While fueled by religious extremists, the origins of these conflicts have rarely been religious differences. Issues such as grazing and farming rights, control of local markets and resources, and increasing drought in the north have created a cycle of recurring conflicts. The result has been death, destruction, disrupted economic activity, and millions of displaced Nigerians.
"God solves problems and creates marvelous advances through the working together of different kinds of people with different gifts coming from different cultures having different values even!"
Amidst this charged environment, however, leaders have risen up to create change. Nelson Mandela once said, “if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
With the prayer and financial support of World Renew, Resonate Global Mission, the Office of Social Justice (OSJ), an individual donor in North America, and expert facilitation by Hizkias Assefa, the Wukari community is beginning to sow forgiveness and reconciliation among their people.
David Tyoghir, Country Consultant for World Renew in Nigeria, tells of the second of two peacebuilding consultations in a recent blog post. In September 2017 more than 45 religious leaders, traditional chiefs, politicians, and local government officials committed to partnership and peace gathered in Makurdi.
In his opening welcome, Rev. Caleb Ahima, Chairman of the Peace, Justice and Reconciliation Committee of the Reformed Churches in Nigeria, said, “We know the value of peace and we know the danger of conflict. No one will build peace for us. We must own this process for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren.”
For three-and-a-half days, participants spoke and listened to one another; this alone a powerful process. During one session, a Muslim participant shared his anger for those who shot him in the stomach. He said, “I said and did things in anger and pain that I am now sorry for. Now I must forgive and work for peace.”
On day four of the consultation, leaders moved on to the most challenging phase – laying out practical steps for building peace among their people. This is arduous work, requiring compromise across the board. In the end, the group was able to agree on several key steps forward:
- First, representatives of the Muslim Council and the Christian Association of the Wukari agreed to advocate for a political power-sharing arrangement that fairly represents all religions of the Wukari area.
- Second, the Muslim Council and the Christian Association were asked to initiate a joint effort to end inflammatory preaching in mosques and churches, and to identify and resist outside preachers who come to incite and divide.
- Third, the group has tasked the traditional leaders as well as representatives of both the Muslim Council and the Christian Association of Nigeria to build a mechanism to facilitate the return of persons displaced by the conflicts, assist them to rebuild destroyed properties, and ensure their safety.
There remains much work to be done, but hope has been kindled after witnessing the true power of this consultation. The willingness of local leaders to come together to pursue a path to peace is a true example of partnership - one that is required for the hard work ahead.
Peter Vandermeulen, former director of OSJ, writes: "In my experience - especially in peace building - nothing, nothing sustainable, comes from individual effort alone. God works through community. God solves problems and creates marvelous advances through the working together of different kinds of people with different gifts coming from different cultures having different values even! Aside from the sheer joy God must feel in His creation, I think God created so many kinds of people and cultures precisely in order for us to be true co-creators with God. We can't possibly do that in monochrome."