Religious Institutions And The Quest For Peace And Harmony In The Nigerian Society

Project and Seminar Material for Theology and Biblical Studies

Religious Institutions And The Quest For Peace And Harmony In The Nigerian Society


Abstract


Over the years, the simmering tension in Nigeria especially the Northern region as a result of settler-indigene crises, ethno-religious conflicts, unresolved political differences, perceived social and economic marginalization, bad government policies, high level of unemployment, poverty and inequality in the country’s’ socio-economic relations have further heightened the region insecurity problem and eroded trust among the various ethno-religious groups. In some cases, suspicion, intolerance and the uncompromising disposition of communities in their relations with people outside their group identity have further reinforced conflict and distrust, resulting in the spontaneous outbreak of civil disorder with untold sufferings and loss of lives and properties. Thus, the pillar of harmonious relationship in the country lies in its understanding and reconciliation, which are achievable through Religious institutions’ peace-building activities. The study adopts the conflict resolution techniques and dispute management systems that emphasize confidence building, joint-problem solving, mediation and negotiation as its theoretical frame of analysis. The primary data collected through the multi-stage sampling method and secondary data collected through extensive library research for the study were analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively. The study found out that quests made by the Religious institutions in promoting peaceful co-existence in Nigeria to some extent have recorded success, since there is relative peace in the larger part of the country with the complete cessation of violent conflict in some parts while there still exist flash lights of conflict in some parts of the country, especially the Northern parts due to the continuous farmer-grazer squabbles. Consequently, people have hope and confidence in Religious institutions when it comes to promoting peace and harmony due to their holistic, inclusive and participatory nature; the religious institution’s activities are better options in promoting peace than reliance on positioning securities to mount road blocks to contain violent situations or forming judicial committees whose results are never considered or implemented; turning a number of youth of the country into peace ambassadors through peace workshops and the provision of humanitarian materials to the Internally Displaced People (IDP). In order to capture the quest of religious institutions’ in peace and harmony, this study focuses on the Northern part of the country which gives a truer perspective of instability due to ethnic religious conflict which is the number driver of mistrust and lack of peace and harmony of the population. The study now looks at the quest of religious institutions fostering peace and harmony in Nigeria taking a microscopic look at Plateau State to understudy the entire country.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

Stability is an important condition for the survival of any society in the world. Harmonious co-existence among the inhabitants of any society in the world is likely to bring about peace and stability in such a society. In Nigeria, the return to a civilian government in 1999 was followed by a series of ethno-religious conflicts, which have compounded the country’s complex crises. Plateau Stateis the microscope through which this work looks at Nigeria has presented a scenario in which, due to incessant ethno-religious conflicts, peace has largely remained elusive despite various efforts to restore harmony among the warring factions in the region. This has compounded the situation of insecurity in Nigeria’s fragile federal system, which, over the years, has experienced ethnic, religion and political crises of monumental proportions. The most devastating amongst these have been ethno-religious conflicts in all parts of the country. In the present democratic dispensation, ethno-religious conflicts have particularly created destabilizing consequences on national unity.

This phenomenon of ethno-religious conflicts has become so rampant in Nigeria and almost synonymous with the Nigerian political system (Imobighe, 2003: vii;

Alemike, 2004:147). This observation may not be out of place if we consider the rate and frequency of conflicts in Nigeria, especially since 1999. For instance, to illustrate the magnitude of the cases of ethnic conflicts in the country, over fifty conflicts of ethno-religious nature occurred from 1999 to 2002 in which more than 25,000 people were killed and properties worth billions of naira destroyed (Anugwom, 2002:1; Imobighe, 2004:16). It has been noted by Anifowose (2003:48) that the country’s harvest of ethno-religious conflicts is not unusual, considering the fact that many years of military rule have enfolded so much grievances among the units that make up Nigeria. With the rebirth of civilian government in 1999, a political space was created for these over heaped grievances to be unveiled in form of conflicts. The views above portray the prevalence of the phenomenon of ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria.

There is no doubt that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious region (Bamishaiye, 1976:71). Although there is no agreement among scholars on the exact number of ethnic groups, it is estimated that between 250 and 400 different nationalities make up the political entity presently identified as Nigeria (Agbese, 2001:135; Maduagwu, 2004:36). These various ethnic formations are diverse in terms of culture and language, as they, however, interact at different levels in the pre-colonial era through trade, marriages and even wars. These interactions prevailed until 1861 when the British systematically commenced the process of colonizing the territory via suppression and finally created Nigeria through the historical act of amalgamation in 1914. This creation was later to be described by Nigeria’s foremost nationalists, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello, as “a mere geographical expression” and “the mistake of 1914….”, respectively (cited in Maduagwu, 2004:37). These statements right from the onset crystallized the burning problems inherent in the divergent emerging Nigerian region, with ethnicity being one of such core problems.

The deduction arising from the above is that, at independence, Nigeria inherited a culture of ethnicity that has produced an unending cycle of ethnic and sometimes religious conflicts. These conflicts have not only been “a decisive factor in the country’s political turbulence and instability” (Suberu, 1996:12), they have impeded the process of national integration. In the case of the occurrence of ethno-religious conflicts in Plateau State examined by this study, the conflicts have greatly reduced the region to a condition of near anarchy, as violent and fatal confrontations have become a recurring affair. This has affected the entire economic, social and political facets of life in the region. This disturbing trend evokes curiosity in the areas of finding lasting peace in Plateau State and Nigeria as a whole and investigating why the conflicts have taken place and the various efforts made to resolve them. This study is, therefore, anchored in the direction of assessing the quest made by Religious institutions in fostering peace and harmony in the troubled Nigeria.


1.2 Statement of the Research Problem

The simmering conflicts in Nigeria, has retarded harmonious interaction and rapport among the various ethnic groups in the country, as the conflict is about unresolved political differences; perceived social and economic marginalization; bad government policies; settlers-indigenes squabbles; high level of unemployment, poverty and inequality in the region’s socio-economic relations, etc. Thus, the pillar of a harmonious relationship in the region, therefore, lies in its understanding and reconciliation.

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity that has various ethnic formations, which are highly complex and diverse in terms of culture and language. Three quarters of these groups are from the Middle Belt or North Central Nigeria, making it a polyglot region and exhibiting almost unparalleled diversities in culture and social organization. Fifty-four of these groups are from

Other Northern and southern parts of Nigeria (Gazette, 2004:11). Hitherto, they lived in peace with one another, engaging in trade, commerce and social interaction for their collective benefit and common good before the peaceful co-existence was violently disrupted.

Over the years, the simmering tension as a result of ethno-religious conflicts in Plateau State has further heightened the region insecurity problem and eroded trust among the various ethno-religious groups. In some cases, suspicion, intolerance and the uncompromising disposition of communities in their relations with people outside their group identity have further reinforced conflict and distrust, resulting in the spontaneous outbreak of civil disorder with untold consequences and loss of lives and properties. Indeed, reconciliation and peaceful co-existence are desirable in Plateau State, yet this has not been achieved on a sustainable basis.

More importantly, one of the guiding philosophies of establishing a lasting peace in Plateau State is for people to understand one another by discussing freely and sincerely about matters of common concern. In the absence of this openness and compromise among social groups, a gap is created. The wider the gap between reconciliation and disagreement is, the greater the scope of suspicion and tension and thus violence. The need for reconciliation and peaceful co-existence through Religious institutions dialogue is said to aim at promoting better understanding of one another for lasting peace, harmony and peaceful inter-group relations in the region.


1.3 Research Questions

The study tries to answer the following questions, which would help peacebuilding quest by religious institutions in Plateau State, in particular, and Nigeria, in general.

  1. How can peaceful co-existence be entrenched in Nigeria?
  2. Can the activities of Religious institutions bring about peaceful and harmonious relationship in Nigeria?
  3. What is the role of Religious Institutions in promoting peacebuilding process in Nigeria?
  4. What are the challenges facing Religious institutions in promoting peace-building in Nigeria?

1.4 Objectives of the Study

The broad objective of this research is to assess the role of Religious institutions in the peace-building process in Nigeria mirroring Plateau State in particular, and Nigeria, in general, through their peace-building activities. Specifically, the study seeks to achieve the following objectives:

  1. To suggest the means through which Religious institutions can promote peaceful co-existence in Plateau State.
  2. To assess the strategies or mechanisms adopted by these Religious institutions in promoting peaceful co-existence in Plateau State.
  3. To suggest how religious institution’s peacebuilding activities, inspire community, religious, ethnic and traditional leader’s engagement in peace-building activities.
  4. To enhance mutual understanding and narrow the existing communication gap among the followers of various faiths.
  5. To assess the success or failure of these religious institution in promoting peaceful co-existence in Plateau State.
  6. To assess the challenges these institutions, encounter in carrying out their peace-building activities.

1.5 Justification and Significance of the Study

This study is timely at this crucial period of insecurity escalation in Nigeria, especially Plateau State, which, at one time or the other, has been embroiled in ethno-religious skirmishes. Some of the cases of these conflicts were generated on slightest provocation. Therefore, the study is designed to improve the understanding of the role of Religious institutions in the peace-building process in Nigeria. This research is significant in the sense that peace and unity cannot prosper under conditions of conflict, violence and lawlessness because the bedrock of any formidable society is peace and stability. The survival of any conflict-ridden community in Nigeria, therefore, depends on how conflicts are resolved. The study examines the peace-building efforts in Plateau State, which is considered to be ‘Giant of Africa’ before turning to one of the hottest spots of ethno-religious conflicts in Africa, witnessing a large scale destruction of lives and properties and generating a lot of tension in the relationships between the different ethno-religious groups in the region and, by extension, the larger society. The study will, therefore, relate the Plateau State experience to wider national experiences.

It is also important to bring together some representatives of community leaders and religious, ethnic and traditional leaders into open discussion avenues, so as to bring aggrieved people to the basic understanding of the imperatives of dialogue in the peaceful resolution of discontent or disagreement. Nigeria in general and Plateau State in particular need this form of commitment to dialogue in the resolution of differences. This will go a long way in promoting peaceful coexistence among the various groups in the region, so that its former catchphrase of ‘Giant of Africa’ can be restored. Other religious institution’s peace-building activities will also improve the political and economic stability in the region. Also, findings from the study will further examine ways to foster the national unity of Nigeria, which has hitherto been very fragile since independence.


1.6 Assumptions of the Study

Below are the assumptions that have been generated with the aim of testing their validity or otherwise in the course of this study:

  1. The enlighten activities of Religious Institutions are likely to promote peace-building in Plateau State;
  2. Dialogue between Religious Institutions and grassroots mobilizations are likely to boost and promote peace-building in Plateau State.

The activities of Religious institutions are likely to promote peace-building in Plateau State in spite of the complex nature of the conflicts that are associated with economic deprivation, political marginalization and inequality among the diverse groups in the region. These Religious institutions usually work to promote the wellbeing of citizens and societal development. In the case of Plateau State, that has been confronted with the problem of unending conflicts. How and where have these organizations made a positive impact in ensuring that peace returns to the region? This question has evoked an investigation such as what this research intends to unravel.


1.7 Scope of the Study

This work provides background information on the roles played by Religious institutions in Plateau State through various peace-building mechanisms between 2001 and 2011. This study covers a ten-year period because it is during this turbulent decade that conflicts in Plateau State assumed a more violent, organized and consistent dimensions and also saw numerous efforts by these organizations to find ways of dousing these conflicts, so as to improve coexistence in the region. Although the conflicts have occurred in the past, the casualty level had been low compared to the high human and material losses incurred from the episodes that occurred from 2001 – 2011. This prompted the Religious institutions to step up efforts at peace-building in the region. This period, therefore, presents better case studies useful for a study of this nature.


1.8 Organization of the Study

The following is a summary of the organization of the study: Chapter One consists of Background to the study, Statement of the research problem, Research Questions, Objectives of the study, Justification and Significance of the Study, Assumptions of the Study, Scope of the Study and Outline of Chapters.

Chapter two consists of the Review of Related Literature on Conceptualizing Peace-Building; Peace-Building Mechanisms; Imperative of Peace-Building in Nigeria; Conceptualizing Religious institutions; Phenomenon of Ethno-Religious Conflict; Ethno-Religious Conflicts in Plateau State; Gaps in Literature and Theoretical Framework.

Chapter three consists of the Research Methodology while chapter four Assesses Peace-Building in Plateau State while presenting and analysing data generated and Chapter five consists of the Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations.


