The fact that Nigeria confronts one of its most dangerous security challenges in history is no more news. These are really defining times. Every day comes with one disturbing story or the other- Boko Haram attacks, sectarian violence or provocative utterances by religious leaders frustrated by government’s response to the violence. These security challenges stem amongst others from terrorism, sectarian strife or overzealous security personnel with questionable rules of engagement. Essentially, the situation is degenerating and government, the primary responsible party for security and protection of human life has grossly failed in addressing these problems. Through a combination of incoherent security policy, bad governance and progressive alienation of the general public in government processes, government in Nigeria has created an environment that undermines its ability to rein in the degenerating standard of human safety and security.
The inability of government to address these challenges has created a culture of self help on the part of the citizens. This trend portends danger especially when it is driven by suspicion and vengeance. Nevertheless, there have been a number of community initiatives that are positive and constructive. Some of these citizen driven initiatives like the interfaith platforms provides an exciting model of citizen’s process that is credible, neutral and owned by the people. It provides a model that can to reasonable extent fill the gap created by government’s inability and allows citizens to re-write the Nigerian narrative especially as it relates to interreligious relationship. Interreligious relationship has become a contentious one in the light of incessant Boko Haram attacks on churches and the retaliatory violence experienced in Kaduna and most recently in Jos.
The Boko Haram crisis has provided an environment that triggers mutual suspicion amongst Christians and Muslims. There are accusations of complicity and counter accusations of violence mongering. Government has lost the credibility in playing any meaningful role in promoting interreligious relationship. It is mostly overwhelmed by the violence in the country. In areas like Jos where there was existing sectarian crisis, Boko Haram has ridden on the religious coloration of the crisis to further complicate the process and provoke violence. Since 1994, Nigerians have been dying in Jos and government has largely been unable to provide any meaningful leadership to address these challenges. Regarding Boko Haram, government also has failed and allowed the group to continue to provoke religious tension.
It was against this background that OSIWA facilitated the setting up of the Interfaith Action for Peace (IFAP). This initiative draws from the progressive interfaith initiative amongst various localities in Nigeria aimed at improving relationship between Muslims and Christians in various communities around the country. IFAP was facilitated by OSIWA through the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation and Islamic Education Trust with the mission of filling the dialogue gap between Christians and Muslims. Its first meeting convened on 17 April 2012 had about 24 religious leaders from both the Christian and Muslim community agreeing to work together to promote harmony and stability in the country especially against the background of misinformation and distrust.
Some of the groups represented in the meeting include Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, National Council of Muslim Youth Organisation, Da’wah Coordination Council of Nigeria (DCCN), Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Anglican Communion Nigeria, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Christian Association of Nigerian, Islamic Education Trust, Waziri of Katsina among others.
Currently, IFAP has engaged on massive media advocacy on religious harmony in partnership with Daar Communication Plc owners of Africa Independent Television and Raypower FM. The Interfaith platform brings together an uncommon amalgam of influences across the major religious groups with the purpose of using their considerable reach and goodwill to promote peaceful coexistence of religious groups and also seek solutions to the security and stability challenges facing Nigeria. The goal of this project is to create an alternative credible platform for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
This platform will work to ensure better communication, collaboration and engagements that further mutual trust and stability of the country. It is informed by the urgent need to initiate constructive engagement and communication between faiths to stem the growing tension and discord in the country. Existing government platforms have proved inadequate and in some cases discredited. Clerics in particular would be assisted to better use their influence at the pulpit to educate their followers and preach the message of peace and coexistence. IFAP will work at both national and sub-national levels for the peaceful coexistence of religious groups in Nigeria through an integrated set of educational and advocacy programmes, projects and initiatives that will enlighten adherents of both faiths, diffuse tension, and promote peace.
It is imperative that initiatives of this mould are encouraged as a third way in addressing insecurity and religious tension. Government policy of military force to address sectarian strife and Boko Haram challenges has largely failed. Initiating dialogue with Boko Haram has largely been unsuccessful. While government continues its trial and error approaches, relationship between religious groups are strained and Boko Haram continues to be on rampage. Engaging civil society initiatives or people’s driven effort to rebuild relationship and ensure security has not been aggressively pursued. Now is the time for government, development agencies and international community to seek out community driven initiatives aimed at addressing sectarian crisis and problems.
Security and stability is a collective responsibility of both government and citizens. Citizen’s initiatives have proved credible, result oriented and cost effective. Violence is being perpetrated by citizens and the solution to the problems most logically can be found within citizen’s initiatives. Government has not drawn this link unfortunately. It is the people’s movement that will awaken government to its responsibility and provide an unadulterated platform for genuine dialogue and cooperation. Therein lies the third way!
Udo writes from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa