Nigeria Tensions Not Inherently Based on Religion: Christian-Muslim Report

(Photo Credit: World Council of Churches/The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought)The International Joint Delegation, whose participants were convened by the World Council of Churches and the The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, pose for a photograph in Kaduna, Nigeria along with its governor on May 23, 2012.

The primary causes of the current tension and conflict in Nigeria are not inherently based in religion but rather, rooted in a complex matrix of political, social, ethnic, economic, and legal problems, according to a joint report released Friday by Christian and Muslim organizations which sent a delegation on a five-day fact-finding mission to the country in May.

"[T]he issue of justice – or the lack of it – looms large as a common factor," states the report released Friday by the World Council of Churches and The Royal Aal al-Bayt institute for Islamic Thought.

"Nevertheless, the joint delegation acknowledges that there is a possibility that the current tension and conflict might become subsumed by its religious dimension (especially along geographical 'religious fault-lines') and so particularly warns against letting this idea-through misperception and simplification- become a self-fulfilling prediction."

The report includes an expanded list of causes and key factors of tensions, potential contributions from the groups and a listing of delegation participants and their itinerary over their visit.

The delegation met with members of communities in the capital city of Abuja, and the northern cities of Kaduna and Jos. It also met with government officials, religious leaders, traditional rulers and the families of victims of violence.
"Religion should never be used as a pretext for conflict. We are committed to the situation in Nigeria. We are concerned and anxious for the lives that are lost in the name of religion in Nigeria," said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC in a statement.

"Therefore we set out to investigate together first-hand, impartially and credibly, the situation on the ground in Nigeria and the various factors that have led to the present tensions," he said.

Rev. Tveit, along with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad of Jordan, chairman of the RABIIT, led the delegation.

The report breaks down causes and key factors behind the tensions into five areas: Religious, Political, Economic, Social/Ethnic and Legal.

"[I]t is difficult or impossible to totally separate these five areas from each other; for large problems invariably consist of many entangled smaller problems," the report states. "However, identifying, separating and resolving the smaller problems can lead to the resolution of the larger problems."

One of the participants, His Eminence Judge Prince Bola Ajibola remarked on the interconnectedness.

"In Nigeria, three things are intertwined; religion, politics and ethnicity and the three are beclouded with corruption, poverty and insecurity. It is therefore difficult to solve one without considering all other underpinning factors," he said.

Among the religious factors were inadequate depth of understanding from within and without the religions, lack of knowledge about scriptural condemnations of violence and terrorism on both sides, statements by religious leaders that could be seen as encouraging violence, missionary activity from both, violence on both sides and geographic polarization among "an imaginary North-South 'fault line' in the middle of the country."

Political factors included corruption at every level among politicians, historic effects of colonization, the "President Goodluck Jonathan continuing as President during the Northern unofficial 'quota' of office," statements by political leaders, among others. The report also noted the lack of ability or willingness by the government to consistently acknowledge all incidence of violence and to assist all victims and to
The delegation said it "admired" the "vast majority of Nigerians" who do not want their religion to be used to propagate violence.
Both groups say they will work with individuals and institutions in Nigeria to develop a common statement for people to sign and pledged to work for the peace and well-being of the country, as well as initiate theological publications for peace, "contributing to the harmony in both Muslim and Christian scriptures."
The delegation said it may it was told they were the first high level international interreligious delegation of Christians and Muslims to visit Nigeria, at least in recent years.

The idea of a joint Christian-Muslim cooperation in response to situations of violence emerged in 2007 and was followed by a 2010 meeting where 60 religious leaders agreed to work together.

According to a November 2010 statement, a joint working group would be activated "whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict."

Copyright © 2013 Ecumenical News