Penultimate week, Christian leaders from the north gathered in Jos, Plateau State, to brainstorm on ways to achieve lasting peace in the region. ACHOR ABIMAJE reports:
Worried by incessant break down of law and order through Boko Haram attacks, insurgency, kidnapping and religious intolerance in the northern part of the country, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the region under the leadership of Rev Yakubu Pam, in collaboration with the Plateau State government, has organised a peace summit with the theme, “Sustainable Peace And Security In Northern Nigeria As A Panacea For Development .”
Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, said the Federal Government was committed to ending the current insecurity facing the country.
He said the notion that there are attempts to Islamise Nigeria is a dummy being sold by enemies of the country that want to plunge it into religious war.
He insisted that nobody can Islamise the country, saying that “I must correct the dummy being sold by some rumour mongers about the issue of Islamising Nigeria, nobody is contemplating doing that.”
Mustapha assured that the current security challenges will soon be over as the Federal Government is doing everything possible to tackle the menace.
“I call on the church to always continue to speak the truth at all times, nobody can kill the gospel, let’s continue to be our brothers’ keepers at all times and continue to preach peace.
“We must reject those who propagate hatred, ethnicity, divisiveness, sectionalism or seek to manipulate religious differences for political gains.”
Major General Paul Tarfa (rtd), in his key note address, titled ‘Sustainable Peace and Security in Northern Nigeria as a Panacea for Development: The Role of Christian Religious Leaders’, said Christian religious leaders should play a vital role in building peace and security in northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the country.
According to him, the clerics are at the core of morals of the society which in turn determines behaviour of the people they lead.
“As our West African sub-region and particularly our country is today bedeviled with all sorts of insecurity challenges, ranging from insurgency, militancy and kidnapping, herdsmen/farmers’ clashes, hate speech, which the country is now witnessing, religion is slowly and deliberately being exploited for political ends, “ he noted.
According to Tarfa, “those who do so know exactly what they are doing; they hide behind the veil of religion and ethnicity to fulfill their political interests and desires”, adding that back in the years of colonialism, Africa witnessed divide and rule, which was used by colonial regimes to advance their economic and political interests.
He pointed out that, “political ambitions have never been sympathetic to their victims, they can use anything, and religion and ethnicity seem to be their best instrument. This is a threat to any country which has different religious beliefs, especially where two of them feature out as majority, the same applies to us in this country.”
Tarfa added that because “the gravity of insecurity is seemingly heavier in the north, we can focus on the north as case study, and suggest a few measures as follows:
“Christian religious leaders should be knowledgeable enough to properly interprete the word of God to the congregation and not to mislead them based on a limited understanding of the Bible.
“Christian religious leaders should be able to caution and advise the government and society on proper moral and ethical behaviour, stressing that they should respect each other and inspire the attitude of tolerance and mutual respect in their followers and believers of other faiths.”
He said Christian religious leaders should preach and live by the principles of their faith, noting that they should encourage their congregation to participate in politics and vote for candidates of their choice but should desist from dragging the Church into politics.
The retired military officer further said the clerics should be concerned with development of the country and give support to the leadership of the government and support the government on the fight against corruption.
According to him, Christian religious leaders should set up their platform, where they can meet and deliberate on issues threatening peace and reach out to leaders of other faiths to synergise on peace and security matters.
“Christian religious leaders in the North should, as a matter of priority, forge unity among all denominations to speak with one voice and act in tandem.
“If all the above are adhered to, Christian religious leaders will be seen to have contributed immensely to peace, security and development in the country.
“It is disheartening to note however, that for sometime now, the nation has been exposed to all sorts of characters on electronic and social media space, calling themselves “Prophets” or “Men of God”. Some of them say all sorts of things and make quotations from the Holy Bible to support their claims.”
He noted that they take pleasure in saying, “God told me” or “God revealed to me” to say bla-bla-bla, or to warn xyz, etc… They proclaim to their audience that failure to adhere to their messages would amount to upheaval or some kind of doom to the country, adding that nowhere in the world are there so many “Prophets or Men of God” that take pleasure in wishing their country the worst.
“Some engage in preaching on material and prosperity, instead of salvation. Their messages can be likened to what the Lord Jesus Christ said in the Book of Mathew Chapter 24 Verse 11, “…and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”
According to him, “in my opinion, we are now experiencing the heat of many false prophets in the land, who are there only to cause confusion and plant hatred among peaceful people just to cause unrest. Perhaps this can be a challenge for the Christian Association of Nigeria to reflect on.”
The key note speaker also said the issue of peace and security is everybody’s responsibility, positing that without peace, there can be no development.
“Religious leaders and followers all have a role to play. No Church or Mosque can be safe for prayers in a conflict-prone country.