Chapter Five


Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Summary

The creation of the jos northlocal government in 1991 and the winning of the local government chairmanship election by a Hausa/Jasawa man in the name of Samaila Mohammed; the appointment of Aminu Mato (also a Hausa/Jasawa man) as the North North chairman (caretaker committee) in 1994; the quested appointment of Ado Ibrahim (a Hausa/Jasawa) as the secretary of the North North Education Authority in 1996; the denial to grant the indigeneship certificate to the Jasawa in 1999 by the local government chairman Frank Bagudu Tardy (Tarddy) (an Anaguta man); and the federal government appointment of Muktar Mohammed (a Jasawa man) as the North Noth coordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Program (NAPEP) in July, 2001 all contributed to violent conflict in Plateau State. It started with staged protests by the indigenes (the Anaguta, Afizere and Berom) complaining about appointing the Hausa and Fulani into key positions in the local government and counter protests and petitions by the Jasawa for marginalizing, excluding and denying them indigeneship rights since the inception of Tarddy as the local government chairman.

What started as a protest later degenerated into chaos and violent conflict, leading to the massacre of thousands of people, the destruction of properties worth billions of naira and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. What had originally been an ethnic and political conflict turned into a religious one, as the conflict between indigenes and settlers became a conflict between Christians and Muslims when both sides exploited religion as an effective way of mobilizing large scale support. The region became the scene of mass killing and destruction. The region government’s failure to take the looming crisis seriously by becoming indifferent to early warning signals and its inability to resolve the conflict was widely condemned. The military were invited to restore order and in May 2004 and President Obasanjo declared a region of emergency in the region. Some measures of the peace process were restored, but, later on, there was the recommencement of violent conflict in the region.

The federal and region governments also constituted several judicial committees and commissions of inquiry with the sole aim of resolving the conflict by investigating both remote and immediate causes of the conflicts assess the damage done and make recommendations. The committees instituted did not yield the desired result, as none of the reports was released, talk less of implementing them. In 2010, the government released four of this committee reports. There were also contradictions attached to the appointment of these committees, for instance, when President Yar’adua appointed his committee of inquiry, the Plateau State indigenes refused to appear before it and Jang filed a lawsuit challenging Yar’adua’s right to appoint a committee within Jang’s jurisdiction. When Jang also appointed his committee of inquiry, the Jasawa refused to appear before it and filed a lawsuit challenging his right to appoint a committee to investigate a dispute to which he was a party. These sorts of accusation and counter-accusations further compounded the conflict.

It is the activities of these Religious institutions (being closer to the grassroots level) that bring about relative peace in the region. These organizations play the role of becoming the voice of the under- privileged and opened up communication channels among the warring parties; supplied humanitarian materials to the internally displaced; promoted human spirit, community life, togetherness and increased harmony through long held traditions and culture; organized peace workshops, seminars and facilitate dialogue, negotiation and mediation processes; and other peace-building processes in Plateau State. For instance, the Interfaith Mediation Center Kaduna, the Young Ambassadors for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation (YACPIF), the Stephneous Foundation; the Center for Peace Initiative and Development (CEPID), the Institute of Governance and Social Research (IGSR), the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the Jama’atul Nasril Islam (JNI) and a host of other Religious institutions peace-building activities in Plateau State, which include the mediation process that brought an end to the cessation of violent conflict in Yelwan Shandam in 2004; the mediation process that took place in the Gbong Gwom’s North palace in 2011; the alternative road map to peace and reconciliation that involved a technical committee of eighteen concerned people (nine Christians and nine Muslims) of North who were working on peaceful coexistence in the region; the organization of peace tournaments; Television and Radio peace jingles; etc. The activities of these organizations have yielded a relative result in the region as there is calm to an extent that some parts of the region, experiencing periodic conflict, which is partly due to the dynamic nature of the Fulani nomads. These organizations also need the government’s backing to make their activities more effective.


5.2 Conclusion

The capacity of a society to continue to exist despite prevailing conflicts depends on its ability to devise the means of curbing the negative impact of such conflicts. The quests made by the Religious institutions in promoting peaceful co-existence in Plateau State to some extent have recorded success, since there is relative peace in the larger part of the region with the complete cessation of violent conflict in some parts while there still exists flash-light of conflicts in some parts of the region, especially the southern part, due to the continuous farmer-grazer squabbles. The devastating and enduring dimensions of the conflict are as a result of the long standing grievances between the Fulani that are always on the move in search of food and water for their animals and farmers. So, the efforts made at resolving the ethno-religious conflicts in Plateau State, as examined in this study, may seem fruitless until drastic peace-building strategies are implemented while inculcating, backing and empowering community and religion leaders to continue their peace-building activities. The challenge for policy makers in Plateau State in particular and Nigeria in general is to adopt strategies aimed at managing the conflicts and ensuring lasting peace in the region, as recommended in this study.


