths on an inter-human relationship, justice, respect, and compassion, I strive not to be consumed by anger. To this end, I channel my writings to find areas of convergence between Christians and Muslims; between different ethnicities across Nigeria; between Nigerians who are dissatisfied with the current political order that has favored few at the expense of most Nigerians. I believe that for Nigeria to function more efficiently, with less violence, restructured or not, we need to be de-tribalized in our thoughts and actions.

For Nigerians, unfortunately, the nature of conflict has shifted from simple political divisions between a few individuals in the fringes to a more complex web of resource, identity, interethnic, intercultural and interreligious conflicts, intolerance and discrimination. The geographical position of the Middle Belt at the crossroad of different cultures and religions (traditional, Islam and Christianity) and the rise of Islamic and Christian radicalism in Nigeria have combined to produce the intractable conflict with such brutality and bloodshed that have rattled millions.

The latest bloodbath and reprisal killings in Plateau State is reminiscent of the violent conflict between Muslims and Christians in the same Shendam area of the state that led to the declaration of a State of Emergency by Obasanjo’s administration on May 18th, 2004. Unfortunately, the ruling APC’s response to these crises has been ineffective. They should, thus, take responsibility for failing to protect the lives of Nigerians. It’s only after they had done this that they will see the need to prosecute perpetrators of these violent acts. Until justice is seen to be done, perpetrators will not be deterred and there cannot be lasting peace in these hots spots across Nigeria.

“Whether it was the tenant who seduced the landlord’s wife, or the landlord who seduced the tenant’s wife, it is the tenant who would leave the house.” For justice to be seen to be done, the federal government in partnership with state governments must restore all land belonging to the local population in these torn villages but grabbed by herders. This is one of those issues that proponents of State Police can build their case on. In addition to justice, however, we should seek brotherhood because when all is said and done, it is the people in these “hot spots” that should devise a mechanism to live peacefully with their unresolved philosophical, cultural differences.

I cannot imagine a time in the history of Nigeria at which there is a greater need for serious interfaith engagement than now. While political actors on either side of the APC and PDP and their Internet foot soldiers are busy fanning sentiments, it is the responsibility the warring parties as a community directly affected to unclog the arteries of peace and reconciliation. The rhetoric needed in this time of mourning is one that will ultimately serve to lower or remove the walls of misunderstanding which unduly divide the affected communities in these flashpoints.

 

To minimize the conflicts between different groups across Nigeria, we must all combat polarization and stereotypes. That’s the only way to improve understanding and cooperation among people from different cultures. For instance, true unity between farmers and herdsmen can only be attained through mutual respect, an understanding of the needs of each group and tolerance. One way to achieve unity is through dialogue that will involve giving and taking. Gradually, we will begin to understand the joys, hardships, and grievances of others.

Christian and Muslim organizations should be proactive in developing dialogue aimed at finding common grounds. Most importantly, religious leaders, primarily pastors and imams should find a way to involve young people in interfaith engagement. Rather than promoting bigotry and hatred, they should use social media as a channel for interreligious and intercultural discussion. It’s only after we have succeeded in building a better interfaith relation that involves action, rather than just conversation that Nigeria we begin to experience relative peace.

Finally, we should let the spiritual process of reconciliation first happen in our hearts and then learn the Buddhist way of negotiation through the restoration of communication. We should not let the politicians poison our minds and alienate us by dividing us as Christians versus Muslims or herders versus farmers. These are our communities and when the politicians have all gone back to the cities to plot how to win elections and continue looting the national wealth, we are the ones who will be left with the ruins and scars of these violent clashes.

We will be stronger, together. We cannot afford to leave our destiny in the very weak hands of some religious leaders and politicians, who are only interested in inflicting your wounds to score a cheap political point. We should invest in developing capacities for conflict resolutions tailored to our different communities to avoid an initial outbreak of tension and conflict through the promotion of intercultural dialogue than deal with the conflicts after they arise.

We are stronger, together. No one can do this for us. The PDP under Obasanjo to Goodluck Jonathan could not do it. APC under Buhari is also clearly incapable of doing that. We are stronger, together. So, let us act; start a journey towards peace by initiating localized reconciliation that will bring about secure economic future and harmonious society.

Together, we, can.

You can email Churchill at Churchill.okonkwo@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @churchillnnobi

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