“Religion maintains that all human beings are equal in the sight of the Lord and considers every human person as a special creation of God. It also condemns corruption, dishonesty, injustice, nepotism, and disrespect to constituted authority. Therefore, for peace and good governance to thrive in Nigeria, religious leaders must preach virtue of honesty in places of worship,” he stated.
He added that it is a fact that wrong definition and translation of the word of God accounts for provoking hatred between Christians and Muslims. He noted that Islam emphasises tolerance among people of different faith and culture.
Tarfa said the Holy Bible says loving people you know is not enough. Love should be extended beyond people you know. The 10 Commandments lay down two levels of relationship, namely relationship between God and human beings on one hand and relationship amongst human beings on the other hand.
“Religious leaders, whether Christian or Muslim, should therefore preach to their respective congregations to live according to the teachings of their respective faiths.
“From the above, we have seen that Christian doctrine can aid good governance characterised by the fear of God and rule of law. God rules His people through chosen individuals. There is no person that can rule except God allows it. It is therefore, incumbent on us to accept and support whoever He has chosen to lead our country. This is how we can make progress and live in peace with one another.”
He opined that Christian religious leaders surely have a major role to play in sustenance of peace and security in Nigeria.
“Religion, no doubt, is a force to be reckoned with. It is a tool that provides inspiration to the people and unites them to fight against social upheavals, moral decadence and political instability. The religious sermons that are preached in churches with specific reference to citations from the Bible are all efforts geared towards shaping the behaviour of the people positively in the society. “
According to him, the counseling done by Christian religious leaders should therefore be aimed at the maintenance of peace, security and development in Nigeria.
He stressed that on the part of the government, it must have the political will to rid the society of social miscreants and continue in its effort to purge the nation of all forms of ill virtues, adding that it must be firm with its fight against corruption.
If this is done, it will be seen as moving towards the right direction in ensuring a just and stable country, he said.
The Plateau State governor, Simon Lalong, in his opening address at the occasion, said in the last one month, “we have concentrated efforts in establishing the vital nexus that will help us in identifying the key roles that we have as government, in driving the peace process on the Plateau through diverse approaches, which will help us consolidate on the gains we have made so far.
“Today, we are further making a resolve to add value to the commitment of government in being part of the solution that will promote peaceful existence and religious harmony beyond Plateau.
“The theme of this summit is no doubt apt and draws to mind, the essence of peace and security as panacea for sustainable development beyond our state. We remain resolute in our commitment to building an enduring legacy of peace beyond Plateau and we shall not relent in exploring all avenues that will help us in the sustenance of peace and security.
“The peace conference that recently held under the auspices of Plateau State Peace Building Agency, is a statement of our government’s resolve not to leave any stone unturned as we seek to find a comprehensive solution to the peculiar dynamics of our human existence within the cosmopolitan sphere of our social interaction.
“As people of faith, we must underscore our common humanity as we seek to find within the dictates of our faith, those essentials that define us as human beings and for which, we hold our accountability in the same faith to our callings as Christians.”
Lalong added, “I am confident that as Christian leaders, gathered on a common platform for the simple task of activating our faith with action, we would be stimulating in the course of this summit, the kind of words that will give visible expression to the dictates of our faith, which will further help us identify the onerous responsibility that we have as a people of faith in the peace project in Nigeria.
“I have no doubt in my mind that with the calibre of people who have been assembled for the purpose of dealing with the dialectics of the conversations in this meeting, we are more than poised to identify and deal with the essential matter of faith within the cause of this deliberation, that will seek to challenge our collective common destiny.
“I wish to assure that northern Nigeria is a project in God’s hands and the strength of our conviction is that we are on a journey to a brighter future which is secured in the hands of God .”
Lalong also said his administration remains committed to promoting programmes that would improve the quality of life and deliver the dividends of democracy to the people of the state.
Earlier, the Northern CAN chairman, Rev Yakubu Pam, had said, “as Christian leaders, we are expected to play critical roles in the development of our societies, states and countries.
“We have every reason to be worried over the recent ugly security developments in our region following attacks and killings in communities and some states of the North by people who do not wish our country good.
“I urge our Christian leaders in the North and security experts, who are attending this occasion, to proffer solutions to the current ugly events happening in Northern Nigeria and country as a whole.
“I want to appeal to the federal government to do all within its legal and constitutional powers to put an end to the issue of farmers /herders’ clashes in the states of the North, so that lasting peace can return to these restive communities that have produced thousands of internally displaced persons.”
Our correspondent reports that other dignitaries that attended the occasion include, the minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, deputy governor of Adamawa State, Martins Babale, Prof Ocheni and religious leaders from the north amongst other guests.