5.3 Recommendations

For any polity to thrive successfully in Nigeria in general and Plateau State in particular, sustainable peace and development has to be institutionalized. The citizens have to be tolerant of each other and be sincere about ensuring peace in the communities, as posited by the Dalai Lama that, peace must first be developed within an individual. He believes that love, compassion, and altruism are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create an atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world (cited in Webel, 2007: 03). Once this is achieved then, we can conveniently start talking of peace-building. On the basis of the findings, the study adopt the following recommendations:

Emphasizes Citizenship Rights

Since ‘indigene-ship’ has become a major source of disagreement that threatens the corporate existence of Nigeria in general and Plateau State in particular, the federal government should de-emphasize or eliminate the priority attached to indigenization in the country and promote the use of citizenship rights as the basis upon which rights and entitlements are given through constitutional provision. Emphasis should be placed on region of residence (as operated in the United Regions and other developed countries) instead of region of origin. Nigerians should be allowed to stay and live in regions of their choice, as long as they live up to ten years in the region if there is not any form of criminal records against them.

Poverty Alleviation Strategies

The majority of our vibrant youth willing to work but finding none will continue to be easy victims of manipulation and negative indoctrination by conflict entrepreneurs. The government should, therefore, re-invent new strategies aimed at emancipating the youth from the strangle hold of poverty manifested by the prevalence of the unemployed by setting up vocational training and skills acquisition centers across the region to train and empower all youths without any discrimination. This will ensure their proper growth, assure them of a brighter future and make them have confidence in the region and the country in general.

Peace Education and Trauma Healing

Inculcating tolerance, forgiveness and peaceful co-existence into our children curriculum and teaching same right from primary schools up to higher institutions of learning will go a long way in preparing the children growing into peace-loving adults, develop a deep understanding of friendship and tend to douse hatred, hence promote peace-building.

The Establishment of Community Leaders Forum

The host communities should come up with a forum like the ‘North Metropolitan Community Leaders Forum’ (JOMECOLF) for continued consultation and dialogue in order to promote communication, accommodation, mutual respect and the rights of citizens. This forum should be a continuous process or held on quarterly basis or whenever necessary so as to consolidate the spirit of peaceful coexistence, as well as dispel any sign of future recurrence of conflict.

Pastoral-Farmer Relations

The encroachment on farm lands by pastoralists and encroachment on grazing reserves by farmers has caused serious violent conflict, which has escalated the fragile relationship in Plateau State. Grazing reserves should be established in areas that are vulnerable to pastoral/farmer conflicts and they should improve their communication gap, promote mutual understanding, co-exist peacefully and mediate over crisis situation as they arise within their groups. They should also constitute conflict resolution committees at ward, village and district levels that will settle disagreements between pastoralists and farmers.

Eliminate Electoral Malpractices

The quest to win elections at all costs and manipulating electoral processes by politicians result in electoral violence, which contribute in escalating conflict. Political parties should strengthen their internal democracy and government should guarantee that votes count in all elections, address election complaints through legal means and empower the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct all elections in Federal, Region and Local Government levels.

Special Sporting Events

A special continuous sporting event should be organized as a means of dousing tension and promoting peace. This is demonstrated by the Young Ambassador for Community Peace and Interfaith Foundation (YACPIF) in one of their peacebuilding mechanisms in Plateau State where a football peace tournament involving two hundred and sixty football players (that constituted twenty four teams) played across eight different venues in Plateau State with the sole aim of dousing tension, promoting peace and imbibing the spirit of brotherhood in the youth.

In addition, government and security agencies should put in place a strategy to check the proliferation of small arms and ammunitions in the region; examine the recommendations of past reports, weight their feasibility, especially in the interest of promoting peace; the recognition of early warning signals, which should be responded to with early action right from the community to region level; religious leaders should shun provocative and inciting preaching and preach peace, tolerance and forgiveness; promote a just and professional judicial system and media; and democracy should be entrenched and consolidated.


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